While this is the briefest of walks, the trail at John Muir Ecological Park connects you to an important and mostly forgotten chapter of Florida history: our role in John Muir’s “Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.” He reached Cedar Key on October 23, 1867, after crossing Florida from the Atlantic Coast. This is one of the places he walked through, and the only such park in the state that commemorates this accomplishment.
Length: 1/4 mile
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: at the trailhead
The park is along SR 200 just west of US 17 in Yulee.
It was not an easy thing to walk across Florida in 1867. It still isn’t today. At least now there are roads and trails. Muir wrote “it was the army of cat-briers that I most dreaded,” and he was no stranger to Florida’s swamp walks by the time he was done. “Had the water that I was forced to wade been transparent it would have lost much of its difficulty. But as it was, I constantly expected to plant my feet on an alligator, and therefore proceeded with strained caution.”
Fortunately, the kind folks of Nassau County don’t expect you to wade into this floodplain forest as John Muir did. Starting at the parking area, follow the boardwalks. They zigzag through through this forested swamp, connecting a series of picnic shelters together. Songbirds sing from the boughs of sweetgums and red maples. Ferns thickly carpet the forest floor. Mosquitoes hum.
It’s a short walk. Trail’s end is at an elevated berm, a railroad embankment. This was the main line of the historic Florida Railroad, one of Florida’s first railroads, which connected Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key.
As the eastern terminus of the Florida Railroad, this region is steeped in railroad history. Responsible for bringing the railroad to Fernandina Beach, Senator David Yulee – for whom the town was named – also was one of people fleeing the city by rail as the Union Blockading Squadron bombed the trestles between there and here.
The railroad is the route John Muir followed as he walked off a ship in Fernandina Beach and began his cross-Florida stroll to Cedar Key. You can explore along the old railroad route a short ways, but the return route is definitely the way you came, across the boardwalks back to the parking area.