St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail

Description:  Florida’s first designated state trail follows the abandoned railbed of the historic Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad.  The Trail runs south from Florida’s capital city, Tallahassee, through the Apalachicola National Forest and ends in the coastal community of St. Marks.  Through the early 1900s this historic railroad corridor was used to transport cotton from the plantation belt to the coast for shipment to textile mills in England and New England.  Today, as a paved trail, it provides an excellent recreational workout for bicyclists, walkers, and skaters.  It also provides opportunities for horseback riding on the adjacent unpaved trail.

Facilities:  16 miles of paved trail, 8-12 feet wide; parking, picnic area, restrooms.

Activities:  Biking, skating, walking, horseback riding, and birding.

“¨Minimum time to allow:  30 minutes.
Fee:  No.
Hours:  8 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year.
Contact:  P: 850-245-2081
dep.state.fl.us/gwt/state/marks

Return to the Byway and continue west on US 98 for 2.1 miles to the Wakulla River.  Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the southeast side of the bridge.  The Wakulla River, which originates at Wakulla Springs, flows south for about 10 miles before joining the St. Marks River near Fort San Marcos.  The crystal clear waters make it a popular place for swimming, boating, and fishing.  Whether you explore up stream or down, you will see lots of wildlife including West Indian Manatees, Turtles, Alligators, and a wide variety of birds and plants.
Continue on US 98 1.3 miles to Wakulla Beach Road (a graded dirt road on the south side of the highway). If you have time, you might wish to take the following side trip.

Side Trip: Wakulla Beach, Florida Scenic Trail to Shepard’s Spring & Cathedral of the Palms

This scenic road passes through the Wakulla Unit of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  Located west of the town of St. Marks, the Wakulla Unit offers upland forests, palm hammocks, fresh and brackish
water marshes, and tidal beach access to Apalachee Bay.  This unit is open to quota-hunting during the fall and winter months, and it provides an ideal launching point for small boats year-round.  Approximately 5.5
miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail traverses this portion of the refuge.  No facilities.  Use of launch point and access to trails are free to the public.

At the end of the road, approximately 3.9 miles south of US 98, is Wakulla Beach.  There you will find the ruins of an old hotel, an unimproved boat landing, a wonderful view of Goose Creek Bay, and vast seagrass beds to explore.  There are no other public facilities but the solitude and views are worth the drive.  After the first mile the road passes a trailhead for the Florida National Scenic Trail, which leads hikers through Florida’s natural wonders as it meanders 1,300 miles across the state.  In 1983 the U.S. Congress designated the Florida Trail as part of the National Trails System, making it one of only eight National Scenic Trails.

There is a small parking lot at the trailhead.  From there hike the trail west for 2 – 3 miles”¨(approximately 1 hour) until you reach Shepard’s Spring (allow approximately three hours for the round trip to include time to spend at these sites).  This is a beautiful spring surrounded by lush vegetation.  The path to the spring is now a raised walkway with benches at the end.  However lovely this site is, you haven’t seen anything yet!  Opposite the path to Shepard’s Spring is a trail leading into “The Cathedral of the Palms.”  As you walk in you will notice Cabbage Palms and other trees that are much larger than those you passed earlier.  You will then find yourself in the middle of an ancient, old-growth palm forest.  There is really nothing else like this on the Byway.  Save some quiet time”¨to appreciate the scene and take lots of pictures.

Back on the Byway, continue west on US 98 for 3.8 miles.  At the intersection with Shell”¨Point Road (CR 365) you may wish to take these side trips.

Side Trip:  Shell Point Beach and Spring Creek.

Turn left (south) onto Shell Point Road, passing through sections of the Wakulla Unit of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  At the first fork in the road you can choose to go to Shell Point (left) or Spring Creek (right).  Shell Point is a coastal community with a public beach some 5.9 miles from the Byway turnoff.  Facilities include parking and restrooms.  On windy days this is a popular spot for sailing and windsurfing.  Follow the signs before the turnoff.  Spring Creek is an historic fishing village on the banks of Dickerson Bay.  The name comes
from a first magnitude spring that upwells just off shore.  No facilities except for a restaurant.

Continue west on the Coastal Highway for 2.8 miles.  On your right you will see Wildwood Golf and Country Club, a popular 18-hole course open to the public.  Wildwood has a restaurant, golf shop, and driving range.  A new nature-oriented hotel, The Inn at Wildwood, is adjacent to the Country Club.  The Medart Recreation Park, which is 1.3 miles farther along US 98, has ball fields, basketball courts, a children’s “¨playground, and ample parking.  There is no fee.  This portion of the Byway is planted with native wildflowers in bloom during spring and fall.

The Byway passes the red brick Wakulla High School on your left.  At the next intersection turn right (north) on Crawfordville Highway (US 319) from US 98 toward Crawfordville to visit these additional sites.

Side Trip:  Pigott Cemetery

Turn left on Friendship Church Road opposite the Eden Springs Rehabilitation and Nursing home and drive one mile to visit an excellent example of an old family cemetery.

Back on US 319 Lake Ellen Church and Cemetery will be on your right as you continue north for .7 miles.  The church, the oldest portion of which was built in 1948, and adjacent cemetery are clearly visible from the road.  Harvey’s Historic Truck Display. Continue past Lake Ellen Church for 1.8 miles to see a most unusual roadside display.  This line of rusting old trucks in an open field on the west side of the road is one of the most photographed features along the Byway.

Return to the Byway and continue west on US 98 from the intersection with US 319 through Medart.  The Byway passes a sugar cane field and several houses dating from the early 1900s. At the fork in the road in
1.5 miles, continue on US 98 past the Wakulla Middle School and into the Panacea Unit of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  This Unit is largely dominated by uplands pine and oak forests with several fresh
water lakes interspersed.  Primitive walking trails crisscross this unit, which is open to quota-hunts during the fall and winter months.  Located within the Panacea Unit is the Otter Lake Recreation Area, which offers picnic tables and shelters, restrooms, and a launching point for small boats with a motor size limit of 10 horse power or less. About 6.5 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail traverses this unit of the Refuge.  The Panacea Unit is located west of the Wakulla Unit on US 98, just inside the town of Medart, and along US 98 south toward the town of Panacea.  The picnic facilities, trails, and launch point are free to the public.