North Central Florida – ROAD TRIPS
The belly of this region is so sparsely populated that almost any paved road is a good place for a jog, two-wheel journey or a leisurely drive. The way is rimmed with wildflowers and passes by farm fields and pastures of grazing cattle, horses or goats.
The main east-west route 1-10 so roughly follows ancient paths used since pre-Colombian times. Old roads that parallel the interstate pass through charming communities where the clock stopped once the interstate opened. Starting at Lake City, perhaps with a loop up to White Springs, take US go westward, stopping at Live Oak for fried chicken at the Dixie Grill and a visit to the museum in the old railroad depot.
Continue west to Suwannee River State Park on the site of a vanished community called Columbus. The park offers cabins, campsites, a boat launch and picnic sites. Hiking trails take you past Civil War-era fortifications, sawmill remains and an old cemetery. The highway then leads you through Madison with its stately courthouse and antebellum homes. Hotels once patronized by tobacco auctioneers and cotton factories now stand empty but the small downtown grid has antique shops and a few restaurants.
West of Madison off US go, the Hixtown Swamp Conservation Area is a major wintering spot for wading birds. Public access allows wildlife-viewing, fishing, picnics and hiking. Like Madison and Live Oak, Monticello is the county seat, centered by a grand courthouse. Drive around the small historic district, enjoy a meal and buy a bag of treats at Tupelo’s Bakery. There’s also a museum in the old jail that’s worth checking out.
US 27, the original highway from Miami to the Midwest, provides an interesting north-south road trip through this region. Known by different names including Claude Pepper Memorial Highway throughout the region and the Apalachee Parkway in Tallahassee, it links High Springs, with its funky restaurants, B&B inns and old opera house, to Perry, home of Forest Capital Museum State Park. Little towns along the way include Branford, where cave divers find lodgings and outfitters, and Mayo, where you’ll discover authentic country food and captivating antique shops.