<--More Absolutely Florida
Residents at Washington Oaks State Gardens enjoying a snack atop the Coquina rocks.
Hiking and Nature Trails
of Northeast Florida

by Jim and Cynthia Tunstall

Palm Coast
Washington Oaks State Gardens, (904-445-3161), has .4- , .5- and 1.2-mile trails and a ranger-guided option on the Matanzas River side that permit views of its ornamental gardens, which reach for 400 acres from the Atlantic Ocean to the Matanzas River. At low tide, you can watch anemones, starfish and crabs doing their things in small tidal pools. When you move inland, the dunes give way to huge live oaks, hickories and magnolias.

Bulow Plantation State Historic Site, (904-439-2219), offers a .4-mile trail that ends at the ruins of the sugar mill and spring house and includes a spur that leads to the ruins of the slave cabins. This is where Maj. Charles Wilhelm Bulow in 1821 built a plantation where slaves grew cotton, sugarcane, rice and indigo.

St. Johns River Water Management District, (904-329-4404), has set up hiking options at several of its tracts: The district will be happy to send you a handy little guidebook if you call or write to P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429.

Kratzert Conservation Area, (407-897-4311), offers 3 miles of trail space through wetlands, the river and Lake Monroe.

Caravelle Ranch Conservation Area, also on the St. Johns near Palatka, has 17 miles of trails along the Cross Florida Greenway.

The Dunns Creek Conservation Area provides 4 miles of trails through Long Swamp..

Lake George
Lake George Conservation Area has more than 12 miles of trails bordering the lake, hardwood swamps and pine flatwoods. Fox squirrels, owls, bald eagles, herons, ospreys, hawks, deer and otters are common to the area.

Turnbull Hammock Conservation Area, (407-984-4940), gives you nearly nine miles of trails through densely vegetated wetlands that are home to several bird species.

The South Lake Harney Tract provides seven miles of trails in Cabbage Slough, a habitat for woodstorks, sandhill cranes, roseate spoonbills and many other birds. It’s also on Hwy 46, a little west of Seminole Ranch.

Turnbull Hammock, another bird sanctuary (snowy white egrets, ibises, spoonbills, herons and mottled ducks), has nine miles of trails.

Bull Creek Conservation Area provides 17 miles of trails inhabited by many of the same bird species as well as white-tail deer, gopher tortoises and wild turkey. The entire length is part of the Florida Trail.

Three Forks Conservation Area has 15 miles of trails that have otters, alligators and numerous birds species along the way.Remember, when it comes to water management districts, conservation areas and forests, check in advance to make sure you’re not planning on hiking when gun- or even bow-toting hunters are in the area.

The Blue Cypress Conservation Area offers a blister-raising 26 miles of trails through marshes, lakes and cypress swamps along the St. Johns River. It’s a good place to see endangered snail kites as well as eagles, ospreys, limpkins and great blue and night herons.

The Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area has two miles of trails and two loops that are wheelchair accessible. It’s dotted with hammocks, wetlands and flatwoods and provides a home to 20 rare plant species, including whisk ferns, coral-root orchids and Simpson’s stoppers.

Amelia island / Fernandina Beach
Think of it as spring training. You can warm up with the 30-block walking tour of
Old Fernandina, which combines the townís historic scenery with a bit of exercise. The tour begins on Centre Street, just east of the docks, at the depot of Floridaís first cross-state railroad. A detailed itinerary, including descriptions of historic sites, is available at the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, 800-226-3542 or 904-277-0717, 102 Centre St., Fernandina Beach, FL 32035.

Amelia Island Plantation, 800-874-6878 or 904-261-6161, a 1,250-acre environmentally sensitive resort on A1A near the islandís southern tip, has more than 10 miles of hiking and jogging trails through uplands, dunes and marshes.

St. Marys River State Forest has about 15 miles of trails in northeastern Nassau County, along the St. Marys River and the Florida-Georgia border.

East of Jacksonville, straddling the Nassau-Duval County line,
Cary State Forest, 904-693-5055, has 18 miles of marked forest trails. The best time to see some of the forest's wildlife (deer and raccoons to wild hogs and, occasionally, a black bear) is near sunrise or sunset. Maps are available by calling or writing the forest office, 8719 W. Beaver St., Jacksonville, 32220.

Big Talbot Island State Park,904-251-2320, has bluffs carved by erosion, a do-it-yourself trail along 11 miles of primitive beach and five other marked trails through dunes, salt marshes, tidal creeks, and prairies.

Little Talbot Island State Park, 904-251-2320, a bird metropolis, has some five miles of beaches and a 4.1-mile hiking trail.

Fort George Island State Cultural Site, 904-251-2323, offers a 4.4-mile trail through shell mounds to the summit (again, itís all of 65 feet above sea level) of Mount Cornelia. For maps or more information on the Talbot Island parks, call or write to 12157 Heckshire Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32233. If you want to know more about the Fort George Island park, call or write to 11676 Palmetto Ave., Fort George Island, FL 32232.

Jennings State Forest, 904-693-5055, is a spot where you can improvise along several miles of unimproved roads. Scenics include dome swamps, black water streams, ravines and the scores of mammal, reptile and bird species that are common to North Florida. For maps and additional information, call or write to the Division of Forestry, 8719 W. Beaver St., Jacksonville, 32220.

Gold Head Branch State Park, 904-473-4701, has four marked trails that total about 1 mile one-way. They pass sandhills, a steep ravine, springs, lush vegetation and an old mill. The park (6239 Highway 21, Keystone Heights, FL 32356) is in Clay County. The park also has a 3.2-mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail.

Welaka State Forest, 904-467-2388 (P.O. Box 174, Welaka FL 32193-0174), has several trails that weave through a mosaic of wetlands, hammocks, flatwoods, sandhills and bayheads. Trails can be tackled individually (.6 miles to 4 miles) or combined for 12 miles of hiking

St. Augustine
Guana River State Park, 904-825-5071 (2690 South Ponte Vedra Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082), has nine miles of old service roads between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic..

Green Cove Springs
The Bayard Point Conservation Area, located on the St. Johns River just east of Green Cove Springs, has 18 miles of trails along the river and inland.

Click for Central Florida Camping Directory
More Great Links:

Florida Recreation
Florida State Parks
Florida Wildlife

For directions, call Florida Trail Association
800-343-1882 (in Florida) or 352-378-8823
P.O. Box 13708, Gainesville, FL 32604.

Office of Greenways & Trails
850-487-4784, Mail Station 795,
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000.

or try the mapping service below (some remote areas not available)

A trail at Washington Oaks State Gardens.

One warning before you move on:
Any time you venture into a state forest (not a state park) or conservation area thereís a chance of encountering hunters. Call or write in advance for hunting seasons as well as a detailed booklet on the districtís properties (P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429).