9 Great Places for Hiking and Walking in Jacksonville, Florida [A Local’s Guide]

Image

This site is reader supported. When you buy through links on this site, we may receive a commission. Read More

Key Points

  • Parks in Jacksonville where you can get out in the woods include the UNF nature trails, Tillie Fowler, Losco Regional Park, Hanna Park, and Castaway Island. Most of the natural areas are either pine and oak forests or scrub forest, where saw palmetto dominates.
  • The historic neighborhoods of Riverside, Avondale, and San Marco are shady, lined with sidewalks, and have historic homes and nice little downtown-y areas to get a bite to eat or enjoy something to drink.
  • The First Coast also has plenty of wide, sandy beaches to take a long walk and enjoy looking at the water. Highway 1 is lined with beach access points, which generally offer free parking.

Jacksonville, Florida is not only America’s largest city by land mass, but it also has the country’s largest urban park system. That means you’ve got a lot of options when it comes to walking and hiking.

The main thing you won’t find here is mountains or hills. It is Florida, after all. So if you are used to hiking in Colorado or even Asheville, you may think of this more as a stroll through nature, rather than a hike. 

You’ll find a lot of pine and oak forests in the area. As you get closer to the beach the soil gets sandier, and especially here you get fewer trees and more saw palmetto and other low-lying vegetation. This ecosystem is the scrub forest and is very common in Florida.

Here, I’ve put together a list of more outdoorsy hikes as well as just great places for a relaxing stroll. Many of these trails are also friendly to bicyclists too.

Tillie Fowler Regional Park

Tillie Fowler Regional Park

Tillie Fowler was my go-to park when I lived in Jacksonville, primarily for mountain biking. But there are also walking trails here, as well as a playground, picnic tables, restrooms, and plenty of parking.

This forest is mostly pine flatwoods. The trails are very easy, well maintained, and mostly shady. There are a few boardwalks and also an observation tower.

You can come here about any time of the year, but I don’t recommend summer, especially after a hard rain. It’s a swampy area, and in the summer it is filled with mosquitos. After it rains, some of the trails get flooded and the mosquitos get even worse.

The best time is honestly winter. It’s nice and cool, there are very few people here, and best of all – no mosquitos.

If you have little kids, it’s a great place to go with them. They can walk part of the trails and play on the playground after. Bring a picnic or some stuff to grill on their outdoor grills. No reservation is required.

University of North Florida Nature Trails

This trailhead, pictured here on Google Maps, is my recommended starting point.

I think the UNF trails are one of Jacksonville’s best kept secrets. I lived in Jacksonville a couple of years before hearing about them. There are miles and miles of trails here and good facilities.

The trails wind around a big lake, which always has plenty of turtles. There is a little bridge going over the lake where people feed the turtles and fish. That is the best spot to see both. You’ll also often see turtles basking on the logs and other pieces of debris on the lake. If you’re up for it, you can rent kayaks onsite and take it out on the lake.

Other wildlife you may spot include herons, ducks and other birds. Like everywhere in Florida, it is possible to see an alligator. Do not let kids get close to the bank.

My favorite place to start is the trailhead on the left side of the parking lot (if you are facing the woods, right after parking). It is very shady and an easy walk. I went with my son a lot when he was a toddler and it is possible to use a stroller on much of the trail system.

There is a nice parking lot next to the trailheads, but it is paid parking. That is not well marked and I got a ticket once because of that! Pay at the stand next to the restrooms.

Hanna Park

Mgreason at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hanna Park is my favorite place for mountain biking in Jacksonville. I just didn’t make it out there very often because it’s kind of far from Avondale, where I lived. But it is one of the best places in Jax to get outdoors.

There is a pretty big lake here too, surrounded by campgrounds and an extensive trail system. The trails are open to both hikers and mountain bikers. You can also just enjoy walking around the lake or enjoy the beach.

The campsites are open to tent and RV camping, and there are also cabins to rent. Rent kayaks or take a tour with Adventure Kayak Florida.

Castaway Island

Castaway Island, Jacksonville Florida

Castaway Island is a great little place for hiking and walking right on the inlet, off Beach Boulevard. There is a well-done system of boardwalks and observation towers overlooking the marsh where you can watch for wildlife. This may be the best place on the list for birdwatchers.

There are also several other nature trails here and a kayak launch.

Losco Regional Park

Losco Regional Park, Jacksonville Florida

Losco Park doesn’t get much love on the Jacksonville travel sites, but it really should. First of all, it has a huge playground for kids, which is surrounded by plenty of picnic tables and benches. So that’s a big plus. There are also soccer fields, restrooms, and plenty of free parking.

As far as trails, you can walk both the paved path that goes around the park, or you can walk the trail system that goes into the woods. The trailhead for the Losco trails is next to the small parking lot facing the soccer field.

I went mountain biking on the trails when I went, and it had too many roots for my taste, but for walking I think it would be great. There are only a few miles of trails, but it’s enough to get outdoors.

If you’re heading out this way, I highly recommend stopping by Hala’s Mideast Eatery and Market. They have some delicious Mediterranean food and shop.

Riverwalk

Riverwalk, Jacksonville Florida

There are two sections of Riverwalk. The Northbank, which goes through the Riverside and Brooklyn neighborhoods, and also the Southbank, which is in San Marco. Both are beautiful places, and they are connected by a pedestrian-friendly bridge.

The Northbank is longer and is my favorite part of Riverwalk. Park under the bridge near the Cummer Art Museum, where the Riverside Arts Market is. From there, you can walk all the way to downtown if you want, then cross over to San Marco.

When I first moved to Jax I actually saw manatees a few times in the St. Johns River while walking this path. I also saw dolphins here. There are signs about whales, but I never saw them and I have a feeling that is pretty rare. Obviously, you will see plenty of birds too, especially herons.

Jacksonville’s Historic Neighborhoods

Avondale, Jacksonville Florida

I was amazed by just how much you could walk in the neighborhoods of Riverside, Avondale, and San Marco when I first moved to Jacksonville. There are sidewalks everywhere, mostly lined with oak trees to give you some shade.

Find parking anywhere on the street and wander through the neighborhoods. I often liked to go to downtown Avondale for coffee or breakfast and then enjoy a morning walk on St. John’s Avenue before it got too hot. You can also make a right and head towards the river to wind in and out of the neighborhood back there. You’ll see lots of beautiful, historic homes, mostly dating to the early to mid-1900’s.

I walked Riverside and Avondale the most, but don’t miss out on San Marco either. Behind downtown San Marco is a great little neighborhood that is right on the water.

Memorial Park

Memorial Park Jacksonville

Can you really write an article about walking in Jacksonville without mentioning Memorial Park? I didn’t think so.

Memorial Park is a landmark spot in Jacksonville, and very popular. The walking path is a short, circular paved path that goes around a large field. Lots of people like packing a picnic to eat under the trees, playing soccer or frisbee in the field, or walking their dog.

Across the street is Starbucks and Einstein Bagels, so here again you can get a cup of coffee or something to eat before enjoying a nice walk in the morning.

The Beaches

Jacksonville Beach

John Kassap, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’re in Jacksonville, so you’ve got to take a walk on the beach? There are lots of beaches in Northeast Florida, including Jacksonville Beach, Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, and St. Augustine Beach, just to name a few.

Like a lot of places on the East Coast, the beaches here are very sandy, very wide, and go on for a long way. I love the beaches in the wintertime – no crowds and no heat!

If you’re coming with your dog, be sure to check for dog-friendly beaches in the area.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for hiking in Jacksonville, there are lots of parks to choose from. The UNF nature trails is a hidden gem, while Hanna Park offers miles and miles of great trails going through the woods. You may also enjoy Castaway Island.

If you’re looking for a walk through town, don’t miss out on the historic neighborhoods of Riverside, Avondale and San Marco. The numerous beaches in the area are also great places to walk.



Subscribe

* indicates required

Intuit Mailchimp