Underexposed is a series dedicated to showcasing trails around North America that fly under the proverbial radar for most riders. PEARL iZUMi athlete Brice Shirbach has seen firsthand what sweat equity can mean among mountain bikers and its impact on the places we call home, and this series will look to help open eyes and shift our attention to some of the brilliant riding that exists in places both unexpected and unheard of.
I was surprised by how hard I was breathing. The trail was defined by its punctuations, ceaselessly short but precipitous punches up, followed immediately by equally short but sweet downs. The pattern repeated itself for seven miles, with only a handful of decidedly flat sections. I was surprised because I was in Florida. A state well known for beaches, low elevations, and “Florida Man.” For years I have appreciated the warm respite that Florida provides mountain bikers and have long been aware of its many hidden gems. Despite not having some of the elevation advantages that can be found in virtually every other state in the country, Florida has incredibly fun places to ride and certainly help keep you sharp on the bike. Particularly when other trails are out of commission for the winter months.
If I’m being honest, I kind of thought that I had exhausted all of the good trails in the state after my last trip to ride in Florida when I spent a few days exploring Tallahassee. Florida is a pretty large swath of land, and at that point, I had counted half a dozen properly fun networks. But this is a state known for its beaches, not its trails, and I thought it unlikely that there were a whole lot of other trails left that I’d actually want to ride. As it turns out, I was guilty of doubting the very thing I had been advocating for the duration of my career as a professional mountain biker: you don’t need mountains to have a good time on a mountain bike. Case in point: the Graham Swamp Trail (GST) in Palm Coast, FL.
Built along a sandy ridge that is about a mile in length by half a mile in width, the winding network works its way up and down the ridge in a way that reminded me of that old cell phone game, “Snake.” The trail seems to be continually chasing its own tail throughout its seven miles. About a mile inland from the North Florida Atlantic coastline, the GST is really just a single directional trail, and as it goes, it may be the single best trail in all of the Sunshine State.
In addition to the ceaseless ups and downs that elevate your heart rate instantly, the trail is beyond chock full of features. In fact, I can’t think of a single trail with such a feature-rich design anywhere else in Florida. The trail works clockwise, starting with a flat fire road pedal with a handful of doubles, each just over a bike length before the first of 50+ short and punchy elevation changes. Throughout its sequence, the GST utilizes dozens of jumps, some skinnies, rock rolls, chutes, and more. Almost everything here is optional, less the actual sharp climbs and a handful of natural technical bits. The anaerobic stress increases exponentially with every incremental increase in effort, making this place kind of perfect as an offseason training haunt for a variety of riders.
Florida, man. It’s not lost on me that the butt of so many jokes can, in fact, provide a much-needed lift for riders desperate for some time on the bike. It’s a place that proves once again if you give mountain bikers an inch, we’ll take it a mile. Or seven.
Advocacy: The Graham Swamp Trail Crew is a non-profit organization tasked with the maintenance and development of the Graham Swamp Trail. Nineteen years ago, a couple of surfers named Mickey Garrett and Bill Brown began to explore some of the hilly terrain a mile west of the beach when they came across the sandy esker above Graham Swamp. The Colbert Lane, where the trailhead is now located, hadn’t been built yet, so when they asked the land managers if they could build some trails, it was an easy yes as no one, not even Mickey and Bill, had a sense of what was to come of it. Fast forward to today, and the Graham Swamp Trail Crew is a 501c3 with a tightly knit volunteer base of 10 or so members. They are responsible for hosting several bike and trail running events at GST and holds a memorandum of understanding with Flagler County Parks and Recreation for maintaining and improving the trail. You can follow their work and donate to them via their Facebook page.
Stay: Palm Coast has no shortage of lodging options, and with Interstate-95 cutting through town, it’s an easy place to get to. There are plenty of Airbnb options and quirky beach-town hotels and motels to choose from. Plus, many campsites ranging from primitive to full hookup sites, including Pellicer Creek, Flagler by the Sea, Faver Dykes State Park, and Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area.
Take Note: While the Graham Swamp Trail is a directional 7-mile long trail for mountain bikers, there are additional offshoots and routes for hikers and runners, leading to a handful of intersections throughout the trail. All intersections are marked but remember to check up when you approach these. The Graham Swamp Trail Crew are doing something truly special here, and a little bit of consideration goes a long way when paying this place a visit.