USA: Getting close to nature in Jacksonville

Jacksonville Pier Photo by Pon Xayavong via Trover

Jacksonville Pier Photo via Trover by Pon Xayavong

A self-confessed nature addict, I love to get outdoors and active when I travel and Jacksonville has a number of opportunities for experiencing Florida’s unique natural environment.

Hit the best beaches near Jacksonville

Florida is of course spoilt for beautiful beaches and Jacksonville is no exception, with the magnificent Atlantic Ocean Beach the first port of call for many. Make sure you catch at least one sunrise or sunset here at the Jacksonville Beach pier and take a walk along this beautiful city beach.

Of course I’m always looking for the real thing when it comes to nature travel and the Little Talbot Island and Big Talbot Island state parks are a great place to start with their isolated, pristine beaches. Go for a hike through the Big Talbot Island driftwood forest, a huge tangled pile that stretches along the dunes. Another great hike is the Blackrock Trail, which really highlights the diverse habitats of this nature preserve. And it’s only 20 miles east of downtown Jacksonville!

As for other beaches easily accessible from Jacksonville, you can get a ferry to Cumberland Island for a fun beach day trip. Amelia Island is also beautiful and you can go horse riding on the beach there.  Mickler’s Beach and Fernandina Beach are also both a short drive away.

Rail trail cycling – watch for wildlife

There is a fantastic rail trail for biking fans in Jacksonville that you simply should not miss. The 14.5-mile paved Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail passes under shady tree canopy, through farms and forest.  You can cycle, hike, run, skate, mountain bike or horseback ride this trail. Lookout for wildlife such as deer, wild turkeys, owls and raccoons as you cycle along.

There’s even a historic Confederate Civil War memorial on the way – the Milton Historic Preserve, which has an educational center and a preserved farmstead.

Go kayaking through town

The St Johns River is the jewel in the crown of this city and the extensive river walkways and urban parks offers many opportunities to enjoy the subtropical climate and watersports fun.

Try a different sort of sightseeing by kayak, using your own craft or there are a number of places to rent kayaks. The St Johns River is Florida’s longest river and has 300 miles of waterways with tributaries and lakes to explore.

There’s also an excellent kayaking tour through downtown, starting from the St Johns Marina. This is a unique way to experience the city from a different perspective, from skyscrapers and seawalls to cypress trees and marshland.

Go wild for wildlife

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens is a great place for visiting children and adults alike. You could try out being a zookeeper for a day at Jacksonville Zoo and get up close to the anteaters, otters, Saki monkeys and gorillas.

Nearby is the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, a non-profit refuge run by volunteers that gives endangered big cats a home for life.

So make sure you experience Florida’s fabulous natural environment to the fullest when you stay in Jacksonville.

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