San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is a nice, multi-use park in the northwest corner of Gainesville.
There’s also 20 miles of off-road biking trails, for all levels of experience, and another 10 miles of equestrian trails. I list them all separately because that’s how the park wants them – hiking trails are only for hiking, biking for biking, horses for horses (interestingly, horse-drawn carriages are welcome on some of the trails).
I recently hiked the 5.6 mile white trail, which overlaps at points with the two other hiking trails (blue and yellow). The hiking trails have several good things going for them: they’re well traveled, they allow leashed dogs and they are almost entirely shaded. The shade is particularly important, because it’s so unusual for trails in central Florida. It’s the only thing that makes afternoon hikes possible. Last week, I got started around 10 a.m., and by noon, the temperature was well into the mid-90s – but in the shade, it was still pleasant.
Unfortunately, the trail has a few drawbacks: the park has a major tick and mosquito population, and the ever-present hum of traffic on I-75 subtracts from the woodsy ambiance. If you try not to dwell on it, you could probably convince yourself that the traffic noise is actually wind whistling through the pines. Ticks and mosquitoes can be held at bay with some repellent, as long as you remember to bring it.
The scenery is fairly consistent, and the trail meanders gently. There’s a few very brief changes in elevation, but nothing too difficult. The park is littered with sinkholes (none as impressive as nearby Devil’s Millhopper), and most were still filled with the remnants of Tropical Storm Debby, which filled every low point in the county the week before.
The trail is also very well marked. Traditional colored diamonds on the trees let you know what trail you’re on, and number markers give you an idea of where you’re at in each section. The numbers, despite being evenly spaced and chronological, are not mile markers, so keep that in mind. The 5.6-mile trail has 11 markers, and if you grab a map from the trailhead, you’ll always know where you’re at.
I didn’t see a ton of wildlife out on the trail, but a morning or evening hiker would likely have better luck. I did get a quick glimpse of some white-tailed deer, including an antlered buck standing on the trail, but they darted off before I could get my camera ready. Some small frogs, songbirds and a black snake made brief appearances as well.
Have you biked any of the trails? I’m looking for tips before I head out.
The park’s trailhead is located on State Highway 232 (which turns to Northwest 53rd Avenue once it enters Gainesville) on the Gainesville side of I-75. The biking and equestrian trailheads are on U.S. 441 south of Alachua. Park admission (there’s no ranger, just a drop box) is $2 a person at the hiking trailhead. There’s parking and a semi-permanent restroom. Make sure to bring lots of water and mosquito repellent.