By Joe Kukura
It’s no exaggeration to say that Jacksonville, Florida, is one of the best cities in the United States for urban hiking and biking. Jacksonville offers the single-largest urban park system in the U.S., with more than 80,000 acres of the fabulous Florida outdoors. That’s four times the size of the island of Manhattan! With all those parks and beaches, you have endless miles of beautiful Florida hiking and biking trails to let you enjoy those great outdoors.
You’ll find oodles of outdoor activities in Jacksonville. But hikers and bikers will really want to make tracks to Jax, which has more shoreline than any other Florida city. Whether you’re looking for trails on beaches or in forests, or urban paths that zip through hip downtown areas, here’s why Jacksonville is a trailblazing city for the outdoors.
All those urban parks make hiking in Jacksonville a unique treat for outdoor trekkers. The many parks and nature preserves in Jacksonville show off every variety of unforgettable Florida scenery, both paved and unpaved.
You can do a beach hike, a forest hike, and walk the shores of a 60-acre freshwater lake—all in the same day—at Jacksonville’s Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. The park’s almost three-mile loop trail was designed by the Florida Trail Association’s North Florida Trailblazers chapter specifically for maximum variety of scenery. Hanna Park even allows for overnight camping. There is just a small admission fee for entry to Hanna Park.
Wildlife fans will be wowed by a hike through Jacksonville’s numerous nature reserves and habitats. The trails at Betz Tiger Point are known for providing glimpses of dolphins and rare birds. Cedar Point Preserve has more than 600 acres of outdoor natural beauty, with horseback riding and dogs on leashes both permitted. Historians believe that Seaton Creek Preserve was the site of the southernmost battle of the American Revolution, and the preserve is still in the same undeveloped, pristine condition it was then.
The culture of biking in Jacksonville has led to the development of some one-of-a-kind bike paths. The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail is a set of former railroad tracks that have been transformed into a 14.5-mile “linear park” that’s famous for its populations of hawks, storks and kingfishers. The Beach and Peach Urban Park is a mountain biker must-ride, and its mountain biking and BMX trails often play host to national competitive events.
We mentioned that Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is outstanding for hiking, but the park also has 20 miles of mountain biking trails that are beautifully maintained by the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association. Bike rental in Hanna Park is also available for those just cruising through Jacksonville on a short visit.
Many of the best biking trails in Jacksonville are in a 46,000-acre national park known as the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. The preserve is home to the Timucuan Trail, which has more than 10 miles of paved and woodbridge biking. You can also ride your bike out to an island just off the Atlantic Coast on the Big Talbot Island trails.
For a really cool outdoor learning experience, take a bicycle eco-tour at Big Talbot Island State Park, with an expert guide and bike rental courtesy of a company called Kayak Amelia. Thanks to Kayak Amelia, you can even take those eco-tours on a Segway!
With more urban park space than any other city in the country, Jax stacks up as one of the best places for hiking and biking in Florida. So for your next getaway, make a path to Jacksonville, where you’ll find that world-class hiking and biking is afoot.