Most people come to Little Talbot Island for the beach; after all, it’s not far from downtown Jacksonville, and the shoreline is wild and pristine. While the 3.5-mile Island Hiking Trail is relatively well-known, the 0.8-mile Campground Nature Trail offers a side of Little Talbot that the whole family can enjoy—along the estuary. The trail loops up and over relict dunes topped with forest, making for spectacular views. To hike the 0.8-mile loop, check in at the ranger station and ask for a gate combination to access the campground on the opposite side of A1A. It’s fun to climb up and down the dunes, in and out of sandy bowls, on this short but scenic loop.
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. For the Little Talbot Island Nature Trail, ask for permission to drive into the campground to hike the trail. To access the trailhead, drive through the campground and park at the canoe launch. Walk back up to site 39; the trail starts across from it at the sign.
The trail starts across from site 39, where there’s a prominent sign and a box full of maps. It’s a well-defined interpretive loop marked with white blazes, its first section shaded by cedars and slash pines, with yaupon holly in the understory.
Ospreys frequent the skies here, scanning the salty waterway for their meals. At the trail junction, continue straight. A short spur trail leads to a pretty view over the edge of the marsh. During high tide, the low spots in the trail may be inundated, and fiddler crabs will scuttle out of your way.
The trail climbs up and around a stand of cedars, providing more views of the marsh, and drops into more low spots with fiddler crabs. It then swings away from the marsh views and up into the dunes into a stand of pines. At 0.6 mile, you emerge in a bowl of bright white sand. The trail drops into a bowl full of cabbage palms and eventually you see the marsh again. At the end of the loop, turn right to exit.