Miles of cabbages create colorful patterns across farms along the historic route of the East Coast Railway, where the Palatka to St. Augustine Trail steers cyclists down a rural connector between two of Florida’s oldest cities.
While farms and their fresh produce steal the show along this ride, cyclists will appreciate long forested stretches with a shady canopy overhead.
This little-used trail is a real sleeper in North Florida. Only recently completed in southern St. Johns County, it’ll surprise you with a smooth ride, rural immersion, and historic sites along the route.
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Eastern terminus: St. Augustine
Western terminus: East Palatka
Length: 18.2 miles linear
Restroom: at the Cora C. Harrison Preserve trailhead
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open sunrise to sunset. Surface is asphalt. Benches are provided as rest stops at regular intervals.
In St. Johns County, call St. Johns County Parks and Recreation at 904-209-0333 for trailhead issues.
Along the Putnam County portion of the trail, map kiosks are positioned at the county line and where the trail turns north away from the Raceway along SR 100 / US 17 in Palatka.
Riding from Palatka towards St. Augustine, it is possible to start your ride downtown right across from the St. Johns River Center. Given the busy highway traffic, it’s best to cross at the nearest traffic light, one block west.
From there, use the sidewalk and bike path to loop around the block so you don’t ride against traffic on the highway. Catch the wide bike/ped path up and over the St. Johns River Bridge. It’s quite a climb.
The trail continues adjacent to the highway and then behind some businesses, including a Raceway, to bring you up to a kiosk that marks the actual starting point of the Palatka to St. Augustine Trail.
A quarter mile past the kiosk, north of the East Palatka post office, is the East Palatka trailhead. While it is just a row of parking spaces, it is north of the business district and 3.2 miles from the St. Johns River Center as shown on our map.
Our mileage chart clocks from here for those of you (like us) who prefer avoiding city streets and traffic and just want a bike path experience.
From East Palatka trailhead, follow the road around to the bike path. Start your ride into the farms of Putnam County by passing a large farm and the county public works complex before the first road crossing.
A wooded stretch follows, with a swamp on the right just before the power transmission line easement.
Burrowing more deeply into a pine forest, the trail curves northeast before it pops out along another broad open farm field stretching towards CR 207. Cross a lightly used farm road.
Between East Palatka and Hastings, road crossings are blissfully infrequent and mostly rural. The only busy one we encountered was CR 207A at 3.7 miles, where there is an elaborate roadside memorial by a Palatka artist.
Spend the next 2 miles of riding parallel to CR 207. Cross a waterway lined by forest, and pass by a row of planted palms. Cabbage fields stretch to the northeast towards distant cypresses lining the St. Johns River.
At the county line, there is a kiosk with a trail map near the Bull’s-Hit Farm complex. On the far side of CR 207 is County Line Produce, a great place to pick up fresh veggies but better done by car – there is no safe crossing for cyclists.
Passing a display of antique farming equipment, cross a farm road and there is an old cemetery off to the right between the trail and CR 207.
Cross a long bridge over Cracker Branch and come up to the junction for the side trail to Cora C. Harrison Preserve. This trailhead has a picnic area, restrooms, and water fountain.
Our initial ride on this bike path was a round-trip along the southernmost portion of the route between Hastings and East Palatka to this point, which is 7.1 miles north of the kiosk in East Palatka (15.2 mile round-trip).
The trail continues northeast. It slices through the small farm community of Hastings before crossing CR 207 into the farmland and forests of Spuds, Florida’s potato capital, at 10 miles.
At 12.4 miles, a rest stop at Armstrong Park offers a break with restrooms and water. The trail crosses CR 207 one more time. Soon after, a prominent trailhead sits along CR 207 not far from Interstate 95 at 16 miles.
The final parking area is off Vermont Blvd very near the trail’s current end, where it just simply ends before it reaches Interstate 95, for 18.2 linear miles of paved trail.
We’ve learned that expansion of the path to St. Augustine has finally been approved, but it may be a few years before the final third of the trail east of Interstate 95 is in place. It is shown as a blue dotted line on our map.
There are currently five trailheads along the route. The trailhead in East Palatka is simply a few parking spaces along a dead-end portion of East River Road. There are no signs to make it obvious it is there, and no facilities.
The next trailhead northeast is at Cora C. Harrison Preserve trailhead along SR 207 just south of Hastings. We chose this one for our initial ride as it has restrooms and water as well as a picnic area.
Starting at Cora C. Harrison Preserve enables you to round-trip on the bike path in either direction.
St. Johns County offers three more trailheads between Hastings and Interstate 95. Both Armstrong Park and Vermont Heights trailhead are along SR 207 and offer restrooms, water, and picnic tables.
The Vermont Blvd trailhead is just roadside parking north of SR 207 near the current eastern terminus of the bike path shown on kiosk maps.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Palatka Riverfront Park
Recently re-imagined to showcase the beauty of the St. Johns River, Palatka Riverfront Park offers a quarter-mile riverfront walk with panoramic views.
Palatka-Lake Butler Trail
With a corridor spanning nearly 50 miles through North Florida, the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail provides paved trail for riders and an unpaved corridor used by the Florida Trail
Palatka Water Works
On the grounds of the Water Works Environmental Education Center, explore the historic Palatka Water Works and a short interpretive trail dedicated to William Bartram’s travels as Puc Puggy, the Flower Hunter.
Ravine Gardens State Park
With swinging bridges over a deep ravine painted in bright colors by azaleas each February, Ravine Gardens State Park offers hiking and biking loops in Palatka