A trip into the “back country” just minutes from busy Jacksonville
by Dana Farnsworth, Outdoor Travels
I’ve ridden urban trails in bustling cities and I’ve ridden secluded tracks deep in the woods of many rural areas. What I hadn’t experienced much of, until this ride, was a trail that begins in a suburb close to a large city and within a few miles dives deep into a rip roaring rural landscape that I would visually place somewhere between the Duke’s of Hazard and Sanford and Son.
Beginning a mere 5 miles from Jacksonville, Florida, 14.5 miles of tree-lined multi-use trail stretches out to the small town of Baldwin. Since this trail was built along a former railroad corridor, it adheres to the first law of Florida’s rail trails - it’s straight. Since there is no need to build tunnels or build a line around a mountain or other geological obstacle, rail lines in Florida run the shortest distances between two points. Starting from the Imeson Road Trailhead the trail passes through a neat and tidy residential area. What lies a few miles ahead though can at times be a stark contrast. The surrounding scenery soon becomes dotted with burned out abandon trailers, derelict cars, a power plant, locals crawling around under tractor trailers, unused facilities and houses flying the rebel flag high on front yard flag poles. There’s also the added bonus of a nearby gun range’s volley of fire to serenade you along - quickly along.
As I’ve said many times I look for great scenery or an enjoyable “off-the-bike” experience when I ride a new paved multi-use trail. Trails like the West Orange or Gasparilla Island have this figured out. Passing through cool little towns lined with interesting pubs and restaurants is my idea of a fun afternoon. This particular trail does have a little bit of decent scenery but a total of zero “off-the bike” experiences to offer. In fact when I arrived at the Baldwin trailhead, I was somewhat surprised to see a parking lot and not much else. If there is a store, pub, restaurant or any facility of any type around, it’s not within eye sight.
All is not bad on the front lines, I mean the Jacksonville-Baldwin trail. The good news? Well, at 14.5 miles in length, the trail is an excellent distance for a roundtrip ride and in between the camps of trailer squalor and rusty vehicles the scenery can be relatively pretty. With a lot of trees along the trail, there is a good deal of welcoming shade to be had. I’ve read reviews of the trees being “tunnel like” in some places, but honestly, I never mistook a grouping of trees for a tunnel. If it’s exercise you seek, and this trail is nearby, it would be hard to beat it for a nice Lance Armstrong type time trial ride. However as an attraction or destination adventure that requires traveling more than an hour or so to get to, there are a plethora of other first class multi-use trails to choose from in Florida.
Trail(s): 14.5 miles, paved (asphalt 12’ wide) through wooded areas and neighborhoods
Difficulty: Straight, flat, fast and easy
Outdoor Travels Rating: 2.25 out of 5 bikes
- At 29 miles roundtrip the distance is just about perfect for me
- Easy to find the Baldwin Trailhead
- Several sections are pretty
- Nice restroom facility trailside
- Riding through a power plant
- Riding through dilapidated areas where there is no pride in keeping up the scenery around the trail
- A nice facility built midway sits relatively unused - would have been better to have it at the Imeson Road Trailhead closer to Jacksonville
Imeson Road Trailhead: From Jacksonville, take Interstate 10 west to Exit 53 (new Exit 356) for Interstate 295. Head north on I-295 to Commonwealth Avenue (Exit 9). From Exit 9, head west on Commonwealth Avenue approximately 1 mile to Imeson Road. Take a right on Imeson Road (heading north) and continue to the trailhead.
Baldwin Trailhead and Park: From Jacksonville, take Interstate 10 west to Exit 50 (new Exit 343) for US 301. Head north on US 301 (toward Baldwin), continuing through Baldwin to the trailhead
Brandy Branch Trailhead: From Jacksonville, take Interstate 10 west to Exit 50 (new Exit 343) for US 301. Head north on US 301 (toward Baldwin) until you reach US 90. Take a left (heading west) and proceed about 2 miles to Secondary SR 121 (Brandy Branch Road). Take a right (heading north) and continue to the trailhead.
Lots of great photos to give you a good idea of what riding here is like!
Sorry! Pictures Coming Soon!
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