A barrier island on the Atlantic Coast at the mouth of the St. Johns River, Little Talbot Island attracts a steady stream of beachgoers from nearby Jacksonville. But if your idea of a day at the beach isn’t just to lie around, the park has two trails – one long, one short – to introduce you to the coastal habitats that make up this island.
The longer of the two, the 3.5-mile Island Hiking Trail, starts on the left as you turn into the driveway entrance to the park. Depending on the space available, you may be able to park at the entrance station (ask the ranger for a trail map, and make sure you tell them you are hiking this trail), or you need to park at the first beach parking lot on the left and walk back to the entrance station to begin the loop, which will return you to that beach parking lot. Bring plenty of water on this hike, as it can get rather hot on the dunes and the beach.
Location: Little Talbot Island
Length: 3.5 miles
Fees / Permits: state park fee
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: Yes, at the beach
To get to Little Talbot Island State Park from Jacksonville, follow A1A north past the Mayport Ferry and out to Little Talbot Island. The entrance is on the right, and the trailhead is at the ranger station on the left.
A large trail map marks the entrance to the Island Hiking Trail, which begins as a broad, mowed path through the coastal scrub. Benches along the way provide places to rest, and interpretive signs clue you in as to vegetation and creatures you may see on this hike, including gopher tortoises.
The trees are gnarled and windswept, and you may feel a salt breeze. From undulating dunes the trail drops into the deep shade of the maritime forest, and eventually crosses a causeway through a pine forest where rainfall collects amid the pine needles.
When the trail makes a sharp turn at 1.5 miles, it begins to ascend and you can hear the pounding of the surf in the distance. You emerge into open dunes rising spectacularly around you, many of them topped with cabbage palms. Look for the tracks of gopher tortoises as the trail, now soft sand, weaves in and out of the open dunes and pockets of pine forest. The trail emerges at the shoreline, with a bench overlooking the ocean.
A sign points you to the right. Start walking down the beach, passing an “H” sign on the dunes at 2 miles and an “F” sign at 3 miles. Enjoy the surf, the sand, and the sweeping view of the mouth of the St. Johns River. Take the first boardwalk to your right to access restrooms and the beach parking lot; if you parked at the entrance station, follow the park road to the right to complete the loop.