In the heart of the peninsula protected by Fort Clinch State Park at the north end of Amelia Island, a series of depression ponds is the focal point of the Willow Pond Trails.
The ponds may have been used for indigo dye processing in the 18th century, but were further enlarged during the 1930s.
At that time, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) dug out rocks and other materials to construct park roads, leaving what are now water-filled pits.
Collectively, these are now referred to as Willow Pond, and provide a freshwater haven on a peninsula surrounded by saltwater.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Fernandina Beach
Trailhead: 30.698357, -81.443379
Address: 2601 Atlantic Ave, Fernandina Beach
Fees: $6 per vehicle or $4 single occupant; $2 pedestrians and cyclists
Restrooms: None at trailhead. Located at fort visitor center and beach parking lot.
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Park open 8 AM to sunset daily. Leashed pets welcome on this trail. Pets are otherwise prohibited on beaches, in buildings, and on boardwalks.
Be alert for alligators lounging along the ponds, especially at the “Alligator Crossing” sign, where they do indeed cross from pond to pond. For your safety, do not approach within 20 feet of an alligator.
The Magnolia Loop may be inaccessible at times during the rainy season due to high water on the trail and over the footbridge at the far end of the loop.
From Jacksonville, follow Interstate 95 north for 20 miles to exit 373. Head east on SR 200 / A1A (Buccaneer Trail) for 10 miles, passing through Yulee and crossing the Intracoastal Waterway into Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. Continue 2 miles as A1A curves north and merges onto South 8th St. Continue north on South 8th St for 3 miles to Atlantic Ave and turn right. Head east on Atlantic Ave for 1.5 miles. The entrance to Fort Clinch State Park will be on your left. After you stop at the ranger station and pay your park entrance fee, continue 2.3 miles along the main park road to the Willow Pond trailhead on the left. There is room for six to eight cars.
Both short tangent loops, the 0.4 mile Willow Pond Trail and the half-mile Magnolia Loop share their first tenth of a mile before diverging.
At the “Alligator Caution” sign, take a left to hike clockwise around the Magnolia Loop.
The trail soon curves to the right and follows the path under a canopy of sable palms and live oaks, with depression pools on either side.
Listen for the sounds of frogs, insects, osprey, and perhaps the distinctive “gwunk-gwunk, gwunk-gwunk” of baby gators calling to their mothers.
When you come to a bench, an unmarked trail turns right. It’s a crossover between the ponds to the Willow Loop.
At 0.2 miles there is a “Highwater Bypass” sign and a second trail that turns right. This one is also a crossover to the Willow Loop.
A footbridge crosses a small waterway that drains water from the ponds to the Egans Creek Marsh. Keep an eye out for alligators here.
Crossing the bridge, you’ll leave the lush green of the palm trees, duckweed and saw palmettos, and climb ancient sand dunes.
The forest shifts to mostly live oaks, magnolias and a myriad of holly trees. Note the resurrection fern, orchids and Spanish moss in the canopy above.
At 0.4 miles, there is an intersection with a sign marking the exit to the left and the Willow Loop on the right. Bear left and continue along the dune ridge.
This is a good section for seeing armadillo, woodpeckers, squirrel and other small wildlife. At just over a half mile, the Magnolia Loop ends at the Willow Pond parking area.
To tackle the Willow Pond Loop, take a right at the “alligator caution” sign and hike in the counter-clockwise direction.
The trail climbs up the gentle dune ridge into a forest dominated by live oak, holly and magnolia.
After a tenth of a mile, take a left at the next trail intersection to follow the Willow Loop. The trail goes over and around several small dunes until you come to a “T” in the trail.
The Willow Loop goes both right and left at this intersection. Take a right, and meet the connector to the Magnolia Loop at the “Highwater Bypass” sign at 0.3 miles.
Take a left here and follow the trail between depression ponds on either side.
At just under 0.4 miles, the Willow Loop curves to the left and exits back at the parking area, wrapping up this hike just shy of a mile.
Learn more about Fort Clinch State Park
Explore the other trails of Fort Clinch State Park
See our photos of Fort Clinch State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Northeast of Jacksonville in Fernandina Beach, Egans Creek Greenway is a protected area of over 300 acres that runs north to south along Egans Creek.
John Muir Ecological Park in Yulee connects you to an important and mostly forgotten chapter of Florida history: our role in John Muir’s “Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.”
An unusual and picturesque geologic anomoly, Blackrock Beach at Big Talbot Island is covered with formations that look like black lava rocks but are made of sand