Lots of great photos to give you a good idea of what riding here is like!Gainesville - Hawthorne Rail Trail
Let’s get something straight. I’m currently a mountain biker. If I ride on a road, it’s usually to get to another trail. My one diversion from this formula is a good rail-trail. I really enjoy two types of rail-trails. When choosing a rail-trail to ride, I look for trails that offer either great scenery and/or opportunities to stop at little towns that have cool little pubs along the way. Did I also mention that I really like beer?
After experiencing the two longest rail-trails in Florida, I started branching out; riding some of the shorter Florida trails that looked promising. The Gainesville-Hawthorne Rail Trail is one of these. Running 15 miles one way from Boulware Springs City Park in Gainesville to the little town of Hawthorne, this trail looked to be a nice 30-mile roundtrip ride. Now, if only it had a pub at the Hawthorne end.
After finding Boulware Springs Park, which wasn’t as hard as our guidebook had said it would be, but wasn’t exactly easy either, my wife, Kelli and I saddled up and headed out. We didn’t see it until we returned, but there is a very interesting building at the park, near the trailhead. Apparently this area was quite important in the past, as it was home to one of the most plentiful fresh water springs in the area; providing fresh water for Gainesville and, eventually, the University of Florida. A restored historic pump house adjacent to the spring now houses restroom facilities. These provide a nice place to clean up a bit after a ride.
We started our ride in an area of trail known as “The Hammock.” This part of the trail is very unique as Florida trails go – it boasts curves and hills to ride up, down and around. It’s a very pretty area, winding through a canopy of trees. Before we got into the main part of the Hammock, we chose to take the adjoining La Chua Trail to an overlook of Paynes Prairie Preserve that stretches out to the south. The ride is a short diversion and is worth the look.
We rejoined the main trail and continued through the Hammock. My wife Kelli and I laughed out loud at the warning signs that were posted along the trail. They warned of hills and turns in the trail. Florida trail users must really be accustomed to flat terrain, as the curves weren’t that treacherous and the hills were never really large or grueling to pedal. One in particular though, was a lot of fun to coast down. After the first couple of miles the trail resumed a more common Florida rail-trail personality – flat and relatively straight. That’s not to say it isn’t pretty though, which it is.
The trail runs through some fairly rural areas. I was keeping a keen eye out for a trailside pub, but it really wasn’t looking promising. I figured that we would have opportunities for lunch and cerveza in Hawthorne (fingers crossed).
Eventually we arrived at the bridge crossing Lachloosa Creek, which is approximately 3 or 4 miles from Hawthorne. I could almost taste the hops. Arriving at the Hawthorne trailhead, I was concerned about our lunch plans. The trailhead is surrounded by a few houses and looked pretty much unused and forgotten – not run down mind you, just lonely and unused. There were no pubs or restaurants in view. Luckily there were a couple of riders who knew a little about the area. With their help and a pretty nice map of the area at the trailhead, we were able to locate a couple of possibilities off nearby US 301.
Hawthorne is small, and there are not many choices for food there. The choices came down to Burger Barn or Sonnys Barbecue – the winner would be the establishment that could provide us with food AND beverages. After peeking in a creepy old folk’s café and finding out that Burger Barn was a beer barren barn, we chose Sonnys. Run down facilities, bright florescent lighting, and below average food awaited us. Oh, did I mention they had cheap cold Michelob longnecks? YEAH! After several cold ones we mounted up and began our return course.
The trail takes about 1.5 – 2 hours of leisurely riding to complete a one-way trip. With a lunch stop in Hawthorne and return leg, it makes for a nice afternoon ride. Honestly, the trail wasn’t what I had hoped for, but it was an enjoyable outing. With terrain that is unusual for Florida and a round trip distance that is manageable for most riders in an afternoon, the Gainesville – Hawthorne Rail Trail is more of an attractive alternative to riding on the streets for pleasure than an epic journey worthy of hours of travel to experience.
Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park stretches 16 miles from the City of Gainesville's Boulware Springs Park through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area. Boulware Springs, an important archeological and historical site, has been inhabited for thousands of years. In 1854 at a community meeting at the Springs, the name of the city was chosen. From 1894 to 1923 the springs were the main water supply for the city and also served as a key selling point in attracting the University of Florida to Gainesville. The first few miles heading east from the Gainesville terminus at Boulware Springs Park pass through historical and natural areas which provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The next section passes over streams and through wetlands that are within the Orange Creek Basin watershed. The last 5 miles to Hawthorne wind through pine forests and wetlands. There are also other off-road bicycle trails in the 21,000 acre Paynes Prairie Preserve.