UPDATE: SCROLL DOWN TO SEE THE NEWEST PHOTOS FROM MY 2015 TRIP
CLICK ON ALL PHOTOS TO ENLARGE
I was fortunate to bicycle the Four Freedoms Trail in Madison Florida on 3-14-12, and my second visit was on 5-12-15, and 5-13-15. While this is not a well known and publicized trail, make no mistake it is one of the best paved trails in Florida. I'm a big fan of rural trails. The Four Freedoms Trail in Madison County is 12 miles long, and was constructed as a joint effort between the County, Suwannee River Water Management District, the Office of Greenways and Trails, and the Florida Department of Transportation. As a result, the trail was created without Madison County tax dollars.
This recreational trail extends north from the city limits of Madison to the Withlacoochee River at the Florida-Georgia border. Much or all of the Four Freedoms Trail is a former abandoned railroad corridor. The Valdosta Southern Railway, chartered in 1896, opened its 28-mile line from Valdosta to Madison Florida in 1901. The Georgia-Florida Railway was organized in 1906. In 1954, the new Valdosta Southern Railroad began operating the former Georgia & Florida line between Valdosta Georgia and Madison Florida. The tracks from Clyattville to Madison were abandoned in 1972. In 1992 the line was sold to Rail Management Corporation, which established the Valdosta Railway to operate it. In 2005, Rail Management sold all of its assets, including the Valdosta Railway. Here people can enjoy biking, walking, and horseback riding (beside the trail). There are also covered rest shelters along the way. No water is provided here so bring plenty. The locals in Madison all know what a special trail this is.
I stumbled across a blog about the trail in 2011, and something inside me said to get here ASAP. And the something inside me was right. This trail was incredible and very beautiful. It far exceded my expectations. I have bicycled many paved trails since April 2011, and in my opinion this trail is definitely the best one I've ever visited in Florida. The easiest way reach the trail is to locate Four Freedoms Park at the corner of Base Street (aka Highway 90) and Range Avenue. Go past the park and you will run into Highway 145 (aka Colin Kelly Highway). Turn right (which is north), and go about one mile, when you see Rocky Ford Road on your left, slow down and you will see the trail beginning on the right. You will also see a green bike trail sign. Parking is right by the trail entrance.
The trail will then cross the main highway in several places. The first crossover is at NE 115th Avenue. Here is a trailhead with parking and a shelter. Continue on the left side of Highway 145. The next shelter is on Poppy Trail. You are now on Persimmon Drive. Continue riding and you will arrive at Capt. Buie Road. This is the small town of Pinetta. And I mean small. There will be a post office on your left. Keep riding and you will arrive at a playground, shelter, and parking area. A great place to rest. The trail continues on Persimmon Drive then crosses to the right just before Hollingsworth Short (aka Paw Paw Street).
You are now riding away from Persimmon Drive. Then the trail continues on the left side of Pineapple Street. Pineapple becomes Pear Way. Continue riding and you will cross Pear to the right. Just a short distance away your next stop will be the end of the trail. There is a fence in front of you. Go around the fence and straight ahead. Disregard the dirt trail on your left. I believe that is a private drive. The Withlacoochee River, shelter and lookout boardwalk, and the abandoned trail trestle bridge is ahead. Way too cool here.
This is your reward for the ride. Across the river is Georgia. But without signs announcing it of course. The scenery on the trail is incredible. Now this was a long drive for me from Sarasota so I also visited two other paved trails on this March 2012 visit to north Florida. The Withlacoochee Bay Trail in Inglis and the Suwannee River Greenway in Branford. A two thumbs up to the Four Freeoms Trail. Yes this can be a long drive for many people. But if you do your research, have the time and money, combine paved trails, it can be a fantastic adventure for you. It definitely was for me. Thanks for stopping by.
Update: I received a nice message via Facebook on 8-1-12. It said: "Thank you for the glowing review of our trail and the photos! We are very proud of it and are so glad to hear it is being enjoyed". - Jeanne Bass, Madison County Planner.
I really appreciate the kind words from Jeanne. It's just a treat to bike and document my excursions, and hopefully others can see how incredible Florida Paved Trails can be. And this trail is one of the best I've ever visited. Do not miss visiting and bicycling this trail. I'm hoping to get back here soon. Thanks for seeing here.
MY 2015 TRIP TO THE FOUR FREEDOMS TRAIL
After a three year absence, I finally made it back to one of my favorite paved trails in Florida. In 2012 I didn't have the time to bike the entire trail because I was staying pretty far away in Branford, a small town south of Live Oak. So this time I stayed in Madison. Which was a good decision. I was only about 10 minutes from the trail starting point, which is just outside of downtown Madison, off Highway 145 (aka, Colin Kelly Highway). Highway 145 runs north into Georgia, with Valdosta perhaps 30 miles away. There is parking available at the trail entrance, but it's not paved. Just a long wide area parallel to the road. But don't worry, there usually aren't any cars here. Like I mentioned earlier, this is a rural trail. However, houses will be sporadically situated so you will not feel totally isolated at all.
Starting my ride this time was extremely exciting. Three years was a long time for me to get back here. Funny how time just seems to fly when you get older. What I really enjoy is the excitement and anticipation as I unload my bike, set up my computer, add my front bag, and install my water bottle.
Like I mentioned earlier, this trail is not well publicized, so chances are high you'll be alone most of your ride. On this visit, I was looking forward to biking the section I missed in 2012. As I ride, it's very quiet except for an occasional car or truck on Highway 145, which peaks through some of the trees on my left. The highway and trail run parallel along here, but are separated in most sections by both sparse and thick tree sections. So starting out, the canopy sectionsreminded me of what I loved so much about this trail. North Florida paved trails are so much better than the central and southern trails.
This trail has a lot going for it. While it's without questions one of the most beautiful in Florida, another very important thing is it's safe. Unlike most rural trails in the state (the Van Fleet Trail in Polk County comes to mind with being very remote), Highway 145 will definitely give all riders a very high sense of security. Plus, while most houses along here are sparse, there are still sections where they're dense. It just makes for added comfort and relaxation for sure.