By John Egan
Here in Jax, we don’t call it “working out.” We call it: “getting out.”
With year-round sunshine and cool ocean breezes, Jacksonville’s climate calls for all kinds of outdoor activities—all the time—both on water and on land. Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, there’s so much to do outside of the house or the hotel, it’s easy to get your fix of some of nature’s best—whatever and whenever your little heart desires.
Hiking and Biking
Jacksonville is home to some of the best trails in the state, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is its holy grail with 20 miles of track (approx. 17 miles of singletrack) and 1.5 miles of white-sand beach. And with a naval base to the north, Atlantic Beach to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Hanna Park is as scenic a refuge there is for biking, hiking and running in Florida.
All trails are maintained by Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), attracting mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners of all skill levels. The park allows dogs, so feel free to bring your pooch along for the walk, run or ride.
Over at the Theodore Roosevelt Area, a 600-acre natural forest within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve national park, you can explore three trails that wind through steep hills and wooded wetlands. Daily from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m, hikers can experience miles of peaceful hiking along historic trails that carry on a long legacy of preservation.
Just outside downtown Jacksonville, the 14-mile Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail goes through pine flatwoods, wetlands and hardwood uplands. Be sure not to zoom along too quickly on the trail, as you may miss the songbirds, hawks, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer.
If you’re not in the mood for hiking or biking, what about taking your rod and reel to a fishing spot in the “River City by the Sea”?
One of the best places for hiking and biking also turns out to be one of the best for fishing. The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is an ideal location for freshwater tackle and fly fishing. The Mayport Jetties sit at the mouth of the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean. Among the offshore or onshore fishing finds here are redfish, speckled trout, flounder, bonito, tuna, sea bass, wahoo, cobia and barracuda.
The Intracoastal Waterway and the lower St. Johns River are home to redfish, which can be caught year round. Most people fish in the tidal marsh creeks at lower tides when you can see the fish chasing shrimp and crabs. The low tide provides the convenience of fishing right from your kayak or flat boat. Cast into the Atlantic Ocean. Among the prized catches here are flounder, king mackerel, catfish, bluefish and sheepshead.
If you’d rather be in the water with the fish, there’s no better place than Jacksonville to do it.
Home to some of the best surfing in Florida, Jax’s two premier surfing spots are Jacksonville Beach and The Poles at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.
Jacksonville’s 1,100 miles of navigable waters and more shoreline than any other city in the United States make paddleboarding and kayaking a breeze. At Little Talbot Island State Park and Big Talbot Island State Park, you can take guided kayak tours or choose to have your own urban kayaking experience on the St. Johns River.
If surfing, paddleboarding or kayaking isn’t your thing, perhaps golfing is more your speed. Jacksonville and the nearby beaches are home to more than 50 golf courses, not to mention the scores of courses in surrounding communities. Among the notable Jacksonville courses is the Hyde Park Golf Club, which hosted men’s and women’s PGA tours in the 1940s and ’50s. The par-72 Hyde Park course is essentially the same today as when Scottish architect Donald Ross designed it in 1925.
Not to be missed by any golf aficionado is the world-famous TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, home to two championship-level courses: the Stadium Course, considered the jewel of northeast Florida’s golf scene and home to THE PLAYERS Championship, and the Dye’s Valley Course, the younger sibling of the Stadium Course.
What if you want your outdoor activity in Jacksonville to be less active than golfing or fishing? Birding might be your best bet.
The region’s mild temperatures, diverse habitats and migratory route make it a popular place for bird watching. At Huguenot Memorial Park, you can see gannets, loons and sea ducks, as well as a nesting area for terns and shorebirds. Meanwhile, Little Talbot Island is a springtime stop for the red knot as it flies between Argentina and Canada.
Whatever you’re into, being outside in Jacksonville beats being indoors when you just can’t beat the weather. Turn the city into your personal jungle gym and indulge in all kinds of activities and sports in the water, on top of it or alongside it.