The south end of the trail is in Hanson (which is little more than a sign along the highway), about seven miles north of Madison along the Colin Kelly Highway (SR-145). The trail parking area are on the west side of the highway, and is not particularly inviting. There isn't a huge sign marking the trailhead, and the surrounding weeds don't provide much shade. A large, black lump on the ground shows where the trail paving crew dumped their excess asphalt at the end of the job.
Just a few hundred yards outside of the parking area, though, the trees close in and the trail is protected by a leafy canopy. The way is mostly wooded for about two miles until you approach the village of Pinetta. At this point I can only guess that there was some trouble obtaining the right-of-way to the old rail grade, because at this point the trail ceases to follow the old rail route. Instead, the trail follows a paved bike lane along Persimmon Drive. In the center of Pinetta the bike lane vanishes for a block or two and you're on the streets. This isn't much of a problem, though, because this part of Pinetta hasn't seen much traffic since before the railroad left. If you want to visit the village store or barbecue restaurant, those are a block east of the trail near the Colin Kelly Highway.
After another brief spell on bike lanes, the trail resumes north of Pinetta on the west side of Persimmon Drive. Around the 3-1/2 mile point, the trail crosses to the east side of the road, passes a good-sized parking area with picnic tables, and then plunges into the woods. For the next two miles you'll see little but trees to either side of you. Additionally, the trail acquires a noticeable downward grade--you're headed downhill to the Withlacoochee River and the state line.
Five-and-a-half miles from the Hanson trailhead, the Four Freedoms Trail ends at the Withlacoochee River. There's a picnic table under a shelter at the south end of the trail and an observation deck overlooking the river. The opposite bank of the river is Lowndes County, Georgia. Part of the old railroad trestle that carried the trains across the river still stands on the Florida side of the Withlacoochee. This is a pleasant spot to stop and eat a snack, watch birds, or fish. Or you could stare at the water, and imagine what an amazing ride you could have if the trail continued across the river and up the old rail grade into Valdosta.
I've bicycled the Four Freedoms Trail twice; there wasn't much traffic on it either time. In fact, I don't remember if I saw any other bicycle riders, altho' there were several folks walking on the trail. At only five-and-a-half miles (an eleven-mile round trip), it's probably not worth a long drive to visit, but if you're near the area you should definitely check it out. From the center of Madison, Florida head east on Base Street (US 90), and then turn left (north) onto Duval Street. Duval Street ends at Livingston Street, where you should turn right (follow the signs pointing to Valdosta). Livingston Street becomes the Colin Kelly Highway (SR-145).
- Madison County's map of the trail:
- Photos of the trail:
- Another Four Freedoms Trail report: