The Top 5 Shaded Trails in Gainesville

If you’ve done any running in Gainesville, you’ve probably noticed there’s ample runner-friendly streets, paths and trails at your disposal.  You’ve probably also noticed, as I have, that shade in these areas can be hard to come by.

There are, however, some spots in Gainesville with enough shade to embarrass an umbrella.

It’s taken me a couple of years to find some of Gainesville’s most shade-centric trails.  And now the time has come for me to pass this knowledge on to you.

For this list I’ll be using my very own shade rating:

= Very limited shade.  Pray for clouds.

= Completely shaded.  Seattle’s got nothin’ on this.

Without further ado, the top 5 shaded trails in Gainesville, Fla.:

5. Morningside Nature Center 

Roughly five miles east of campus, Morningside Nature Center features about 7 miles of trail throughout 278 acres of beautiful running terrain.  Though not wholly shady, Morningside has ample amount of shaded trail, particularly on the center’s 3-mile perimeter trail.

Ben’s tip: Bring your own water, as you won’t find any out here.  Also, don’t be surprised to encounter (large) deer on the trails.

Morningside Nature Center

Morningside Nature Center trail

Morningside Nature Center perimeter trail

4. Sweetwater Preserve

Sweetwater Preserve has it all: short trail loops, long trail loops, elevation changes and varying running surfaces.  The preserve is free to enter, and you can park right at the trailhead.

Ben’s tip: Hop a rundown wire fence past the “closed trail” sign and follow twin tracks to extend the Sweetwater trails all the way out to Payne’s Prairie.

Sweetwater Preserve main trail

A bench on a Sweetwater Preserve trail

3. San Felasco Park

In my opinion San Felasco is the most beautiful place to run in Gainesville.  Its tens of miles of trails meander through varying landscapes; I never get bored running here.  The only downside to the park is its distance from campus, but it’s certainly worth an occasional trip.

Ben’s tip: The only park on my list with an entrance fee – $4.  Although you can get away without paying, $4 is a steal to enjoy such a gorgeous piece of property.

A trail at San Felasco Park

Entrance trail at San Felasco Park

2. Loblolly North 

Located just a half mile from the north side of campus, the Loblolly trails are ideal for relatively short and straightforward trail runs.  Loblolly North, in particular, is extremely shaded and connects 8th Avenue with 16th Avenue.

Ben’s tip: The most convenient Loblolly parking is at Albert “Ray” Massey Westside Park.  The park has bathrooms and a water fountain.  According to the City of Gainesville, Loblolly is “considered one of the best birding spots in the county.”

Loblolly North boardwalk leading to the trails

Loblolly North main trail

1. Clear Lake Nature Park

My vote for the most-shaded trail system in Gainesville.  On a hot summer day, the Clear Lake trails are 20 degrees cooler than outside temperatures.  Because the trails are without designated parking, they are relatively infrequently run.  My advice would be to run with a partner or some sort of protection, although I’ve never had problems running here alone.

Ben’s tip: Parking can be an issue; I’d recommend parking at The Woodlands of Gainesville, about a quarter mile from the trail.  I lived there for a year and never saw anyone towed, though I can’t guarantee they don’t!

Entrance (off 62nd Blvd.) to Clear Lake Nature Park

Main trail at Clear Lake Nature Park

Finally, I’d like to thank rednivaram for allowing me to use this beautiful tree photo for my shade rating scale.

Happy shaded running!


About Benjamin Markus

I am a 32-year-old runner living in Gainesville, FL.
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21 Responses to The Top 5 Shaded Trails in Gainesville

  1. Michelle says:

    Hmmm, never thought to run the ‘closed trail’ in the Sweetwater preserve.
    And I never realized Morningside and Clear Lake were so close to where I live. Thanks!

  2. natalie williams says:

    I have only been running at the San Felasco entrance near Millhopper. Where are the running trails at the main park? I have only mountain biked on the trails to the left of the main entrance near the horse stables.

    • markusben says:


      I myself have only been to the entrance off of 441 – practically at High Springs. When you enter the park from there the trail (that you see in the picture) is on your right, just a few feet inside the entrance. Other than that I drive over to the main trailhead and run those trails. My favorite is a 5 mile loop… but to be honest I cannot remember the name of it right now =\


      • starkwe says:

        There is also a San Felasco Park in Gainesville that’s free and shaded. It’s over by the Cox Cable building on 43rd. I have no idea how long any of the trails are, but you can get lost in them if you want to, especially on the side across from the playground.
        The part of San Felasco on Millhopper doesn’t allow bikes, although I think they used to.

      • Yes, there are two “sides” of San Felasco Park, the south I believe you’re referring to. Very shaded and excellent (and long) running trails. I believe the shortest loop is around 4 miles there. Lots of wildlife, too. Last time I was there I saw a coyote and wild boar, the latter of which can be relatively dangerous in packs. Best to run with a friend, in my opinion.

        Good luck!

      • starkwe says:

        Actually, I think the one you’re thinking of is still part of the state parks, over on Millhopper. The one I mean is a city park – it’s not as long as the state one and it’s free!

  3. Isaac Sia says:

    This is really useful! I like all the pictures of the trails especially. One (or more?) of your pics turn out the wrong way up when it’s clicked. Have a look 8 )

    • markusben says:

      Thanks, Isaac, I appreciate the kind words. I am still, as you can tell, having some issues with uploading pictures to WordPress. I think this issue will be taken care of by the next post. Cheers!


  4. Kristen says:

    Do you happen to know if any of these prohibit dogs on leash? These sound like great options for running with my pup!

    • markusben says:


      I am pretty sure that all of these parks allow dogs. And frankly, there’s never really anyone there to tell you otherwise =) These should definitely be good for walking the pup, but you’ll want to bring your own water. Only San Felasco (and maybe Morningside, though I’m not sure) has an on-site water fountain. Good luck!


  5. Michelle says:

    Oh, maybe I forgot to tell you I moved in the beginning of the summer. I’m living in Duckpond now. I’ll definitely be trying out some trails near there.

  6. Bill says:

    Morningside has a three mile perimeter trail, not 13. There are maybe 5 miles total of trail in the entire park including the paved driveways.

    • markusben says:

      Thanks for the heads up, Bill. I am still waiting for a reply from Morningside as to the precise length of the perimeter trail as well as the combined length of all trails there. Having done some 5 and 6 miles runs through only a portion of the park makes me skeptical that there are only 5 total miles of trail throughout. I also recall reading somewhere that the perimeter trail was 13 miles long, though I can’t recall where. I will gladly correct myself if I can get some kind of official information from a human being at Morningside.


  7. WOGer says:

    I used to work for the Woodlands of Gainesville. They don’t tow anyone.
    Just thought you should know

  8. Ron says:


    I dont live in Gainsville and from the pictures i am trying to figure out why I dont? Anyways i am trying to find out if there was a site to go to that has trail maps? I am a coach for a high school here in Melbourne and am looking to take the team for some trail running and such and am thinking this area just want some maps to study before hand. Also are the trails marked in any way? The few we have down here are color coded. Look forward to your reply.

  9. Re: Clear Lake Nature Park. Help! I was unable to find a trail longer than say 1.5 miles. Is that all there is? I took my iPhone with a GPS and the trails only traversed the outer parts of the park – the central part seemed to have no trails.

    And parking is a huge problem. It’s too bad the city hasn’t purchased some right of way and put in a proper parking lot – even a small one. There is a house for sale and a rezoning sign out front that would be ideal. Even better – that lake, Clear Lake. It’s also a shame the city hasn’t been able to obtain that for the public to enjoy. It’s disheartening to drive to Clear Lake Nature Park and see property after property with no trespassing sign and find out that the park is misnamed – it has no access to Clear Lake and is just tantalizingly close is all.

  10. Shree says:

    Hey Ben, thanks so much for this post. I just moved to Gainesville from a city where I’m used to more populated running paths and hence a greater sense of safety (whether it is an illusion or reality). Do you have a recommendation for running trails that are more popular with runners later in the day (~evening 5PM to 7PM) during the week?

    • Hi Shree – I’m sorry to be so late with my reply here. I think your best bet for very safe / populated running between 5-7 p.m. would be the Loblolly trail system that runs north-south through the center of the city. These are very popular, well-traveled trails. Hope this helps you!

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