Fort George Island is a treasure trove of history and ecological importance that boasts over 6,000 years of human occupation.
Mounds of oyster shells (middens) can be found throughout the park and along the shores of the St. George River.
They were deposited by the Timucua and their ancestors long ago, the last Native Americans to occupy the island before European colonization.
Unsuccessful attempts to develop the island as a resort helped save its historical and ecological resources, yet notable structures remain throughout the park.
Some of the more significant are the 1928 Ribault Club clubhouse, the 1791 Kingsley Plantation, and scattered tabby buildings.
On the road into the park is Carpenter Gothic Saint George Episcopal Church, established 1877.
Once a prestigious country club, this 581-acre parcel is now part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve.
The Fairway Loop Trail, which begins at The Ribault Club, follows the interior of the former Scottish-style golf course.
The trail leads hikers to significant sites around the island, including Mount Cornelia and Point Isabel, and provides wildlife watching opportunities.
A sizable gopher tortoise population is located throughout the property, particularly around Mount Cornelia.
Wading birds like wood storks, great blue herons, and snowy egrets can be spotted along the salt marsh of the Fort George River.
Considered moderately challenging, the trail offers surprising elevation changes, wide water views, and a lush maritime forest setting.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 2.9 mile loop
Address: 11241 Fort George Rd, Jacksonville
Restroom: At the Ribault Club
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset. Leashed dogs welcome outdoors. Collecting artifacts, fossils, and plants is prohibited.
The Ribault Club Visitor Center is open Wed-Sun 9-5 (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas).
From Interstate 295 north of the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville, follow Heckscher Drive (SR 105) east for 9.4 miles along the north shore of the St. Johns River. Turn left on Fort George Rd. After a half mile, at a fork in the road, stay right. Continue 1.5 miles to the parking area at the Ribault Club, which is also one of the trailheads for the Fairway Loop Trail.
The Fairway Loop Trail begins at a parking lot adjacent to the Ribault Club, a restored 1920s social club. Stop in here before your hike.
There is a museum located within the building, which provides visitors with history of the island, along with trail maps and pamphlets of Timucuan Preserve, a National Park.
From the front door entrance of the Ribault Club, follow the sidewalk underneath a canopy of live oaks until you reach the disability access parking lot.
Cross the lot here and go through an open gate on the other side. Walk a few feet down a gravel path and you’ll see the entrance to the Fairway Loop Trail on your left.
The trail is a sandy path with crushed oyster shells, lined with cabbage palms, juniper, and live oak trees.
At 700 feet, cross the Fort George Ribault Road. At 0.4 miles you’ll come to an intersection of trails with a sign.
Veer left to continue on the main loop trail or veer right to climb Mount Cornelia, the highest point on the island and the highest natural point on the southeastern Atlantic Coast.
It’s less than a tenth of a mile to the top of Mount Cornelia but there’s no real view, more of a sandy dune.
If you continue on this portion of the trail, you’ll hook back up with the Fairway Loop Trail in just a couple hundred more feet.
Back on the Fairway Loop, a shady, wide path allows for both hikers and bikers to travel safely. Stay right so that bikes can pass on your left.
This section of the trail parallels Fort George Road, which you’ll see occasionally on your left.
At 0.8 mile reach a wide sandy area and an interpretive sign talking about the gopher tortoise population and their significance within this ecosystem.
Gopher tortoises dig burrows up to 40 feet long that offer safety and protection to other wildlife like snakes, rodents, and insects.
You’ll see several burrows in this area. Do not disturb them; please stay on the trail.
At the next trail junction, the main trail turns left but it’s worth taking the 0.4-mile round-trip Isabel Point Spur.
Go straight through the sunny, sandy area, past the interpretive signs and re-enter the forest. In about 300 feet come to a T in the trail. Take a right here.
After 0.2 mile a set of stairs lead to the marsh at Point Isabel. There’s a concrete barrier here; tread carefully.
At low tide you’ll see an oyster bed, and to the left, wide water views of the Fort George River.
Take some photos of the gorgeous view, and then return the way you came to the gopher tortoise area.
Pass the interpretive sign and take a right, and you’re back on the main loop trail in the shade.
After a mile, the trail reaches a a parking area for 3-6 cars along Fort George Road.
Take a dogleg on the road 30-40 ft. to the left and you’ll back to the Fairway Loop Trail.
Here the trail descends gradually; it’s cool and shady. To the right you may notice a small stand of American holly.
At 1.3 miles, bear right. There will be a grassy area to your left.
After 1.5 miles you’ll notice a mile marker sign on your left that can only be seen hiking clockwise around the Fairway Loop (this hike goes counter-clockwise).
The path narrows before it eventually opens into a young forest with a stand of juvenile live oak trees to your right.
There you’ll see a sign describing “Plant Succession,” which is the orderly, natural way one plant community replaces another.
The last portion of the Fairway Loop Trail feels like a true golf course, with its ups and downs, and the way it rolls and curls like undulations on a fairway.
By 2.2 miles, the trail curves around a picturesque lily-covered pond. At 2.6 miles the trail flattens and opens into a sunny area.
At 2.8 miles you’ll reach the end of the trail at the overflow parking area at The Ribault Club. Cross this lot to return to your vehicle parked in front of the Club.
Learn more about Fort George Island Cultural State Park
See our photos of Fort George Island Cultural State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
One of the historic treasures of Timucuan Preserve in Jacksonville, Kingsley Plantation interprets the everyday lives of free and enslaved peoples on an early Florida plantation.
A patchwork of public land on both sides of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Timucuan Preserve encompasses sites of historic, cultural, and ecological interest scattered between Amelia Island and Mayport.
With one of the closest wild beaches to Jacksonville, Little Talbot Island State Park is a heavily visited park, and not just for its beaches. Paddling in the estuaries and camping amid the dunes are popular pastimes, too.