The Great Outdoors of Jacksonville: Adventures with a Touch of Caution
While obviously not as well-known as some of Florida’s more famous tourist destinations like Orlando, Miami, or the Florida Keys, Jacksonville is still a popular travel destination for a number of reasons.
For one thing, the city’s mild climate allows for outdoor activities year-round, such as hiking, biking, kayaking, and golfing. Jacksonville’s numerous parks and natural areas provide plenty of opportunities for observing wildlife and outdoor adventure.
Jacksonville is also blessed with beautiful sandy beaches which include Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach. Jacksonville offers family-friendly attractions like the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Adventure Landing water park, Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, the Museum of Science and History (MOSH), and historic sites like Fort Caroline National Memorial.
Let’s take a closer look at some of Jacksonville’s unique blend of attractions and activities that draw visitors year-round. We’ll also offer advice on how to enjoy these various activities safely, because like many other cities in Florida, there are a few potential dangers to be aware of.
Safety on Jacksonville Roads
Jacksonville and the surrounding region offer several scenic drives that allow you to explore the natural beauty and diverse landscapes of the region. The scenic A1A Coastal Scenic Byway runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, offering stunning views of the beach, dunes, and coastal landscapes. You can start the drive in Jacksonville Beach and continue southward along A1A, passing through scenic coastal communities like Atlantic Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach.
Heckscher Drive follows the St. Johns River and offers beautiful riverfront views and access to the Timucuan Preserve. You can start in Jacksonville and head east on Heckscher Drive toward the Huguenot Memorial Park, which has a pristine beach area.
Jacksonville is a major city with a network of highways and roads. Traffic congestion can occur during rush hours and special events, which can increase the risk of accidents. Being cautious and patient during heavy traffic is important.
Jacksonville’s weather can include heavy rainfall and occasional storms, especially during hurricane season. These conditions can make roads slippery and reduce visibility.
If you do find yourself in an unfortunate car accident, be sure to first check for injuries and ensure the safety of all passengers. Document the scene by taking photos, gathering witness accounts, and jotting down any essential details.
Seek medical help even if you think you are uninjured or feel fine. Getting a medical check-up will rule out any potential internal injuries. Hiring an auto accident attorney is especially important in Jacksonville, where the confluence of locals and interstate/international tourists can make accident claims complex.
An experienced car accident attorney in Jacksonville can guide you through the process, ensuring you get the compensation you deserve. They can also assist when it comes to dealing with insurance companies, gathering necessary evidence, and representing you if a case goes to trial.
Beach Bumming at its Best
Jacksonville Beach is probably the most popular beach in the area, offering an expansive beach, fishing pier, and a lively beachfront community with restaurants, shops, and entertainment options. Located just north of Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach is known for its quieter and more relaxed atmosphere. It’s an excellent spot for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing.
Atlantic Beach is a neighboring beach community that features a beautiful beach, a historic district, and a charming town center with shops and dining options. And while not technically in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach just to the south is known for its upscale resorts and golf courses.
Jacksonville’s beautiful beaches do present a risk for rip currents, so swimmers should always be cautious and aware of beach safety guidelines. And while shark attacks are quite rare, Duval County which is where Jacksonville is located does have the fifth-highest number of shark attacks ever in the United States.
Jacksonville entices plenty of interstate visitors thanks to its milder, sunnier weather. It’s known for its relatively long beach season and outdoor recreational opportunities, making it a popular destination for those looking to enjoy outdoor activities year-round.
Jacksonville does however experience hot and humid weather during the summer, which can lead to heat-related health issues. Just this past summer, we saw the city get issued with its first ever excessive heat warning, likely due to climate change. Make sure to always stay hydrated, use sunscreen, and take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Jacksonville is also prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, which can bring heavy rainfall, strong winds, and the potential for flash flooding. Being prepared for severe weather and following evacuation orders when necessary is important, especially during the summer and early fall months.
Jacksonville is known for its numerous rivers and waterways. The city is situated along the St. Johns River, a major river in the southeastern US. The St. Johns River flows northward and is a prominent feature of Jacksonville’s landscape.
To the north of Jacksonville, the Nassau River flows into the St. Johns River, offering scenic waterways and opportunities for boating and fishing. The Ortega River is another picturesque river that flows into the St. Johns River on the west side of Jacksonville. Then there’s the Intracoastal Waterway which runs along the eastern coast of Jacksonville and provides access to various creeks and marshes.
The calm waters of the St. Johns River and the scenic creeks make for great SUP and kayaking experiences. You can rent equipment or bring your own to explore the waterways. Several companies offer scenic river cruises and boat tours that provide a relaxing way to take in the beauty of the waterways and learn about Jacksonville’s history.
The rivers and creeks in Jacksonville provide excellent fishing opportunities. You can catch a variety of fish, including redfish, trout, flounder, and more. Many local charters offer guided fishing trips. The riverbanks in the area are also known for containing fossils, including shark teeth. You can go fossil hunting along the riverbanks and potentially discover some real ancient artifacts.
While the rivers in creeks in Jacksonville are generally safe, there are a few things to be cautious about. While there may not be as many alligators as there are in Southern Florida, they still are spotted from time to time in and around the city, so keep an eye out. There are also venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes, coral snakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads which can live near river and creek banks.
Tidal changes can affect water depth and flow, especially in certain areas. If you are boating or participating in water activities, be mindful of tidal movements.
Hiking and Biking Adventures
The city offers a wealth of hiking and biking trails to enjoy. Timucuan Preserve offers a network of hiking trails, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Area Trail, Cedar Point Trail, and Spanish Pond Trail.
The roughly 15-mile Baldwin Rail-Trail was a former railroad corridor that was converted into a multi-use trail. It’s popular for hiking, biking, and horseback riding and takes you through a scenic mix of woodlands and wetlands.
Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park offers trails like the Red Trail and Blue Trail, which wind through wetlands as well and offers excellent bird-watching opportunities.
Both Little Talbot Island State Park and Big Talbot Island State Park have biking trails that take you through coastal hammocks and salt marshes. Meanwhile, both Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park and Imeson Park Trail offer mountain biking opportunities.
When it comes to dangers while hiking in Jacksonville, be sure to use insect repellent since mosquitoes can be quite plentiful in areas at certain times of the year and have been known to transmit diseases locally. Ticks too can transmit diseases, including Lyme disease.
Jacksonville offers a variety of fishing environments, from saltwater fishing in the Atlantic Ocean to freshwater fishing in the St. Johns River and its tributaries. Anglers can also explore marshes, creeks, and the Intracoastal Waterway.
The waters around Jacksonville are home to a plenty of species to target including redfish, trout, flounder, snook, tarpon, sheepshead, and a variety of offshore species like mahi-mahi, grouper, and snapper.
Jacksonville offers numerous fishing piers, docks, and marinas that make fishing accessible for locals and visitors, often with bait shops and charter services available.
Always be mindful of water conditions and potential hazards. When fishing on the ocean, pay attention to weather forecasts, tides, and currents. In freshwater, be cautious of strong currents, deep waters, and underwater obstacles.
If you’re fishing from a boat, follow boating safety guidelines, including wearing life jackets, maintaining the proper boat equipment, and adhering to local navigation rules.
If wading in the water while fishing from shore, you may want to shuffle your feet to avoid accidentally stepping on stingrays or sea urchins.
Located in Ponte Vedra Beach, just south of Jacksonville, TPC Sawgrass is one of the most famous golf courses in the world. It hosts The Players Championship, one of golf’s premier events. The course is known for its challenging design and iconic par-3 17th hole, featuring an island green.
Situated in St. Augustine, approximately 40 minutes south of Jacksonville, World Golf Village is a golf complex that includes two championship courses: the King & Bear (designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus) and the Slammer & Squire (designed by Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen).
Closer to the city, you’ll find the recently renovated public Jacksonville Beach Golf Club, Queens Harbour Yacht and Country Club with its scenic water views along the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Windsor Parke Golf Club.
While golfing is rather safe, follow the rules when using golf carts. Avoid speeding, drive cautiously, and be aware of other golfers on the course. Also be mindful that golf courses are open spaces, and lightning which is quite prevalent in Florida can be a major concern during summer thunderstorms while playing golf. This is especially true when you are holding metal clubs in your hand. If there is lightning in the area, seek shelter immediately and avoid open fields and tall trees.