When most people talk about Florida parks, they’re usually talking about the theme variety — Disney, Universal and all the other Orlando/Kissimmee theme parks that attract people from all over the country and the world.
But the Sunshine State has plenty of other kinds of parks:
- Three National Parks (Biscayne and Dry Tortugas by the Keys and Everglades in South Florida)
- Two National Preserves (Timucuan, here in Jacksonville, and Big Cypress down near Miami)
- 174 State Parks, trails and historic monuments
- 337 parks in the City of Jacksonville, making it one of the largest urban national park systems in the country.
On an incredibly hot Sunday in early July, we went to explore more of one of the many state parks located in the Jacksonville area: Big Talbot Island State Park. Located in the northeasternmost section of the city, the park is one the seven that make up Talbot Islands State Parks. The area is a maze of marshes, winding waterways and coastal islands that border both the Atlantic Ocean and Nassau Sounds. Big Talbot Island is, as its name indicates, an island, nestled between the Nassau Sound, Intracoastal Waterway and Simpson Creek. It’s an undeveloped slice of heaven only a few miles from condo- and house-lined beaches to the south and the subdivisions and neighborhoods that fill up the rest of the city.
We visited a few years ago after we first moved to the area and hung out on the gorgeous bluffs and Boneyard Beach, but decided to head back to revisit the highlights and check out the rest of the park.
The shoreline of the island is characterized by coastal erosion that created bluffs. The trees along the bluff fall onto the beach as the bluffs continue to erode. After years of high tide covering the beach, the downed trees are now preserved driftwood that dot the sand along the Nassau Sound.
We started off by taking our bikes out and riding the 2.9 mile bike trail that runs from the Bluffs parking lot to the southern end of the park. From there, we hiked the clearly underused Big Pine Trail. We made it about .3 of the .4 miles before taking a quick break along the marsh and then heading back. The trail is narrow, flat and quiet, but FULL of huge spiderwebs strung across the small space between the trees. We had several close calls with large banana spiders and decided to turn around after we found a little walkout area. We headed back north and stopped again at Blackrock Trail. We hiked another quick, flat half-mile path (with NO spiderwebs) to Blackrock Beach.
It was a hot day, nearly reaching 100 degrees, but hanging out on the beach provided a little relief, from the water and the breeze coming off the Sound. Joel braved the mucky floor of the Sound to head in and cool off while I just got my feet wet and enjoyed the view.
We hiked back to the bike trail and rode the rest of the way back to the Bluffs. The bike path mostly runs parallel to A1A on the west and sand dunes and large oaks on the east. We only saw one other person on the trail the entire ride (probably because it was so freaking hot) although I imagine it might be busier in the cooler months. And it looks like they are working on connecting the trail with another trail to make an 11-mile one-way path.
When we got back to the Bluffs parking area, we hiked the short Shoreline Trail back down to the beach.
We walked a few hundred feet down the beach and could barely see another soul. We hung out, had a drink, and watched the waves lap and the boats ride by out on the Sound. After biking and hiking, it was nice to relax and enjoy ourselves. We finally headed back in when dark clouds slowly rolled in and thunder rumbled in the distance.
We will definitely be back again!