Exploring the Natural Side of Jacksonville

When you think of Jacksonville what do you think of?

I-95 regulars may think of the first city in Florida. High school students may think of their college city. Florida facters may think of the most populous city in the state . Some may just think of the beaches and sunny Florida.

With how big of a city it is, Jacksonville can be anything anyone wants it to be.

Many know the city is the largest in the contiguous United States but not many know that Jacksonville is home to the largest urban park system in the entire country. With parks ranging from the national level to the local level, there is a park for everyone.

While planning a stop in Jacksonville, the naturist side of me got excited. There were so many beaches, parks, preserves, to explore… how could I choose one days worth of adventures!?

Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve is a National Park Service run collection of state parks within Jacksonville. Timucuan parks and preserves cover a lot of the grounds and area of Jacksonville to help teach the public the importance of the ecosystems and the history and culture surrounding the area.

Totally unplanned by me, I spent the entire day visiting these Timucuan parks and preserves, simply due to the fact that they are highly rated and recommended in the area!

Spooky season helped me choose my first stop of the day – Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve. This park is perfect for hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.

The preserve boasts an array of trails perfect for any type of day you’re looking to have.

Due to multiple storms surging through the gulf and limited respite from the lingering rains, most of the preserve was flooded. I wandered through the areas with minimal flooding and easy side paths to avoid soaking my shoes. I did make it to the creek and enjoyed the serene setting of the fields into the creek.

This preserve also has a kayak launch for anyone looking to get a paddle in!

Only a few hundred yards down the road from Pumpkin Hill is Betz-Tiger Point Preserve. The preserve is home to miles of trails that are also used for walking, biking, and equestrian uses and it sits right on the saltwater marshes.

The preserve is brand new and full of trails to find the natural side of Jacksonville.

You can spend an entire day – or longer – exploring all of the trails in the preserve, kayaking the marshes, and eating under the pavilion. This park is perfect for families to dates and anything in between.

After the salt-marsh preserves I headed over to the Atlantic side to a more known Timucuan park – the Talbot Islands. The Talbot Islands are a collective set of seven parks which include Pumpkin Hill Creek, Little Talbot Island, Amelia Island State Park, Fort George Island Cultural State Park, Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park, George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park, and Big Talbot Island.

Both islands (Little and Big Talbot) host a variety of hiking trails and beaches to explore throughout your visit. My daylight was dwindling – can the sun just stay out until 9PM all year round – so I settled on two beaches to explore.

You can get free maps and brochures from the ranger station on Little Talbot, and the park rangers are incredibly helpful in directing you to each trail.

After chatting with the rangers I headed over to my first stop, The Bluffs and Boneyard Beach – I was really going for spooky season vibes.

The trail was a short trail through the Florida forestry and ended up on a beach full of weathered and bleached trees, hence the name Boneyard Beach. These trees receive the harsh winds off of the Atlantic while the beach welcomes the driftwood rolling up onto its shores from the ocean.

No swimming is permitted at this beach due to the trees that are submerged off the coast and more trees making their way onto the sand, but if you’re looking to walk through the Bluffs and enjoy some spookiness, this is the beach to go to.

Close by is also driftwood beach and blackrock trail if you’re looking to stay with the spooky vibe!

My next stop was the George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park, a mile long pedestrian bridge that crosses Sawpit Creek along the Nassau Sound and connects Big Talbot Island to Amelia Island. There is a small island stop during the bridge that looked fun to explore but unfortunately the bridge was closed the day I went. Instead, I explored along Sawpit Creek – which looked to be a popular local party spot.

Parking is only a few dollars a day to explore the entire park. The trails are endless and you can learn all about the history, culture, birds, and environment that makes Jacksonville the city that it is today.

I only had a chance to explore a few parks – don’t worry I’ll be back for more – but if you’re looking for even more outdoor adventure in and around Jacksonville check out the rest of the Talbot Island State Parks and the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve. There is also, close by Jennings State Forest and Cary State Forest. Or, you can take a trip over to the Jacksonville beaches if you want to get out on the water and enjoy the year long summer in Florida.

No matter the adventure you’re looking to have, Jacksonville has the spot for you!

Follow along on social to get even more tips and ideas on where to go in Jacksonville and more!

Like what you see? Email me at travelwithrachie@gmail.com or DM on Instagram to set up your own adventure!

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