Big Talbot Island and Little Talbot Island are two contrasting oceanfront state parks contained entirely within the city limits of Jacksonville. Together, the islands are a destination for not only sunbathers but also hikers, kayakers, birdwatchers, nature photographers, archaeologists, geologists and anyone else with a fascination and appreciation for the truly unique.
Arguably one of the most unusual and breathtaking beaches in all of Florida, Big Talbot's wild beach features a backdrop of cliffs known as "the bluffs," fronted by a maze of fallen, bleached white oak trees (many with root systems still intact) scattered along its northern stretch, a middle stretch of secluded sandy beach, and a southern stretch covered in reddish-brown rocks and outcroppings. Sheltrered by its protruding neighboring islands, Big Talbot boasts an incredible view of calm, turqoise waters framed by the wooded southern tip of Amelia Island and the bright white sand of Little Talbot's northern finger.
Little Talbot Island is located just south of Big Talbot Island and north of Ft. George Island. The centerpiece of the Talbot Island Geoparks, which includes Big Talbot, Ft. George and Amelia Island State Parks, here visitors will find a visitor center, nature boardwalk, hiking and kayaking trails, campgrounds and a couple of different picnicing & parking areas. While Big Talbot's beach is somewhat narrow, full of unusual geology and met by calm waters, Little Talbot's beach boasts wide, desert-like expanses of white sand backed by small dunes and dense woodland preserves teeming with wildlife. Exposed to the open sea, Little Talbot has waves like the rest of Jacksonville's beaches. A veteran of national "Best Beaches" lists, Little Talbot is also a very popular camping destination. Military ships stationed at Mayport NAS are visible to the south, past the flat expanse of beach at Huguenot Park.
The newest addition to Jacksonville's vast network of parks and preserves, Castaway Island is a protected chunk of pristine Intracoastal wetlands amidst the waterfront neighborhoods of San Pablo Rd. Here, a nature trail makes the small island accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists while a dock provides access to those who prefer to arrive by canoe or kayak. Plans are also in the works for canoe rentals for those visitors who wish to paddle into the Intracoastal Waterway but lack the means. A raised observation deck overlooks the Intracoastal and provides maps and information about the development of Florida's Intracoastal Waterway system.
Admission is FREE!
Even though it is situated in the middle of the city’s booming Southside, the University of North Florida remains a fabulous, albeit unexpected, place for visitors to get in touch with pristine nature. That’s because the campus is surrounded by its own protected nature preserve, complete with wooden and earthen walking trails that lead through dense hardwood hammocks, past teeming wetland areas and over a large lake. This hidden natural playground is home to deer as well as other animal and plant life indigenous to North Florida. The trails are color coded and well marked with several sections taking the form of boardwalks. There is even a pedestrian bridge (pictured in the background). Benches are also scattered throughout and lakeside picnic tables are located at the trails’ entrance/exit area.
This park at the north part of the city located on San Pablo Ave. It is a 235 acre park that promotes the area as a nature trail. Well, my idea of that differs. It is a paved blacktop trail going for maybe 1 mile to the end. Along the way, are stands to read about what animals look like and what they would do in a habitat like this if they were here. I do not think many, if any are in the park, and it is basically a desolate looking stale walk. There is not anything to see except for scrub trees, and at the end-nada. It really is for city kids to come out here and run around and maybe read the marques on animals. It was a disappointment. It actually is a dog walking area for locals.
Access to the park is free, however
District 2 Park, formerly a private golf course called The Dunes, is a gigantic park situated among the city's residential East Arlington/Ft. Caroline neighborhoods. Since it used to be a golf course, it covers a large area of land and features wide open grassy areas and lakes framed by clusters of palm, oak, magnolia, pine and other trees that also provide a lot of well-shaded canopy areas. A 1.75 mile long walking, biking, dog walking (on a leash) and rollerblading trail circumnavigates the park, traversing through lot of these tree canopies. For alternative sports enthusiasts, much of the park's western half serves as the Four Palms disc golf course. Every day you will see small groups of friends gathered with their collection of specialized Frisbees circulating the greenspace as they move through the courses 18 "baskets." It is a great sport for those looking to get a lot of exercise as it involves a lot of walking. For more traditional sports, the park's eastern half is a major epicenter for youth sports. Here, multiple soccer and football fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts and even an indoor gymnasium and recreation center attract swarms of families and children usually to several different games at the same time. Fortunately, the eastern half has lots of parking spread over a few different lots. Of course, like any neighborhood park, District 2 also offers a children's playground.
Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens
Accessible from Monument Road, just east of the 9A Beltway, the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens features four interconnected trails. Collectively, these trails circle around a central lake, meander past mighty oak trees, climb up bluffs, and provide foot bridges over streams and ravines. Extremely lush, the abundant foliage and underbrush remind one of a scene from Jurassic Park.