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Just west of bustling downtown Jacksonville, the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail, one of north Florida's oldest, traverses a rural setting of hardwood uplands, wetlands and pine flatwoods. A dense tree canopy shelters much of the nearly 15-mile paved path, providing habitat for hawks, wood storks, stilts and belted kingfishers. You're also likely to encounter turkeys, alligators, rabbits, gopher tortoises and coral snakes. Beware the latter, a venomous species with wide black and red bands broken by narrow yellow rings.

The Imeson Road trailhead, closest to Jacksonville, is a good place to start an out-and-back journey. Here you'll find the first of several restroom facilities and benches along the trail. This also marks the start of a separate equestrian trail that runs in the adjacent tree line, except where creek crossings bring trail users together.

Midway along the trail is the Camp Milton Historic Preserve rest area. Once home to the largest encampment of Confederate troops during the Civil War, the site includes the remains of a mile-long defensive works, a re-creation of a late 19th-century homestead, a replica bridge, an arboretum and extensive boardwalks. Just west of Camp Milton, you may hear naval aircraft on training runs at nearby Whitehouse Field.

You'll find plenty of restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations near the trail's eastern endpoint in Jacksonville as well as its terminus in Baldwin. Plans are in the works to connect this trail to neighboring recreational and ecological corridors.

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