Off the Beaten Path from Jacksonville: Union County, Fla

    Gary McKechnie

    For your consideration, here’s Union County by the numbers: Of Florida’s 67 counties, it is the smallest, just 240 square miles. You could drive border to border in about 20 minutes, and it has just three incorporated towns. But in some ways, Union County is more than the sum of its parts. Surrounded by four other rural counties at the hinge of the peninsula and western Florida, it remains largely undisturbed by development. Perhaps that is why back roads travelers come here. Here are a few other reasons…

    1. Lake Butler

    No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I never tire of looking across the placid waters of Lake Butler. Just blocks from the quiet town that shares its name, the small but popular Lakeside Park is where the community congregates. Kids love the playground, everyone enjoys picnics in the pavilions, and fishing seems to be the most popular activity on the mile-wide waters. Take a moment to track the shoreline. On a panoramic scan of the nearly circular lake, you’ll see that aside from the community building, boat launch, and playground beside you, there’s hardly a manmade structure to upset the natural balance.

    2. Walk or Roll

    While still a work in progress, the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail will eventually offer nearly 50 miles of paved trails along a former railroad path through Putnam, Clay, Bradford, and Union counties. The trailhead is at the site of the town’s old depot, and a replica of the depot marks the starting point of four miles of paved trail that slips into the woods and further into the outskirts of town. A pleasant excursion whether on foot or bicycle.

    3. Worthington Springs

    A sleepy, southern vibe seeps across Worthington Springs, washing through the oaks that shade the old Methodist church and coating the weather-beaten log cabin across the street. Hardly a thing here raises the suspicion of speed. Instead, random scenes look like clips from a slow-motion film. You may spot kids playing basketball on the town’s court, families dropping in at the town’s lone pizza parlor, and locals and visitors pulling into the Chastain-Seay Park on the Union-Alachua county line. With the twisting Santa Fe River creating the border between the two counties, the park is a great place to launch a canoe excursion or just sit on the dock and wile away a few hours fishing.

    4. Get a Horse!

    Chances are you won’t be traveling with a horse in tow, but if you’re a fan of equine activities, you may consider joining the Union County Riding Club, which meets in Lake Butler on Route 121. On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, riders gather at 7 p.m. to practice and compete in events including the arena race, pole bending, cloverleaf, and the Texas barrel weave.

    5. Blueberry Hill

    Midway between Lake Butler and Worthington Springs, farmer John Ibasfalean tends to fields of pesticide-free blueberries. When blueberry season arrives (March through May), that’s when Farmer John tends to customers who arrive to harvest them by the pint and pound. When you’re ready to take your pick, call ahead (386/496-1747) to check on the schedule. John’s Blueberries is at 7839 Southwest 126th Avenue.

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    Want to read about more hidden Florida gems? Check out these articles:

    Belle Glade

    Columbia County

    DeSoto County


    Glades County

    Hamilton County

    Hardee County

    Hendry County

    Highlands County

    Holmes County


    Jackson County

    Madison County

    Okeechobee County


    Putnam County

    South Bay

    Suwannee County


    Union County is highlighted in red.

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    Places to Remember