Great ride with variety of terrain
We biked this trail from Hawthorne to downtown Gainesville and back twice in mid-July. Bike traffic on the trail was very light in both directions and we rode for miles without seeing another cyclist. The trail is narrower at the east end and wider at the west end. It is paved the whole way, but has some rough sections along the northern edge, so watch ahead for holes and tree-root bumps.
We parked at the Hawthorne trailhead (also the east end of the trail) and discovered only one other car in the lot both times. There are no bathrooms and no water available at this trailhead (the first water you come to is almost 14 miles west of here). There is a Shell gas station with a bathroom about 1/2 mile east. There is one picnic table under a glorious oak tree in Hawthorne.
There are several low-traffic crossroads along the trail (about 2 miles apart) and benches to rest about every mile (watch for rattlesnakes, though). There are two-nonflush toilets along the trail, but no wastebaskets, so you have to haul out your trash.
The route has lots of shade, but also some lovely sunny meadows. Many cypress swamps dot the trailside. We saw several does with fawns on both trips and they made the trip very special. We got rained on in the late afternoons both days (typical summer in Florida)--there is no place to take shelter along the trail, so you have to just get wet.
The eastern side of the trail is mostly flat, but begins to descend at about the halfway point. On the western side of the trail are a couple sections of curves and small hills that are very scenic and make the ride more challenging and interesting. The trail is a bit narrow in spots and quite shady.
The west side trailhead is several miles south of the trail's end. The trailhead is in a park that has the original water springs for Gainesville. This is a very interesting sightseeing side-tour that you should take. The springs park has shady picnic tables where we very much enjoyed having a picnic lunch.
The trail continues north of the trailhead and you will think you are still on the trail, but it's not the "rails to trails" part any longer, but are owned by the city. When you bike north past the trailhead, you have to cross many high-traffic streets--almost all without lights to give you safe crossing.(watch for cars!).
Two Trails in One
We parked midpoint at Rochelle and headed 9mi east to Hawthorne. The trail is well maintained, mostly flat with a few gradual grades. It runs through a swamp, so it is very shady, with a canopy of trees most of the way. We rode in May, and the sweat-bee flies followed us part of the way. Annoying. We rode back to Rochelle, and then headed west. The first 3 miles continued to follow the old rail bed. But then the trail veered into the woods, with hills and sharp curves for 2 miles. If you are looking for a flat rail-trail, skip this part. There was some shade, and some meadows. It then rejoined the railbed, and continued 3 more miles into Gainesville. Total round trip: 34mi. Most of the trail is pretty remote, with few facilities, so come prepared.
Super pretty, lots of wildlife, rode the whole trail
We parked in Paynes Prairie and paid the $4 for 2 reasons, 1 to support the park and 2 because we were told by Gainesville natives that security could be a problem at times at Boulware Springs.
Saw an armadillo, heard lots of birds, saw deer off the trail and one also crossed the trail right in front of us.
Beautiful scenery, cypress swamp, trees arching over trail. Sometimes trail is straight and flat and runs along the road, other times it curves and winds up and down hills.
Trail is asphalt. One way was smooth while the other way was bumpy. Although the trail is narrow some cyclists ride side by side and don't move aside as you approach them. We don't like to ride that close to other people when going past them. Some places had a fairly level sandy shoulder but not all places. Moderately busy but not crowded. Trail is mostly shaded. Crossed some country highways. Saw where trail meets up with another bike trail.
There were a lot of neat paths you walk on off the trail after parking in the wooden bike rack. You could walk in a cypress swamp, go look at alligators sunning themselves, fish off a bridge, etc.
Perfect way to spend the morning!
I really love nature, and I love riding my bicycle, and as I am now healthier, I found that just riding my bike around town wasn't cutting it anymore. Therefore, I decided to give trail riding a try. BEST.DECISION.EVER. I've been there two times now, and I've seen deer (ahhh!! :D) both times. The first five-ish miles have inclines and hills, so those were an enjoyable challenge. I am now working my way up to being able to push through the steepest of the hills. On my second visit, I could already see that my leg strength improved, and I didn't have to stop as much between steep inclines. ^^
Just a warning: The trail is marked and ends at 15 miles, so I'm guessing that the other 1.5 miles advertised here comes from the small detour to an overlook on the path. That was slightly disappointing because I was expecting to have more to go only to see that I'd reached the end. Still, I was so happy to have this fun adventure as a way of exercise and stress relief. So busy I was enjoying the scenery that I didn't have time to feel tired. I never knew I had it in me to bike FROM UF campus to the end of the trail and BACK to UF campus. I totaled well over 30 miles! I recommend bringing a snack or two, at least one liter of water, and your phone to take pictures.
All in all, I am very thankful that previous generations took the time and effort to create a trail for the public to enjoy.
One of Florida's best non-Florida trail
Many of the descriptions of the Trails in Florida start off with - "most scenic trail in Florida, or very scenic". However, I would like to classify the Gainesville-Hawthorne as the most scenic because it looks like it was transplanted from some place not of Florida, making it exceptionally scenic. Nearly most of it in rural lands, and a good portion of it winding its way through hardwoods typically found in other southeastern states except Florida, sprawling oak and long leaf pine out in open grass lands, and general thick woods of the lowlands, this is all about scenic. The month of March brings out the white flowers on the prairie plum trees found in abundance near Paynes Prairie, plus the perfect green on the fresh sweetgum leaves, creates an idealic spring picture. As time goes by, the trail becomes more canopied making for tolerable riding in the warmer months and has created quite a tunnel affect which since there is no vertical relief in Florida, you're really are not missing any views. For a Florida trail, I would rate it 5 out of 5. Bring snaks and fluids.
"The first four miles are downhill, more or less when starting from Gainesville. The path does not always follow a railroad bed for this first portion, but twists and turns up and down through a very senic area festooned with live oaks, flowery meadows and pine trees. A bench beckons a between near mile two under a large shady tree. This turns into a hammock with more mild hills and twists and turns. You can gather much speed through here, expecially with a road bike, but be careful. There are a couple tight switchbacks and blind curves. The Gainesville end hosts many hikers, rollerbladers and familys with small kids that don't stay on the right side of the path. In fact, they have a habit of stopping dead center in the trail. Be prepared to stop for them.
At about mile 6 you are back on the former railroad bed and it is a straight nearly level shot to Hawthorne. Be careful at the crossings, police stake out one and ticket riders who don't come to a full stop. The area is well marked on the asphalt with stop warnings so be prepared. A couple other crossings toward the Hawthorne end are sandy roads and will grab narrow tires if you are not careful.
Sometime during the winter of 2002 a drinking fountain at the Hawthorne trailhead was removed, so make sure you bring enough water for the entire 30 miles. There are some eateries in Hawthorne, just a mile or so from the Hawthorne trailhead.
Overall, it is a very enjoyable ride."
First 5 miles are great
"The trail begins by the old city waterworks - a nice park in its own right, as well as an animal shelter. From there it heads south for a mile. You will pass a scenic overlook of Payne's Prairie - a wildlife preserve and an excellent example of that kind of habitat. Supposedly Payne's Prairie has been stocked with bison - Florida's only herd, but I have been there several times and never seen one.
When you come to the first stop sign, you can turn right and ride up to the ranger station. From here it's a short and scenic hike to Lake Chua and its thirty or forty lazy alligators. This is a small lake, and I have to wonder what all those alligators eat.
On the trail you have a short climb and then a series of exciting whoop-de-doos. Can easily exceed 25 mph even on a mountain bike.
After this section, the trail forks. To the right is a one-mile spur that leads to Lake Alachua overlook. At the end is a dangerous downhill that ends in a 270 degree turn to thr right. he first time I went here a fox trotted across the trail.
The main trail crosses some meadows along this stretch. The last time I was there (early September), the meadows were ablaze with yellow wildflowers in bloom as far as the eye could see.
From here there is a long climb through a hammock followed by an even longer downhill on the other side. Last year I set a new personal speed record (29 mph - Tour de France, here I come!) doing the downhill. It's a little scary because some of the curves are blind.
After the hammock, the trail is generally straight for another mile or two. There is a scenic overlook on the left, and finally you come to a bridge over a stream. This is a tranquil spot. A few weeks ago they were constructing a boardwalk into the swamp. To the left, you can go under SR 20 to the old fish camp, unfortunately closed. This would be a good spot for some liquid refreshments.
I don't recommend going any further. The rest of the trail (11 mile)is flat, not very scenic and not very shady, and there are no facilities. It's, well... boring, and when you get to Hawthorne there's not a lot to see there either.
However, the first five or six miles rank among the best trails in Florida. The whoop-de-doos alone are worth a ride. I'll be up there again in November."