Jacksonville is surrounded by the most beautiful places where you can opt to spend time in nature this holiday season, taking a trip back to Old Florida. And with several holidays falling on Fridays this year-end, Timucuan Parks Foundation encourages you to take the extra couple of days off work to enjoy the many trails in our city. Best of all, most of these parks are free.
Not sure where to start, or looking for new trails? Try these that we’ve rated as easy trails, moderate level hiking and slightly strenuous trails (although this is Florida, so let’s be honest, you won’t be hiking up a mountain).
FIRST: BE PREPARED
Follow local orders requiring facial coverings or masks to provide for staff and visitor safety. You will be on wilderness trails, so here are some other tips:
- Dress in layers for the weather.
- Carry water and a snack; a small day-bag is ideal to keep your hands free. Or use a backpack for water, snacks, insect repellent, sunscreen, a small first-aid kit, and toilet paper (some restroom facilities are portable toilets only).
- At the trailhead kiosk, take a picture of the trail map so you have it handy.
Here are some easier trails for people on wheels or those looking for a casual stroll:
- The Island Trail at Castaway Island Preserve (2921 San Pablo Rd S) – park at the end of the road and take the paved and wooden boardwalk trail for views of the Intracoastal Waterway and surrounding marsh. With small children, enjoy the animal “tracks” and colorful information kiosks.
- On the Northside, the new Edwards Creek Day Use Area at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve (13990 Pumpkin Hill Rd, follow gravel road to the north end) – use the paved path to visit the dock where you can gaze out at Edwards and Pumpkin Hill creeks. Take your fishing pole, or victuals for a picnic.
- The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail, a former CSX railway line on the Westside, has a paved path perfect for walking and anyone on wheels, and unpaved trails that spur off into public conservation lands for further exploration. Trailheads on the eastern end are located at 1800 Imeson Rd and Camp Milton Historic Preserve (1175 Halsema Rd N), and on the western end at 1384 Otis Rd, 849 N Center St, and 89 Brady Branch Rd. Distance is up to you — the rail trail offers you 14.5 miles from end to end. For a quiet and enjoyable (shorter) side trip, spend some time at Camp Milton Historic Preserve. The path is paved to the cracker house and education center (which is not open at this time). Additional unpaved trails take you to the historic McGirts Creek Bridge.
- The Main and Marsh trails at Reddie Point Preserve (4499 Yachtsman Way) in Arlington are not paved, but are flat and, in short order, give you feeling of “being away from it all.” Take in the fresh air by taking a walk out to the end of the long pier out to the St. Johns River.
For trails that are a little more difficult, we suggest you check out these below:
- In the 7 Creeks Recreation Area on the Northside, check out the Hammock Trail at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve (13990 Pumpkin Hill Rd) which is a 2.3-mile path that takes you around the entire preserve. You can check out the saltwater marsh, pine flatwoods and maritime hammocks. Follow the spur trails for an even longer hike.
- Also in 7 Creeks Recreation Area, the blue NPS Loop Trail at Cedar Point NPS (9023 Cedar Point Rd) we would classify as “easy to moderate” – at the south end of Black Hammock Island, you traverse maritime hammocks and salt marsh habitats on a very wide trail. Trail surfaces can range from sandy to firm to muddy (if it’s rained) with enough space to skirt boggy spots and tree roots. This leads to the NPS Spur Trail which takes you to the 7 Creeks Trail bridge.
- The Houston Creek Trail at Seaton Creek Historic Preserve (2145 Arnold Rd, north of Jacksonville International Airport) is one of three wilderness trails that together cover about five miles through pristine marshes and meandering creeks.
- The Hammock Trail at Fort Caroline National Memorial (12713 Fort Caroline Rd) in East Arlington takes you through a maritime forest formed on ancient dunes, which is why you hike up and down a hilly path under impressive tree canopy; we’ve listed this as moderate due to the one-mile length. (The national park is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.)
- On the Westside, Bulls Bay Preserve’s five trails (8017 Old Plank Rd) may be calling you with names like Bridge Loop, Live Oak Loop, Lily Pond, Old Plank Trail and Waterfall Loop – you experience over two miles of hiking/mountain bike trails at the Old Plank Road trailhead with a variety of elevation changes. We’ve listed this as moderate due to the shorter distances. Be sure to explore that rarity in Florida, a waterfall!
By strenuous we mean you might break a sweat; for people who like to work out those calf muscles traversing varying elevations or longer distances.
- If you are up for it, you could take the 7 Creeks Trail which overlays the Hammock Trail at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve (13990 Pumpkin Hill Rd) and continues seven miles to the Horseshoe Creek trailhead (9023 Cedar Point Rd), or vice versa. You will need to budget your time as well as your legs — will you want to finish at the end of the seven-mile trail, or make the loop back for a 14-mile trip? (Consider staging a vehicle at the end of the seven-mile trail for your return.) We’ve put this on the strenuous list due to the trail length.
- Willie Browne, Spanish Pond and Timucuan trails at the Theodore Roosevelt Area (TRA) in East Arlington – TRA has five miles of trails with a few inclines which make this a very different place than the other preserves. There is some level of difficulty in ascending certain sections of the trails, especially on the Timucuan Trail. Trees create a canopy that offers ample shade. You can make your way to the raised platform off the Timucuan Trail which provides terrific views of the saltwater marsh. You can access the TRA trailhead at 13165 Mount Pleasant Rd, and the Spanish Pond trailhead directly across from the Fort Caroline National Memorial entrance (12713 Fort Caroline Rd).
- The brown Hiking Loop at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Mayport (500 Wonderwood Dr; requires paid admission) takes you 2.6 miles through lush forest, up slopes and down inclines, and around the freshwater lake.
- The Dune Ridge Trail at Little Talbot Island State Park ($5 admission, vehicle admission payable online) – a favorite with hikers, this four-mile loop takes you up and down tree-covered dunes. At about 2.5 miles, you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean and a beach littered with sun-bleached trees that have eroded from the shoreline. Walk the 1.5 miles back to your car on a mostly deserted beach.
Remember, whenever you visit these natural spaces make sure you leave them as you found them or even better if you can. Dispose of litter responsibly. You could even bring along a trash bag and if you see anything along the trail, pick it up and take it out to help keep these natural spaces pristine.
We hope you enjoy your time in nature. Share your adventures with #timucuanparks or @timucuanparks. See you on the trails!