Monday, December 8, 2008

Four Freedoms Trail, Madison, Florida

It's not listed in the Florida's Office of Greenways and Trails guide, nor is it listed by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy but Madison has a very nice rail-trail, the Four Freedoms Trail.

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).



  1. Glad I found your blog. I live in Sarasota and plan to ride this trail soon. It sounds and looks like a great place to explore. All the best.

  2. Charles,

    Thank you for your kind words! I really need to do an update on this trail report, because earlier this year the trail was extended south into Madison, just about doubling it's length. I wrote about it here while the construction was going on, but the blacktop now goes all the way from Madison to the river.


  3. Herb I will be riding the Four Freedoms Trail on March 13th 2012. I am very anxious to visit it. Also I'll be staying in Branford during the week and will also be riding the Suwannee River Greenway Trail. This trail is 12 miles long. Very rural, quiet, and scenic. Parking is at Ivey Memorial Park located at 614 Ivey Memorial Park Dr in Branford. Google the address for precise location. This park is located right on Highway 27 along the peaceful Suwannee River, and is a very safe place with the paved trail running right through the park. I will have lots of photos on my 'Trail View Mount' website soon after the trip. Again I have your blog added to my favorites. Enjoy it a lot. Great information you have and do. All the best.

  4. March 2012 finally rode the trail. Beyond my favorite trail in all of Florida. Was so beautiful. On this trip I also did two other trails. The Withlacoochee Bay Trail in Crystal River and the Suwannee River Greenway in Branford. Fantastic all these places. Take care.