~ Travelers often blow right past N ortheast Florida’s state parks, eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead whether heading north or south.
Perhaps you should take a break and smell the sea breeze, a whiff of history of Spanish exploration, pirate treasures or paddle a lonely river before moving on.
These state parks near Interestate 95 are worthy of your attention. Most offer kayaking and many have pristine beaches, while all preserve Florida’s natural beauty, abundant wildlife and diverse habitats. Best of all, there are plenty of things to do nearby.
Fort Clinch State Park — 17 miles off I-95 Exit 373
Mix a little history in your layover at Fort Clinch State Park while exploring elegant Amelia Island and quaint Fernandina Beach. The fort was built in 1847, after the end of the Second Seminole War, and was a Union garrison during the Civil War. The park has 3.3 miles of paved roadway for bicycling, and you can ride for miles on the beach at low tide.
The campground features 61 sites in two separate campgrounds – 40 tree-shaded sites in the Amelia River Campground and 21 sites tucked behind the dunes on the ocean in the Atlantic Beach Campground. Each site has a fire ring, picnic table, water and electric hookups.
There are two dump stations and new bathhouses with showers and washing machines. Pets are permitted in the campground. Max RV length is 40 feet.
Fernandina Beach is an Old Florida seaport on the north end of Amelia Island. Shopping and dining are key attractions, or take a horse-drawn carriage through village streets lined with Victorian and Spanish Colonial homes. At the seaport, you’ll find fishing charters and a ferry that will take you over to Cumberland Island on the Georgia coast.
Little Talbot Island State Park — 18 miles from I-95 Exit 362 A
With five miles of white-sand beaches, Little Talbot Island is one of Florida’s few remaining undeveloped barrier islands, and it is the campground anchor for six other state parks clustered around it, collectively known as the Talbot Islands State Parks. The park has 2.5 miles of paved roadway for bicycles, or you can ride along the beach on hard-pack sand.
There are 40 campsites tucked into the sand dunes, surrounded by a maritime hammock of live oaks and magnolia trees. Each site has electric (20/30 amp) and water hookups, fire ring and picnic table. The campground has a laundry facility and two bathhouses with hot showers. A dump station is available for RV campers. Pets are allowed in designated areas of the campground. Max RV length is limited to 30 feet.
The other state parks that surround Little Talbot Island include Amelia Island State Park, where you can ride horses on the beach, Fort George Island State Park for hiking, biking, fishing and boating, and Pumpkin Hill Preserve’s 14 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
Little Talbot Island State Park, 12157 Heckscher Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32226. 904-251-2320; Camping Fee: $24; Reservations: Up to 11 months in advance. Call 800-326-3621 (8 am to 8 pm) or book online.
Anastasia State Park — 11 miles from I-95 Exit 311
Four miles of pristine beach and historic St. Augustine make this state park the perfect layover for visitors to the nation’s oldest city and hike through snow-white dunes, bicycle on the beach, paddle, sail or fish.
Anastasia State Park has 139 camping sites for RVs and tents. Sites are in the hammock forest, away from blowing sand and salt spray, but most are within easy bicycling or walking distance from the beach.
A thick understory of vegetation provides visual privacy between most sites, which vary from 10 feet to 40 feet. All sites have electric and water hookups, a picnic table, in-ground grill and fire ring. A communal dump station is free for park campers. Pets are allowed in all areas of the park except the restrooms and beach. Max RV length is 40 feet.)
Nearby St. Augustine Beach, only a few miles south on A1A, has a fishing pier and dining options from BBQ to seafood shacks. Go a little further and visit Washington Oaks Gardens State Park with its formal gardens and a unique coquina rock beach.
Faver-Dykes State Park — 1 mile from I-95 Exit 298
Faver-Dykes State Park is one of the most popular in the state for bird-watching with more than 100 species seen during the fall and spring migrations.
Pellicer Creek is a designated state canoe/kayak trail.
The campground has 30 sites in a shady hardwood hammock, each buffered from neighboring sites by natural vegetation. Each site has water, electric, fire circle with grill and a picnic table. A dump station is in the campground. Pets allowed. Max RV length is 30 feet.
The park is 15 miles from historic St. Augustine., part of a 16,000-acre conservation corridor that includes the Mantanzas State Forest, which features primitive camping for boondocking in addition to hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
The kayak trails here are spectacular.
Gamble Rogers State Park — 7 miles from I-95 Exit 284
Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area is not very big park as state parks go, but it has a beautiful 1/2-mile orange sand beach, an oceanfront campground with 34 sites with a new campground with 30 RV sites and 4 tent sites on the Intracoastal Waterway, west of A1A.
There is a boat ramp (no ocean access) and hiking trails on the Intracoastal side of the park that allow you to explore saltwater marshes and quiet inland waterways in your kayak or canoe. A paved bike path runs along A1A to the nearby North Peninsula State Park.
Kayaks, canoes and bicycles are available to rent at the ranger station.
The four new tent sites are situated along the wooded edge of the maritime hammock with full to partial shade.
All 68 campsites have water, 50-amp electric, picnic table and a fire ring. A dump station is on site. Pets are allowed. Max RV length is 45 feet, although most are well under that length so be sure to review individual campsite specifications when booking.
Nearby Flagler Beach is a classic Old Florida beach town with great restaurants and a few characters. There’s also a pier for fishing (with a popular restaurant at its base), and this beach is a prime location for whale-watching, not to mention an extraordinary migratory bird transit point.
Park Advisory: The new campground on the Intracoastal Waterway side of this state park is not accepting reservations before Sept. 1, 2015. However, the campground is already open (as of July 13, 2015) and is accepting campers on a first-come, first served basis.
Tomoka River State Park — 5.5 miles from I-95 Exit 273
Tomoka River State Park is a watery paradise with excellent paddling, biking, boating and fishing.
Kayak and canoe rentals are available at a well-equipped concession stand, which also carries camping supplies.
Tomoka is a premier stops along the Florida Birding Trail with more than 160 species sighted either in residence or passing through during seasonal migrations.
There are 100 shaded campsites, and most are quite deep, spacious and afford considerable privacy. All but a few pads are hard-pack sand and coquina shell, so they accommodate tents as well as RVs. Each campsite has electric and water hookups, picnic table, lantern post and a grill. Dump station on site. The campground, which stretches out in an elongated oval, has three restrooms with showers. Pets are allowed. Max RV length is 34 feet.
The park’s proximity to Daytona Beach makes it a popular destination for RVers when events are scheduled at Daytona International Speedway, but I have found that campsites are surprisingly available at other times of the year. especially on weekdays.
Tomoka State Park is an excellent base for cyclists, with or without motors, and the park is surrounded by shoreline with access to the Tomoka River Basin’s saltwater marshes that harbor 90 different species of fish, including a wide variety of gamefish. Good eatin’!
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