On Jacksonville’s Northshore, Fort George Island Cultural State Park protects both natural habitats and thousands of years of layers of human habitation.
Set amid a vast estuary when the St. Johns River meets the Atlantic Ocean, it is a green gem surrounded by what is now a National Park, the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve.
Looped by a scenic drive, it offers hiking, paddling, off-road cycling, and an interpretive center and museum set within in a 1920s country club clubhouse.
It also provides a gateway to Kingsley Plantation, an important southern anchor along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which stretches to Wilmington, North Carolina.
Resources for exploring the area
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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.
About the Park
Opened in 1928, the Ribault Club attracted affluent guests with a yacht basin, lawn bowling courses, and nine-hole golf course.
But the island was first thousands of years before by the Timucua and their ancestors. In 1736, a fort protecting the Georgia colony lent the island its name.
At the north end of the island is the historic Kingsley Plantation, first established in 1791 on a Spanish land grant.
A driving tour circling the island along the canopied Saturiwa Trail will introduce you to its ancient history and provide access to Kingsley Plantation.
Paddlers and boaters can make use of a small launch behind the clubhouse to explore the island’s rim by water.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Ribault Club offers a charm paralleled in era by the lodge at Wakulla Springs.
The architecture is understated but graceful, befitting its use as a getaway for the Jacksonville elite of the 1920s to “escape to the greens” for golfing.
The club’s original greens were not fully abandoned until the 1980s, when the State of Florida acquired the property.
Those were allowed to return to nature, but the large wooden clubhouse enjoyed a full restoration to its former glory.
A portion of it is used as a visitor center and museum. But its grand main hall and grounds may be reserved for meetings and events, including weddings. Call for details.
Hiking and Biking
Both hikers and cyclists are welcome to loop the maritime hammock along the well-marked Fairway Loop Trail, which starts at the Ribault Club parking lot.
See our photos of Fort George Island Cultural State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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.
Within city limits yet truly wild, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park protects more than 4,000 acres along the edges of enormous estuaries draining into the St. Johns River