1. Big and Little Talbot Island State Parks
For the nature lover and the adventurer in all of us, the Big and Little Talbot Island State Parks contain thousands of acres of coastal forests, dunes, and marshes. These parks, located only 20 miles east of Downtown Jacksonville in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, are two of the few undeveloped barrier islands in Northeast Florida, and home to a diverse variety of animals and trees. Big Talbot Island features Blackrock Beach, easily one of Jacksonville’s best kept natural secrets. Blackrock is covered by dozens of bleached tree skeletons, a site you can’t see in many other places - only four percent of land in the entire world contains the unique geological soil formations found here. The Talbot Islands also feature five miles of beaches, nature trails, and waterways - the many tidal streams, rivers and marshes are great for fishing and kayaking. Picnic, restroom and camping facilities, tours and wildlife viewings are also available. For information, visit www.floridastateparks.org/littletalbotisland.
2. Baldwin Rail Trail
If you like bikes, and you like trail riding, then you’re bound to love the Jacksonville Baldwin Rail Trail, located just west of downtown. The 15-mile trail is paved, but surrounded by scenic uplands, wetlands, and pine flats. Most of the trail is covered by dense tree canopies, making it not only nice and shady, but also home to many species of hawks, tortoises, rabbits, and snakes. Bikers, walkers, in-line skaters, and horseback riders are welcome. While there, you can also visit the Imeson trailhead and the Camp Milton Historic Preserve. The Jacksonville Baldwin Rail Trail is located off of Brandy Branch Rd. For information and directions, visit www.traillink.com/trail/jacksonville-baldwin-rail-trail.
3. Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
If you’re an art lover with a free Friday night, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is the place to be. The Cummer is home to one of the finest collections in the Southeast, housing nearly 5,000 works in the permanent collection, spanning from 2000 BC all the way up into the 21st century. In addition, the museum’s gardens spread out over 2.5 acres, housing reflection ponds, arbors, and one of the city’s oldest trees. Alongside both the gardens and the art, the Cummer works to enhance the visitor experience by including a nationally recognized, interactive learning center. Every Friday from June 21 through September 6, 2019, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens offers free admission to its permanent collection and gardens during new extended hours, 4 to 9 p.m. For location and event information, visit https://www.cummermuseum.org/.
4. Fort Caroline National Memorial
If you’re a history buff, you’ll probably like this next stop. In 1564, Fort Caroline was established under René Goulaine de Laudonnière as a new territorial claim for the French, and a safe haven for the Huguenots. In 1565, the Spanish founded St. Augustine and sacked Fort Caroline, killing and expelling the French. While the actual location of Fort Caroline is lost, a replica stands here at the National Memorial, which encompasses almost 50,000 acres in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. In addition to the fort replica, there are also miles of trails and the Timucuan Preserve Visitor Center. Elsewhere in Jacksonville’s massive Timucuan Preserve, you can visit Kingsley Plantation, the Spanish Pond, and Cedar Point. To plan your trip, visit www.nps.gov/timu.