The Talbot Islands are on the unsullied, windswept edge of Jacksonville.
With expansive marshes and coastal forests alive with spirited wildlife, the Talbot Islands defy the boundaries of Florida’s largest city.
The Talbot Islands are an awesome collection of state parks and wildlife preserves with striking beaches, historic forts and plantations, excellent backcountry kayaking, off-road trails, picnicking, shelling, surfing, swimming and sunbathing.
Little Talbot Island is the protector of these preserves from ocean assault, a barrier island with five miles of white-sand beach and an endless line of natural dunes graced with sea oats.
Little Talbot Island has the only campground within the Talbot Islands, although there are others nearby worthy of your attention in the likely event that Little Talbot Island is booked. (Campground listings are lower in this story.)
A grand assembly of islands and historic preserves
The preserves protected by Little Talbot Island’s bulwark of dunes include Big Talbot Island State Park, the George Crady Bridge State Fishing Pier, Amelia Island State Park, Fort George Island, Kingsley Plantation, Yellow Bluff Fort Historical State Park and the Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve.
Big Talbot Island
Primarily a nature preserve, Big Talbot encompasses diverse habitats once typical of Florida’s barrier islands. There are several nature trails for hiking, a boat ramp for exploration of wetlands and islands. Big Talbot is immediately north of Little Talbot and accessible from State Road A1A.
Boneyard Beach is a must-see. We would have passed it by if we weren’t told about it by a park ranger patrolling nearby Amelia Island State Park.
The beach does indeed look like a boneyard with the twisted and tangled skeletal remains of live oaks and cedar trees, beaten down and uprooted by erosion, then repeatedly salt-washed, sea-bashed and sun-beaten. An eerie site.
An added bonus is the adjacent Blackrock Beach, an unusual lava-like formation that is actually hardpan sediment uncovered by severe erosion.
Access to both beaches is the half-mile Blackrock Nature Trail, which has a small parking area on State Road A1A. Be forewarned this parking area is jammed on weekends.
The parking area is also a trailhead for a 3-mile segment of the paved, multi-use Timucuan Trail, which winds through maritime forest of gnarled live oaks, bays, magnolias and palmetto, adding to more than two miles of existing paved trail on Little Talbot Island.
Eventually, this trail will link up with another segment on Little Talbot Island as part of a 18-mile trail from Jacksonville’s Kathryn Abbey Hannah Park, through Fort George Island, Little Talbot and Big Talbot, to Amelia Island State Park.
Keep your eyes peeled for flashes of color in the woods. The colorful painted bunting (at right) makes its home here.
A deepwater boat ramp on Sawpit Creek on the north end of Big Talbot Island, a good place to launch a boat for access to the Intracoastal Waterway, Nassau Sound and the ocean.
For the best backcountry access, launch kayaks and canoes from the Kayak Amelia concession at Simpson’s Creek, which separates Big Talbot from Little Talbot Island. Besides rentals, Kayak Amelia also offers group eco-tours of the waterways.
Big Talbot Island State Park, State Road A1A North, Jacksonville FL 32226. Phone: (904) 251-2320. Day-use Admission: $3 per vehicle entrance fee to the Bluffs picnic area, Blackrock trailhead and Big Pine trailhead, $4 to use the boat launch, $2 to access the bridge pier. For kayak and paddle-board rentals, go to kayakamelia.com.
George Crady Bridge and Fishing Pier State Park
You can access this mile-long bridge from both Big Talbot Island and Amelia Island State Park. The “pier” was the old bridge crossing Nassau Sound, but it’s now a popular fishing destination.
During our visit, there must of been a hundred people or more casting into the sound.
The new bridge runs alongside it and carries A1A traffic between Amelia Island and Big Talbot. Both bridges offer awesome views of the ocean and the sound. There are rest rooms at the foot of the bridge on the Amelia Island side. Pets are not allowed on the bridge or the beaches.
George Crady Bridge and Fishing Pier State Park, State Road A1A South, Jacksonville, FL Phone: (904) 251-2320. Admission: $2 per person, payable at the entrance to Amelia Island State Park.
Amelia Island State Park
At the foot the George Crady Bridge, this 200-acre state park sits on the southern tip of Amelia Island and provides parking for both the bridge (24 hours a day) and the park’s beaches (open only until sunset).
If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, and we saw a few, you can drive down the beach and carve out your own little hideaway. As tempted as you might, don’t try this with anything less than four-wheel drive. This sand is very soft in lots of places.
Visitors may also enjoy Amelia Island on horseback, although horseback tours are no longer offered by Kelly Seahorse Ranch. The park’s capacity is 15 privately owned horses, so riders must first check in with the Little Talbot Island ranger station for availability. Horses must be equipped with a manure catch bag.
Amelia Island State Park is awash in shorebirds, making it a popular destination for birders. Black skimmers, piping plovers, terns, brown pelicans and many other birds can be observed in the park. There have been sightings of bald eagles and rare right whales, which migrate to the area in winter and early spring.
Shelling is a popular activity on this beach. For best results, time your visit for low tide.
Amelia Island State Park, State Road A1A North, Jacksonville, FL Phone: (904) 251-2320. Admission: $2 per person (honor box).
Fort George Island State Park
People have been evident on these islands for more than 5,000 years, and the island was named after a fort built in 1736 to defend the neighboring Georgia Colony.
Today, park visitors enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, boating and Segway tours offered by the park concession, Kayak Amelia. These 1.25 to 2 hour tours depart from the historic Ribault Club and visit the Kingsley Plantation while traveling along 2 – 4 miles of maritime forest, abundant with plant and animal life. No experience necessary, but advance reservations are required so please call (904) 251-0016 for more information.
A launch for kayaks and canoes can be found behind the Ribauld Club, once an exclusive private resort and now a popular attraction for visitors. The club is now a visitor center with a meeting space available for special functions.
The Ribault Club and Fort George Island Visitor Center serve as gateways to the Timucuan Trail and the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
Read more about Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
Fort George Island State Park, 11241 Fort George Road
Jacksonville FL 32226. Admission: Free.
Pumpkin Hill Preserve State Park
The park has 14 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, and dogs are allowed on hiking trails.
Creeks in the preserve provide miles of paddle trails through salt marsh estuaries. Park your car and launch your kayaks, canoes and paddle boards from the launch point at the end of Pumpkin Hill Road on the east side. There is a short portage from the parking area to the launch site. Picnic tables and rest rooms are available. No rentals are available at this location.
Nature trails are anchored at the main parking area and are open to hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding and connect to the adjacent City of Jacksonville parks Betz Tiger Point, Cedar Point and the Jim Wingate Preserve.
Varied intermediate terrain invites off-road bicyclists through pine flatwoods and sandhill communities. Cycling may be challenging in spots due to soft sandy soils and trails subject to seasonal flooding. The bicycling trails are anchored at the main parking area.
Long leaf pine forests provide excellent birding. Song birds, owls, woodpeckers, turkey and bobwhite are evident year around with the added bonus of nesting bald eagles in the pines. Woodstorks, roseate spoonbills and egrets fish the salt marsh. Bring your binoculars and your field guide along on your birding trip.
Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve, 13802 Pumpkin Hill Road, Jacksonville, F 32226. Phone: (904) 696-59080. Admission: Free.
Zephaniah Kingsley established the plantation in 1814, seven years before Florida was purchased from Spain by the United States. Significantly, his Senegalese wife was a slave when he married her. After freeing her, she actively managed the plantation’s work force of about 60 slaves, who produced Sea Island cotton.
Kingsley was considered a ‘lenient’ slave holder who eventually purchased freedom for his slaves even as they continued to tend his crops. He advocated for a class of ‘free people of color’ and establishment of their rights to land ownership, all of which was undermined after the United States took possession of Florida and Southern customs took hold.
The original plantation house has been preserved, as have the slave cabins, and is managed today by the National Park Service as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
Related story: Fascinating tale of slavery could only happen in Florida
Kingsley Plantation, 11676 Palmetto Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32226. Phone: (904) 251-3537. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 9 am-4:30 pm. Admission is free. See the park’s calendar for open house tours of the main house and special events.
Yellow Bluff Fort State Park
This small (1.3-acre) state park is preserved for its history. There was never a fort here, at least not a structure, but it was a strategic gun position on the St. John’s River for both Union and Confederate armies. There are still earthworks that once shielded soldiers manning the cannons. Other than a short hike, there’s not a lot of other outdoor recreation.
Yellow Bluff Fort State Park, New Berlin Road, Jacksonville, FL 32226. Phone: (904) 251-2320. Admission: Free.
The campground at Little Talbot Island State Park
Little Talbot Island State Park has the only campground within the Talbot Islands, although there are others nearby worthy of your attention if Little Talbot Island is booked. (See the listings lower in this story.)
Motorhomes and travel trailers should expect narrow, unpaved access roads through the Little Talbot Island campground, as well as tight, oddly angled sites, but it’s manageable and rewarding when you are finally set up. All 40 campsites are well shaded and private.
Rigs longer than 30 feet are not permitted, and some sites are capped at 15 feet for tents, teardrops and tent trailers. It’s tight, but if you meet the length restrictions (each site is different), you should find adequate room for slide-outs and extended awnings. Tent campers will find the conditions ideal.
Ten sites allow for hammock camping. (#2, 6, 10, 13, 18, 23, 27, 28, 32 and 39.)
The campground is on the inland side of Little Talbot Island, across State Road A1A from the ranger station. Some sites have a scenic view of the marsh.
The mosquitoes can be brutal in summer. Bring DEET.
Little Talbot Island State Park, 12157 Heckscher Drive, Jacksonville FL 32226. Ranger station: 904-251-2320 (not for reservations). Camping fee: $24, plus a $7 daily utility fee and a non-refundable booking fee of $6.70. Each sites as hookups for water and 20-30-amp electric. There are two restrooms with showers and laundry facilities. Dump station near campground exit. Wi-fi: none. Cell: Good. TV: Multiple antenna channels. Reservations up to 11 months in advance at reserve.floridastateparks.org. Check in: 3 p.m. Check out: 1 p.m. Day-use (non-campers): $5 per vehicle. Your camping pass includes day-use admission to all of the state parks in this bundle of preserves.
Florida Residents 65+ receive a 50% discount on the base camping rate, excluding utility and booking fees. Discounts are also available to holders of Social Security disability certificates or 100 percent disability certificate from the Federal Government. Effective January 1, 2024, Florida residents will have a 30-day advantage to book sites. The booking window for non-residents drops to 10 months in advance.
Nearby public campgrounds
These public campgrounds near the Talbot Islands are attractive alternatives to the campground at Little Talbot Island State Park.
Huguenot Park Beach Campground
This sandy campground near Jacksonville is a beach lover’s dream. A short walk from the campground, across the dunes, is a mile-long beach open fully to the Atlantic Ocean, making it a popular destination for surfers and kite boarders. The St. Johns River borders the campground on one side, and a quiet cove off the Fort George Inlet on the other side offers access to backcountry kayaking. Electric hookups only. Tent sites are $22.70; RV sites, $27.54, including tax and electric. Pet fee is $5.38 per pet, per day. Huguenot Park Campground, 10980 Heckscher Drive, Jacksonville FL 32226. Phone: (904) 255-4255. For reservations, book online or call (904) 255-4255 from 9 am-5 pm, Monday through Friday.
Fort Clinch State Park
Oceanfront park on north end of Amelia Island. 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. Fort Clinch State Park, 2601 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034. Camping fee: $26/night plus $7 daily utility fee and a one-time $6.70 booking fee. Discounts for seniors and disabled. For reservations, go to reserve.floridastateparks.org or call 1-800-326-3521
Read more about Fort Clinch State Park
Hanna Park Beach Campground
A 447-acre recreation area with more than 20 miles of biking and hiking trails through cool woodlands and access to 1.5 miles of white sand beach. Hanna Park is considered one of the hottest surfing destinations on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. 300 sites with water and 30-amp electric in a wooded setting for RV, tent and cabin camping. Tent camping is $20.25/night, including tax; RV, $33.75, including tax; Cabins, $33.75, including tax (Two night minimum stay.) Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, 500 Wonderwood Drive, Jacksonville Beach. For reservations, book online or call (904) 249-4700.
- Canoe and Kayak Rentals: Kayak Amelia is the official canoe and kayak provider for the Talbot Islands State Parks, located on the west side of State Road AIA on Long Island, between Little Talbot and Big Talbot Islands. The service offers everything from basic rentals to guided tours. Call (904) 251-0016 or visit their web site at Kayak Amelia.
- Talbot Islands Brochure: Download this PDF version of the parks’ brochure.
- From Florida Rambler: 11 outstanding things to do outdoors on Amelia Island.
What else is nearby?
- Harris Teeter Supermarket, 4800 First Coast Hwy, Shops at Amelia Market, Fernandina Beach. Loved this market. Definitely worth the 11-mile drive north of Little Talbot Island to stock the camp kitchen. Butcher and wine steward were friendly and helpful. Selections were awesome. Phone: (904) 491-1213
- The Mayport Ferry 9618 Heckscher Drive/SR A1A, south of Little Talbot Island on Fort George Island. Ferries on the hour and half hour from 6 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. We paid $20 to ferry our travel trailer across the St. John’s River in August 2017. Passenger cars were $6. For information, click on this link or call (904) 630-3100.
- Sandollar Restaurant and Marina, 9716 Heckscher Drive/SR A1A, just before the Mayport Ferry on Fort George Island. Casual dining serving lunch and dinner on the St. John’s River, specializing in seafood. Outdoor dining on the deck. Phone: (904) 251-2449.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 14 years ago.