North Florida offers much to see in the way of wildlife, both plant and animal alike. There are a variety of places to get up close and personal with some of our exotic and not-so-exotic animal friends, as well as a number of great sanctuaries and preserves where you can enjoy uninterrupted natural landscapes. A couple gold mines for information are the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission and Florida State Parks Web sites, which are www.myfwc.com and www.floridastateparks.org.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens(about 6 miles away)
Recognized as one of America’s best zoos, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens boast more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,500 varieties of plants.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park(about 46 miles away)
Founded in 1893, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm exhibits reptiles, mammals and birds and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve & Fort Caroline National Memorial
(about 15 miles away)
The 46,000-acre preserve includes a plantation, beaches and natural lands. Fort Caroline is a tribute to the brief 16th century presence of the French.
Kathryn Abby Hanna Park(about 21 miles away)
Located along the Atlantic Ocean, Hanna Park features sunny beaches, freshwater lakes, bike trails, playgrounds and campsites. Canoe and kayak rentals are also available for fishing on the park’s 60-acre lake.
Osceola National Forest(about 50 miles away)
With more than 200,000 acres of pine-palmetto flatwoods, cypress, black gum, bay and maple trees, visitors have many opportunities to hike, camp, hunt and fish in Osceola National Forest.
Huguenot Park(about 21 miles away)
This beach park is another great choice if you’re looking for relaxation near the ocean. Smaller than Hanna Park, Huguenot Memorial Park is usually a little less busy. Swimming, fishing, surfing, hiking and boating are encouraged and there is a boating launch on-site. It has been named by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission one the best places to bird watch in the state. Modern amenities such as picnic, camping, bathroom and shower facilities are available.
Little Talbot Island(about 25 miles away)
This state park offers visitors a good look at the way Florida’s climate and environment used to be. The island’s pristine white beaches are ideal for hunting seashells or taking long quiet walks, while thick maritime forests and saltwater marshes make up the rest of the gorgeous terrain. Camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and fishing are all encouraged.
Machaba Balu Preserve(about 28 miles away)
Machaba Balu’s name means “save marsh” in Timucuan, the Native American tribe that called the greater Jacksonville area home. This expansive estuary is home to a great variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, bottlenose dolphins, terrapins, wood storks, herons, ibises, ospreys and marsh minks. The marsh’s beauty is apparent and serene, and you probably won’t see many other people while you’re there. Exploring the area by kayak or canoe is wonderful and guided tours are available.
Take I-95 N to Exit 358A. Turn Right on Heckscher Dr. and follow it for about 23 miles.
Cary State Forest(about 29 miles away)
This state park straddles the Duval County / Nassau County line and is ideal for camping, hiking, horseback riding and enjoying a beautiful day outside. It is equipped with many trails, primitive campsites, picnic areas, an observation tower and boardwalk area. The forest is home to native wildlife such as the wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and bobcat, and endangered species including the Florida black bear, gopher tortoise and eastern indigo snake. Hunting is allowed certain times of the year as well.
Amelia Island State Park(about 32 miles away)
Located where the Atlantic Ocean and Nassau Sound meet, Amelia Island State Park offers a wide variety of activities including horseback riding on the beach, fishing and hiking. The George Crady Fishing Bridge is also located in this state park (see fishing piers).
Fort Clinch State Park(about 37 miles away)
Located in Fernandina Beach, Fort Clinch State Park is home to beautiful hiking trails and sandy beaches. The newly renovated Fort Clinch fishing pier, now equipped with upgraded lighting and refurbished restrooms, is a perfect place to catch a wide variety of local fish. Every 1st weekend of the month, the fort has a live Garrison Union.
EcoMotion SEGWAY Tours(about 25 miles away)
Enjoy the thrill of riding an X-terrain Segway transporter through the undeveloped island habitat of nearby Fort George Island. After a brief lesson, you’ll take up sandy trails through a beautiful maritime forest, around ancient dunes, out to unspoiled beaches and salt marshes. Guides take you where the birds roost, the turtles dig, and the dolphins swim. Easy and fun to do: No experience necessary. Maximum weight per rider is 260lbs.
You’ll be able to find public parks throughout the city, including Downtown and the surrounding Historic Neighborhoods. Listed by neighborhood, we’ve included the best parks located near University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute. For more information about parks in Jacksonville, visit the city’s Web site at www.coj.net.
Downtown (North Bank) & Historic Springfield Confederate Park
(about 2 miles away)
Located between Downtown and Springfield (Florida Proton’s neighborhood), this beautifully restored park is a lovely mix of history and relaxation. Named for the reunion of Confederate soldiers in 1914, it offers great tradition, colorful rose bush arbors, a duck pond and a convenient getaway from stress or worries. The area’s only dog park is just across the street, complete with basketball court and swing set.
Klutho Park(about 2 miles away)
Wide-open spaces with downtown high-rises as the backdrop, Henry J. Klutho Park, named after a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, sits on 21 acres of green lawn on the edge of Springfield. The park features a baseball field with bleachers and tennis courts. The grounds were home to the city’s first zoo and swimming pool, and were later donated to the city as part of the “Emerald Necklace,” a series of parks sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. The open spaces are ideal for all your outdoor activities, and city and neighborhood events are common here as well.
Hemming Plaza(about 2 miles away)
The City’s oldest park, Hemming Plaza is a cozy urban oasis nestled in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. Established in 1857, the park is actually a brick-paved plaza commonly used for city events and entertainment. Situated in the middle of City Hall, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Café Nola and the Main Library, the park is great for resting on a bench under shade trees and people watching. The park was built in honor of Civil War veterans, and features a monument dedicated to those who served.
Historic Riverside & Avondale
Memorial Park(about 3 miles away)
Located in the popular Riverside neighborhood, Memorial Park sits directly on the St. Johns River a few miles south of Downtown. Dedicated in 1924 as a monument to veterans of the First World War, it has many attractive features including a wide open lawn encircled by a walking sidewalk and many shade trees, great river views (grab your fishing pole if you like) , beautiful stone work, a bronze sculpture, and a prime location next to the hip Five Points shopping area (see Shopping section). Riverside Park is just a few blocks away as well.
Riverside Park(about 3 miles away)
Directly across from a beautiful church and the Five Points shopping area, Riverside Park is a rather large open area dotted with pine, oak and magnolia trees. You’ll be pleased to find a nicely maintained playground for children, duck pond, basketball court, and paved walkways crisscrossing the park.
Willowbranch Park(about 4 miles away)
With baseball fields, playground equipment, basketball court and picnic areas, Willowbranch Park is a popular rendezvous for children and families alike. The park is mostly shaded, with huge live oaks standing guard, and plenty of benches for resting. The Willowbranch Public Library is also on the park grounds. Look at the Museums & Libraries section for information on how to get a library card.
Boone Park(about 5 miles away)
With soft hills, wooded areas, small grassy fields and a trickling stream, Boone Park is one of the most enjoyable parks to spend time in. It offers abundant playground equipment, picnic areas, bike racks, tennis courts, cookout grills, and even a few short trails. Located in the historic and affluent Avondale area, Boone Park runs Northwest to Southeast, 26-acres, between Park Street and St. John’s Avenue, and is split into two halves by Herschel Street. Tasty eateries and unique boutiques are located nearby.
Downtown (South Bank) & Historic San Marco
Friendship Park(about 2.5 miles away)
Friendship Park is surrounded by The Museum of Science and History, The Jacksonville Maritime Museum, The St. Johns River, and a popular waterfront restaurant. With excellent views of Downtown’s Northbank and home to the historic Friendship Fountain, Friendship Park is an ideal place for photographs.
River Oaks Park(about 4 miles away)
Featuring stately trees and a well-kept lawn, River Oaks Park lies along The St. Johns River and Craig Creek. A portion of the park forms a natural flood plain, with wetlands and marshes lining the shore. It’s a nice spot to enjoy a little time outdoors, and the entertainment district of San Marco Square is just down the road.
Landon Park(about 4.5 miles away)
A charming park complete with a playground for children, Landon Park is just over the river in the very nice San Marco neighborhood. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from the trendy shopping and dining area known as San Marco Square (see the shopping section), so an afternoon could easily be spent eating, browsing and enjoying the fresh air. It’s just a block or so from the river as well.
Treaty Oak Park(about 4.5 miles away)
The park is actually called Jessie Ball DuPont Park, but most locals simply know it as Treaty Oak. Its nickname, coined by a local newspaper writer around the turn of the century, comes from a fictitious story about white settlers and Native Americans meeting under the giant oak to sign peace treaties. Though the story wasn’t true, the name stuck. After more than a century, the giant oak still stands as the centerpiece of the park. Located amidst The Museum of Science & History, high-rises and restaurants, the park offers a “treaty,” if you will, between urban luxuries and nature’s simple pleasures.