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Connecting the university town of Gainesville with rural Hawthorne, this 16.5-mile trail makes for a great day trip, complete with a hill or two and plenty of wildlife. While the path roughly parallels State Route 20, it also traverses one of Florida's most environmentally sensitive areas: Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Just south of Gainesville, the park—though not the trail—is accessible via US Highway 441.
The well-maintained trail accommodates users with a 10-foot-wide paved path, regular trailheads and benches and even a convenience store here and there. Between the Gainesville and Lochloosa trailheads, equestrians are given free rein on an adjacent grassy trail.
From its western endpoint in Gainesville's Boulware Springs Park, the trail soon leads to the Paynes Prairie overlook, and 2 miles from the trailhead you'll enter the preserve itself. This area boasted a thriving lake with routine steamboat activity until 1891, when a sinkhole drained the basin, leaving behind a mixed landscape of prairie, marsh and open water.
Several trailside overlooks offer views of the prairie, home to bison, wild horses and numerous alligators. Park regulations ban visitors from feeding the gators, and dogs are not permitted, even if leashed. Rangers strictly enforce these rules. A half-mile into the park, a side trip on the La Chua Trail leads to another viewing area; bicycles are not permitted on this unpaved spur.
The trail connects with the Waldo Road Greenway - Depot Avenue Rail-Trail - Kermit Sigmon Bike Trail.
To reach the Boulware Springs Park trailhead from downtown Gainesville, take University Avenue east, fork right on Route 20 and take the next right on SE 15th Street. Boulware Springs Park (3500 SE 15th Street) is a couple of miles down on the right. Follow signs to the trail.
To reach the Lochloosa trailhead (7209 SE 200th Drive) from Hawthorne, take Route 2082 west, then turn left on SE 200th Drive. Park where the trail intersects the road.
To reach the Hawthorne trailhead (300 SW Second Avenue), take US Highway 301 south through Hawthorne and follow the brown signs along residential streets to the trailhead.
Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
3300 SE 15 Street
Gainesville, FL 32641
We've biked this trail several times by parking at Hawthorne trailhead. Great trail. In late August thieves broke into our car when parking at Gainesville trailhead by smashing out two windows. The police say that break-ins frequently happen at the Gainesville trailhead. Therefore I recommend that you do not park at the Gainesville trailhead.
We parked at the lot just west of Rochelle and road east towards Gainesville. There were quite a few people at this parking lot, so seemed somewhat secure to leave the car. The trail goes through swamp and Paynes Praire, quite scenic. There is one basic bathroom stop at La Chua Trail Park. From there the hills and curves come in to play, average riders take care, some parts are very fast and tricky. We rode the trail until it ended at a small restaurant Civilization/Teranova. We packed our lunch so we didn't stop, but looked like it'd be worth trying next time. http://www.welcometocivilization.com/. We headed back and stopped at a small park at 5th avenue and 6th street to picnic. There were benches and covered picnic tables. This part of the trail takes you through the city of Gainesville and out of the more seculuded area of the trail. After lunch we headed back towards Rochelle to the car. Was a great ride, look forward to going back and riding the other half eastward to Hawthorne.
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!).
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.
Pretty flat the entire way. I use it for exercise on my road bike. Saw 2 deer cross my path.
It is a beautiful trail. I rode the length of it from Gainesville to Hawthorne and back. A deer leaped across the trail in front of me, it might have been 15 feet in front of me. beautiful sight. saw about a 10 foot snake cross the trail, it stretched across the entire width of the trail. not such a beautiful sight. on the way back, be careful. about 5 miles before I got back to Gainesville, I was going down a hill too fast and immediately it turned into a sharp turn, with not enough pavement I ran off the pavement at about 25 mph. broke my thumb and separated my shoulder. my bike was fine so i rode the remaining 5 miles back and went to the emergency room, for x rays. beautiful trail though.
I almost always see some wildlife in this trail -- deer, armadillo, gopher turtles, snakes, birds. It's a lovely bike ride with little to no interaction with cars. I like that. Nice hills in one area and plenty of flat space to ride like the wind!! Trail is in good condition. Some segments closer to Hawthorne have tree root bumps.
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.
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.
Parked in Rochelle and rode to Gainesville and back. I am new to biking and out of shape and this was a wonderful ride that did challenge me but in a good way! Plenty of gorgeous views, lots of picture taking. Bathrooms along the way. Views of Paynes Prairie are breathtaking. My favorite trail so far!
Stayed two nites at the Hampton Inn Downtown. Rode all the local trails including the UF campus. The Gainesville/Hawthorne is nicely shaded and has some curves and hills for fun. We had a blast. This is on my "do again" list.
I am planning to ride this trail in the near future. Can anyone tell me if parking is safe at Rochelle (intersection of CR 234 and CR 2082)? I would like to park there since it is near the midpoint. Is there a restroom there?
I enjoyed the scenery and the remoteness.
The detractors were the lack of maintenance at the Hawthorne trailhead as well as most of the trail. Between mile eight and ten there were two areas about fifty feet long, covered by an inch of water. Many areas are in the early stages of root heave and will need attention soon.
As of this writing there is a detour for construction at the west end of the trail before you get into town. I turned around there as I had already ridden almost sixteen miles from Hawthorne.
Best scenery and well kept (just give them a day to sweep up after a storm and let water evaporate). Favorite trail by far!
You can't beat the scenery. This trail would get 5 stars if it was a little less windy at the beginning (for inline skating full speed). Take caution after storms--pine needles and slippery pavement takes a while to evaporate. MY favorite trail for inline so far!
Parking by east end(Hawthorne) okay haven't had my car broken into yet although I feel nervous leaving it while we ride because it is in a fairly remote area. I would rather park at the west end by old Gainesville water plant(?) feel more secure and a lot more traffic coming and going. Overall ride is awesome with the ups and downs, bridge crossings, wildlife. Had a deer jump right in front of my bike! Wow! Some shaded parts, some not. Bring sunscreen in the summer along with the bugspray. Skeeters and deerflies will getcha!
My wife and I make at least two Florida Bicycling trips each year, riding different trails. Generally we ride this trail as a break to our auto trip home. The trail is scenic, in good repair, has wildlife in abundance and a refreshment for the rest of our trip.
Great trail,very pleasant scenery with plenty of shade.With only a few exceptions trail conditions were excellent.The hills on the Gainesville end are not that hard,and do give some nice downhill riding with some curves thrown in.You do need to be careful with your speed downhill as the traffic is heavier and you may find someone on your side when you enter the curves.Saw a nice little 5 point buck as well as some hawks.
According to the FL Stat Parks website
Love this trail. Ma good mix of shaded tree lined path and open field. Very peaceful as it traverses along the Paynes Prairie Reserve as we as other protected natural areas. Typically see deer, turkey, gopher turtles, and various beautiful birds during on any given trip. Listen to the frogs in the swamps on the Hawthorne end. A beautiful ride!!
We rode towards Gainesville from the Rochelle trail-head. Nice and flat start that evolved to some rather large rollers. This area was also quite congested at times due to the beautiful weather. One member of our group struggled with the hills on her Townie, but survived. The reason for only four stars is the signage just disappeared once we arrived to Gainesville at S W Depot Ave. We eventually found our way to a nice restaurant and somehow found the trail and our way back. Overall, a wonderful experience.
We drove from South Florida and spent the weekend in Gainesville just to ride this trail over Memorial Day weekend. It was well worth the trip! The trail weaves through hammocks, across praries, over bridges with streams bubbling underneath... it was beautiful. The trail riders are all so friendly, they wave and/or say "hi" as they pass - we don't see anything like that on our trails in South Florida.
As others have hinted at, this is a 17 mile trail that goes out kinda in the middle of nowhere, so you do need to bring whatever amount of water is needed to get you there and back. It's not a hard ride, though, my wife and I are only recreational riders (meaning slow) and we were also both very, very hung over and we had no problem making it to Hawthorne and back.
One my favorite things to do in Gainesville, one of the best trails in FL. I once saw an owl swoop down and catch a rat. You'll see turtles, armadillo, eagles, alligators, wild horses, and much more.
Rode this trail on the 11 Feb. 2013. A fun trail with scenery, side trails and a few modest hills. Trail is well maintained but few places to stop for water or restrooms if you have those needs. The trail head in Gainesville is nice and has a springhouse. Thanks to a waitress at Cody's Restaurant locating the Gainesville trailhead was not a problem.
I hope to have the opportunity to ride this trail again.
My wife and rode the trail yesterday (7/15/2012) and thoroughly enjoyed the ride from Gainesville to Hawthorne and back. The trail has some nice rolling hills the first 2 or 3 miles from G’ville while the remainder was relatively flat. The entire trail was nicely shaded which was a huge benefit riding this time of year. We did the trail on our road bikes and found the path to be clean and free of derbies. The trail was lightly traveled on this Sunday morning and I would definitely recommend the ride to others. Although we didn’t venture into Hawthorne, there as a well marked map at the Hawthorne trial-head or the town with a burger place, ice cream store, grocery store, etc. highlighted for those that might want to explore.
I rode this trail yesterday and I am still worn out!
This trail is a great long distance ride for about 10 miles from Hawthorne toward Gainesville but about 5 to 6 miles from the end in Gainesville it is an extreme workout.
It took me and my group about 5 hours to go from Hawthorne to Gainesville and back but we are all extremely out of shape so I believe with practice I could cut that time in half easily.
My girl and I rode the trail this weekend. We parked at the Hawthorne entry point. We rode to the springs and back. Many great views and rest areas. Most of the trail was shaded, which in Fla is a blessing...lol. After our 32 mile roundtrip ride we were a bit wore out but had a great time. We would recommend this trail to EVERYONE!!!
Started from the Hawthorne trailhead, suggest obtaining detailed directions to Traihead, it's a little off the beaten path, but well worth the effort. On the Trail by 8:00 am and rode in the shade 85% of the ride. Read that this Ttrail had lots of shade, and was not disappointed. Very mild inclines, a few well maintained wooden bridges, several walking paths on side trails. The sign for the store that's 1000 ft. off the trail is closed on Sundays' but the sign for the store that's 3500 ft. off the trail is open.
My wife and I spent Saturday, 4-30-11, on the Gainesville-Hawthorne trail. After attending an early graduation ceremony at the University of Florida in Gainesville, we headed to Hawthorne to the trail head. A little difficult to find due to the lack of signage but locals are friendly and willing to give directions. The trail was in great shape and well maintained. There are several rest areas along the way to relax and enjoy the peace and beauty of the trail. We had only intended to go about 10 miles and then return to Hawthorne but ended going all the way back to Gainesville. The hills near Gainesville were a real challenge for us and made the trip one to remember. We look forward to riding the trail in the future. Next time we will start at Gainesville so we have a few hours of rest between the hills. Being a Saturday afternoon, the trail had several bikers and walkers. The views were wonderful and made for a great afternoon. Next to the Jacksonville trail, this is our favorite trail so far.
I rode this trail on Wednesday, Feb 24th after riding the St. Marks and Nature Coast Trails on Monday and Tuesday. This was a very nice trail. From the computer on my bike, the mileage came out to be about a mile shorter than stated on this site. Also, my wife had a little trouble finding the trailhead parking lot. The only trail sign was on US 301 pointing generally into town. We bought some good oranges from a tourist store in town. Our GPS found the trailhead on the Gainesville end easily, but had trouble with the direction on the Hawthorne end.
Jan 29,2011 My husband and I rode this entire trail today and have decided that it's our favorite in Florida so far. The trail is approx. 16 miles long and except for the westernmost 4 miles, very little elevation change. The last four miles were the most fun. The hills are moderate and the road becomes curvy with a couple of hairpin turns going downhill. Even though this was a Saturday, the traffic on the trail was light. We encountered the most people on the hilly end, which runs through Paynes Prairie State Park and is the closest to Gainesville. All bikers, walkers, and skaters know the rules of the trail here and were very courteous. The scenery is mostly through forests with sun filtering through with a few areas of open prairie. There were plenty of areas to take any needed breaks and several restrooms along the way. There are several spur trails that lead to nice views of a lake and the prairie. We drove 75 miles to ride this trail and it was well worth it. There are several unpaved trails inside Paynes Prairie State Park that look worth checking out on another trip.
It just happened to be raining the day we headed east from Gainesville. Hated to pass up the opportunity so I rode it anyways getting soaked. The western part was quite hilly & curvy--atypical of FL rail trails--so I had to go slow. The Gainesville trailhead wasn't easy to find; I could see that the trail extended westward into Gainesville but had no idea how far it went or where else I could've picked it up? Nice trail, hopefully next time I can ride it when it (& my glasses) are dry.
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.
I have been riding the Gainesville Hawthorne trail weekly for about a year now. I have riden it on both a mountain bike and a road bike and I find the trail fine for both. It's a nice distance and the road is reasonably maintained. It is not rare to see alligators or deer on the trail, so the wildlife is an added bonus to the already beautiful scenery. It's not a difficult trail, after about mile 3, heading from Gainesville, the trail is straight and flat, but there is a decent amount of traffic the trail is well used. I really enjoy this trail a lot and if you are in North Central Florida you are doing yourself a great dis-service by not exploring this trail.
The trail in Gainesville is fun at the beginning with the twists and turns of the hammock where you can gain speed. But, after the first few miles the trail turns flat and was very bumpy and dirty. Road bikes can't take the wear and tear caused by this trails uneven pavement, twigs, leaves, pinecones and other loose debris. Because of all the loose objects on the trail the biker needs to pay close attention for fear of running over debris which did not make for as enjoyable ride as we had hoped. A hybrid or mountain bike is better for this trail in my opinion.
"This trail should not be missed - with hills,curves,shade & rural scenery-including a coiled & ready Cottonmouth on the trail. We found this trail as we were passing FL: Thanks to the advice & Superb directions from Streits Schwinn Cycle in Gainesville."
"The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is a beautiful ride. We parked in the water tower park in Gainesville. There are lots of warning signs about leaving valuables in your vehicle, so we were a bit concerned.
We parked by the main road in the dirt with several others. When we rode down the first hill and up the second hill we saw the beautiful flat, and paved, parking lot. When we returned, the only car that was parked there had a broken window and was calling the police. This was in the middle of the day.
We were glad we did not know about the ""nice"" parking lot. The bathrooms were clean.
The trail provides for a beautiful ride! We went out about eight miles and found it very nice. This is one of the most beautiful trails we have been on in Florida.
We'll be back but we'll again park by the main road."
"In the second review, the third sentence reads ""A bench beckons a between near mile two under a large shady tree.""
It should read ""A bench beckons under a large shady tree around mile two."" "
"We started at the Hawthorne trailhead where the trail is mostly flat and well shaded. It is scenic and quiet but well used by other bikers and in-line skaters. Watch out for the snakes who like to warm themselves on the asphalt surface. During our 20 mile round trip, we saw two. "
"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."
"I really enjoyed biking on this trail. The Gainesville side is the best, but I enjoyed all 16 of this trail's well maintained miles."
"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."
"This trail is an experience in sheer release. Release from workplace tension and release to environmental bliss. It has such a variety of landscape vistas that it makes one wonder at the grandeur of natures creations. If you are fortunate enough to be one the trail early you will encounter deer, wild turkey and rabbits. To see the early morning mist rising up through the Spanish Moss is a spectacular sight. I have been fortunate to see this trail through its seasonal changes and I can only say it is worth the ride."
"I have seen this mountain bike path that I rode back in the late 80's go from hard core to easy sailing. I now use this paved trail to train for my triathlons. Take a friend with you and have some fun... No water on the trail.. So take plenty of H20 with you... Enjoy this 15 mile, 12 foot wide trail."
"This trail is flat and well-maintained. I ride it often. It offers access to Payne's Prairie, an ecologically rich area, once a lake, now a marshy area. Wild horses and bison roam the Prairie. Alligators reside here year-round, sandhill cranes winter here, alongside many native birds. I've seen deer grazing along the trail and gopher tortoise holes close by. If you're traveling I-75, it's worth a stop in Gainesville, FL to visit this trail."
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