Living just south of the Ocala National Forest, we are surrounded by scenic back roads. But, Florida is filled with rural roads winding through rolling hills, yes rolling hills in Florida, forests, prairies, and farm land everywhere. Some of the best hidden gems can be found along these Florida back roads, so we are excited to start this series to inspire others to take a Florida road trip. First up, Eustis to Historic Old Dixie Highway, then over to Palatka, and home through the Ocala National Forest.
Florida Road Trip: What is the Historic Old Dixie Highway?
I’m sure some of you may be wondering what the Historic Old Dixie Highway is, and why it’s of any significance. First, the Dixie Highway was planned out in December 1914 to connect the Midwest with the South, from Chicago to Miami. If you’ve ever taken a road trip in the Midwest, you may still see signs for portions of the Old Dixie Highway.
The project was overseen by the Dixie Highway Association and funded by a group of individuals, businesses, local governments, and states. By the mid-1920s, the project was largely completed with a network of roads interconnected across 10 states with more than 5,000 miles of paved, bricked road. But, by 1927, Dixie Highway became part of the US Route System, and was therefore, mostly abandoned. But, a portion of it still remains in remote Florida, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You may also see it called Old Brick Road on a map.
Where is the Historic Old Dixie Highway in Florida?
Old Dixie Highway is in Flagler County, just outside of Bunnell and Espanola. It runs north and south, along with US 1 and I-95, to the west of these highways.
There is also another preserved portion of Historic Old Dixie Highway in Maitland, just north of Orlando. It runs along Lake Lily, just off Orlando Ave/US Highway 17-92. Close by is the Waterhouse Residence Museum and the Maitland Historical Society.
Where does Historic Old Dixie Highway start and end?
If you are starting on the south end of Old Dixie Highway, then it begins just north of a small town called Espanola. Therefore, it will end when you reach County Road 204/13.
How long is Old Dixie Highway?
The historic stretch of Old Dixie Highway is 10 miles long, and must be taken very slowly. Unless you have a special off road vehicle.
How do you get to Historic Old Dixie Highway?
Our Florida road trip began in Eustis, so we had several options for getting to Old Dixie Highway. We planned to stop at the grave of Walt Disney’s grandparents on our way, therefore we headed to County Road 445. But, this ended up being the wrong location, so we continued on our way, to Florida Highway 40 to head east. After going through Barberville, we headed north on County Road 11 towards Bunnell. When you get to Bunnell, you turn left, or north, on US Highway 1, then a left on County Road 13. When you reach the end, in the town of Espanola, you take a right onto North Old Dixie Highway. You’ll come to a sign that warns you to proceed at your own risk. Take this seriously, and enjoy.
What is the Old Dixie Highway exit number?
When taking I-95 to get to Old Dixie Highway you’ll take exit 298, which is the US 1 exit, if you’re staring on the north end. Be sure to turn onto County Road 204 going towards Hastings. If starting at the south end, then it will be exit 284, Florida Highway 100, and go towards Bunnell.
Historic Old Dixie Highway: Map of the area
A map to show all our stops, and the location of Old Dixie Highway in case you’re coming from a different direction. You can also put in Old Dixie Highway on your Google map, and it should come up.
How long does it take to drive the Historic Old Dixie Highway?
Due to the condition of Old Dixie Highway, and it being a true Florida back road, you should plan to be out there at least an hour and a half. But, if you plan to make some stops for pictures, and take it slow, you may be out there a little longer. As you can see in our video, there are some parts of Old Dixie Highway that need to be taken a little slower.
Florida Road Trip: Where to stop along the way
Florida Road trip stops along County Road 42
Walt Disney’s grandparent’s grave in Paisley
On our original trip out to Old Dixie Highway, we planned to stop at Walt Disney’s grandparents grave, but were in the wrong area. Now knowing the correct location of the grave, it still could’ve been part of this Florida road trip.
Right on County Road 42, just before driving into Paisley, you’ll come to Poinciana Cemetery, the resting place of Walt Disney’s grandparents. Since we live very close, we drove out the following week to pay our respects.
What to see along County Road 40 in Barberville
The Barberville Yard Art Emporium
We have driven past the Yard Art Emporium more times than I can remember, but have never stopped. I always wanted to, and, I’m so happy we stopped to take a look. This place is full of statues, metal art, pottery and stunning wooden furniture. We only took a quick peek around, because we had the dogs with us, even though they’re dog friendly.
Along with everyday decorations, they have lots of different holiday yard art. Prices seem to be very reasonable too. My daughter and I both want to go back and shop without having to worry about the dogs.
Driving along Historic Old Dixie Highway
As you drive the Historic Old Dixie Highway, bricks become visible, but during other stretches, they are completely hidden. Weather can effect the visibility, therefore everyone will have a different experience. I do believe sand is added to Old Dixie Highway to help preserve it and keep the bricks in place.
From other pictures I’ve seen, you can see the entire road, including the original edges. I could tell where the edges were, but not totally see them. You can catch this all in our video.
There’s so much nostalgia driving along Historic Old Dixie Highway, even though you don’t really pass anything. Just to think about all the people who drove along this highway over the past century, and traveled hundreds of miles between seeing others intrigues me. Most of us are so used to being close to safety, and knowing where we are, it makes it challenging.
Old Dixie Highway is very narrow, but while driving along most of the road, there is room to drive in the grass to pass other vehicles.
After reaching the north end of Old Dixie Highway, you come to County Road 204/County Road 13. We headed west toward Palatka because we didn’t want to go back the way we came. Plus, we wanted to get something to eat.
Places to eat in Palatka, Florida
Our oldest lived in Palatka for about 3 years while going to college, so she was our inside on the best places to eat in Palatka. Mariachiles Mexican was one of our favorites, so my youngest wanted to grab some queso dip, chips, and rolled flautas. It was too nice out to sit inside, plus we had the dogs, so we went over to the Riverfront Park to sit and eat outside along the St Johns River.
We got a late start for our road trip, and it was getting closer to sundown. I decided to grab dinner for Matt and I from another favorite place, Leo’s Sushi. Emma finally got me to first try sushi at Leo’s, and I was hooked. The Golden Shoes are a must, and we love the Elkton rolls.
Florida Road Trip: Driving Florida Highway 19 through Ocala National Forest
From Palatka, the quickest way home for us is Highway 19, which runs north and south through the Ocala National Forest. A drive we made often with our daughter having lived in up there a couple years. Between Palatka and Altoona, the drive is mostly scenic with the exception of driving through Salt Springs. This is where you will find Salt Springs Recreation area, which we have previously shared about our snorkeling experience.
You can expect to possibly see some wildlife along your drive through the Ocala National Forest. Many people outside of Florida are surprised to find out there are black bears in Florida. So, keep an eye out, this is where I finally saw my first one. In addition, you may see all kinds of birds, turkeys, raccoons, bunnies, deer, fox, and more.
Tips for visiting Historic Old Dixie Highway in Bunnell, Florida
- This is NOT a safe road for all vehicles
- Stop at a restroom if you are planning to drive the entire Old Dixie Highway
- Bring water and snacks
- Minimal to NO cell service, so you may want to track your distance to know how far you have left
- Be sure you have enough gas in your tank
- Keep an eye on the road to avoid any rough patches
Final Thoughts on Old Dixie Highway
Being someone who appreciates preserving history, I think it’s very great they’ve been able to protect this stretch of Old Dixie Highway. Anyone who enjoys visiting historical places should take a Florida road trip to check it out. In addition to the places we stopped, you could also plan to visit Barberville Pioneer Settlement, Salt Springs, Alexander Springs, or Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka. Would you visit Historic Old Dixie Highway?