When it comes to mountain biking, Florida isn’t often the first state that comes to mind. We tend to think of Whistler (Crankworx anyone?) or Mammoth. However, the Sunshine State boasts some seriously great places for off-road biking. To get you up to speed, we’ve compiled a primer of fantastic downhill mountain bike trails near Jacksonville that you should check out next time you’re in the area.
Near Ocala, Santos is the biggest name in the region for mountain biking. It’s part of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, which stretches more than a hundred miles from the Gulf to the St. John River.
Originally designed to be a barge canal across the state, the project was abandoned in the 1960s and is now one of the largest unfinished public works projects in the United States. Fortunately for cyclists, this massive space is now a fantastic venue for mountain biking.
The area was designated as the first IMBA Bronze ride center, and the trail network is extensive and winding. In fact, it’s so extensive that you can ride more than 50 miles continuously by connecting trails. Bring a trail map and compass, as it is possible to get lost.
The trails range from flat routes for beginners (marked in green) to rocky, steep inclines for experts (marked in red). The expert trails have been cut into abandoned quarries, and they offer a chance for maneuvering. The trails have plenty of wooden features and big jumps, including one 25-foot drop.
There are so many areas to explore in Santos, you need multiple riding days to cover it all.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
Right on Jacksonville’s oceanfront in Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park there are 20 miles of mountain bike trails for all levels of riders. The Long Trail and the Back 40 are suitable for beginners, while the aptly named Misery Trail, Grunt Trail, and Tornado Alley have twists and dips through the woods for more experienced mountain bikers.
Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park
The south end of Tillie K. Fowler Park, just south of the city, has a few off-road trails suitable for beginner and intermediate riders. The main loop is called Whistling Kitty Chaser and runs just over a mile. The more advanced trails branch off from Whistling Kitty, and they feature some ladder bridges as well as berms and rollers.
Jacksonville’s Mandarin Park is a good place for a short after-work excursion, though all the trails are beginner level.
Willie Browne Trail
Just a 10-minute drive (or a 30-minute ride) from Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is the Theodore Roosevelt Area at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, home of the Willie Browne Trail. The trail is an easy to moderate loop through a beautiful wooded area of the preserve. It has a decent climb up what the locals say is the highest point in the city, and you can get great speed on the downhill and enjoy some sharp, challenging turns.
The Rock Trail
Near Gainesville, the Rock Trail is a new addition to the riding scene. It has a steep drop off the top and wonderful twists and turns. It runs about five miles, with open areas and a great grassy incline at the end. More singletrack is being added in the area, so there will be more reason to visit in the future.
Tom Brown & Cadillac
Right in the heart of nearby Tallahassee, the Tom Brown Trail and the Cadillac Trail offer a variety of fun mountain biking activities. The two trail systems blend together into an excellent singletrack with some strong technical challenges (including log bridges and short drops), and riders also can enjoy the jump park and BMX track.
Markham Park, just west of Fort Lauderdale, has ten miles of trails with terrain that ranges from easy packed sand to tricky rocks.
The park’s variety includes fantastic trails for adaptive bike riders. In fact, one trail has four miles of trails specifically designed for recumbent bikes.
Alafia River State Park
A little further south from Jacksonville, near Tampa, the Alafia River State Park has 25 miles of singletrack trails with elevations and dips in the range of 400 feet. The park has beginner access roads in addition to its intermediate and expert trails.
Roller Coaster and Moonscape are the two best trails for experienced riders. The highlight of Alafia River State Park is an abandoned phosphate mine near Lithia that offers the best verticals in the area. Don’t get too casual and comfortable on your ride – the double-diamond Gatorback Trail often has an actual alligator at the bottom of a hill.
Balm Boyette Scrub Preserve
Next to the Alafia River State Park is an often-overlooked biking area called the Balm Boyette Scrub Preserve. The preserve is a hidden gem for off-road riding with a full 25 miles of trail. The 12-mile Forested Loop Trail is a continuous tree-shaded single track featuring some short climbs and intermediate challenges, while the Ridgeline Trail and Pandemonium Trail have steep drops and plenty of hills. The great riding is topped off with a bonus, as the preserve has no park fees.