About this Itinerary
The Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail is Florida’s first rail-trail and it follows the route of the state’s longest-operating railroad that was used primarily to transport cotton from plantations to awaiting ships. As its name implies, this paved trail stretches 20 miles from the capital city of Tallahassee south to the coastal town of St. Marks. Longleaf pine and forests of oak, wax myrtle and yaupon holly nicely shade the route, and side trails and nearby state parks stand ready for exploration.
With benches, restrooms, potable water and a picnic area and playground lining the trail, this route—often straight as an arrow—makes for a direct and comfortable way to visit St. Marks, enjoy seafood dining and return to Tallahassee the same day. The Tallahassee Regional Airport is a convenient seven miles from center city and The Great Bicycle Shop offers bicycle service and rentals at two locations (Thomasville Rd. and Woodville Hwy.)
As you might expect, Tallahassee does not want for lodging options and choices include a campground, B&Bs and hotels. The dining options are equally as diverse and there is likely something here for every taste, whether you are in the mood for regional or international fare
Start at the Capital Circle Trailhead located on the west side of Route 363 (Woodville Highway). There is a restroom and large parking lot. It is possible to bike to this trailhead from Gamble St. (near Florida State University) but these 4.5 miles north of the trailhead are mostly urban in nature with no significant facilities along the way. The Tallahassee – St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail parallels Route 363 the entire journey though you will mostly find yourself surrounded by rural neighborhoods, woodlands or fields. The first few miles south of the trailhead can be a bit congested, particularly on the weekends. Just remember proper trail etiquette and have a good time. If you are riding a mountain bike, consider turning into the Munson Hills Off-Road Trail about a mile from the Capital Circle Trailhead (mileage is painted on the asphalt). The loop system can get sandy during dry months but the opportunity to explore the Apalachicola National Forest, host to a large red-cockaded woodpecker population as well as one of the last extensive longleaf pine and wiregrass communities still in existence, makes it worthwhile.
Wakulla Station Trailhead, near mile marker 9, provides water, shelter and restrooms. A bit farther south you can take a five-mile detour along the paved shoulder of SR 267 to get to Wakulla Springs State Park, known for its big, beautiful spring and a refreshing swimming hole. Take a river boat tour down the Wakulla River and enjoy the flora and fauna of this interesting wetland: cypress trees, wading birds, alligators and manatees may be among the trip’s highlights. The historic Wakulla Springs Lodge has guestrooms and makes an overnight stay in the park very tempting. With only six or so miles of trail remaining, you will soon find yourself in St. Marks. In 1836, the 20-mile rail line connecting the territorial Capital with the Gulf port of St. Marks was completed. This initiative began in 1831 when the Tallahassee Railroad Company received a Congressional Land Grant giving the company access to timber from public lands, the rail corridor and land for a terminal at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla rivers. Slaves and free laborers worked to construct the tracks that would ultimately have a significant influence on the region’s development and settlement. The railroad played a role during the Civil War as well, transporting troops and materials to assist with the Confederacy’s victorious Battle of Natural Bridge.
St. Marks, located in Florida’s Big Bend region and on the Gulf coastline,is a small fishing village with a big history. Originally settled in 1527 and known as San Marcos de Apalache, the town was captured from the Spanish by Andrew Jackson in 1818; Spain ceded control of Florida soon after. The historical site of San Marcos Apalache Historic State Park, south and west of the trail's terminus, is a good place to learn more about the area’s history; a museum as well as an interpretative trail highlights historical activities dating back to the 1500s. Tucker’s Point, where fresh and salt water merge, is a popular place for fishing.
Make sure to hit one of the small waterfront restaurants to wet your whistle and carb-load with friends while watching the boats cruise along the St. Marks River. The Riverside Cafe is one of your options; their blackened grouper sandwich is popular with the locals and you may find stone crab claws on the menu, especially in October when the annual St. Marks Stone Crab Festival is in full swing. Those who have planned to stay overnight will eventually find their way to the Sweet Magnolia Inn or the Shell Island Fish Camp. If you are up for more cycling, head to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (8.5 miles east of town) which was established initially as a wintering home for migratory birds. The refuge has numerous boardwalks, trails and endless opportunities for wildlife viewing; the historic St. Marks Lighthouse is located here as well.
Today is your day for exploring more of what Tallahassee, a lively college town, has to offer. With numerous museums, parks, festivals and historic districts, ones could spend days in Tallahassee alone discovering the arts, sciences and history that inform the culture of this region today.
The historical development of Tallahassee is closely linked to the rail corridor you cycled. After Tallahassee was chosen as the territorial capital in 1824, hundreds of settlers, drawn by the fertile fields, flocked to the area. Initially, cotton, timber and other goods were transported to St. Marks and the Apalachee Bay on a sandy wagon-road. The railroad was eventually conceived and financed by plantation owners and prosperous merchants as a more effective and efficient way to facilitate this process. The Tallahassee-St. Marks railroad served the state of Florida for 147 years.
If you are in town on the first Friday of the month, visit Railroad Square Art Park for their free First Friday Gallery Hop. Also, every Saturday, March through November, the Downtown Tallahassee Marketplace is a fun place to see what is grown and produced in the area while listening to the tunes of local musicians or the words of poets and authors as they read their work.