Jacksonville has the nation’s most extensive urban park system, with more than 80,000 acres of parkland, including three national parks, seven state parks, over 400 city parks and dozens of beautiful gardens and an arboretum. You might be looking for a park to just chill and hang out with friends or a new hiking trail full of greenery; whatever it may be, feel free to explore these national parks and national monuments in North Florida.
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
12713 Ft Caroline Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32225 Tel: 904-641-7155
Comprising over 46,000 acres, this park is home to some of Jacksonville’s best wetlands, waterways, and salt marshes. The park extends all the way to the Northeastern Duval County. Established in 1988, the Timucuan park includes the Fort Caroline National Memorial—an attempted French settlement in 1564 and the Kingsley Plantation, the oldest standing plantation. While you’re there, hike the trails at Theodore Roosevelt Area out to Round Marsh and climb the observation tower to look over the ecosystem and watch the world go on. And then, you can take a visit to the park museum and explore the stories and artifacts of the Timucua-speaking people of Northeast Florida, French colonists.
Don’t just stop there; you can kayak with dolphins or become a citizen scientist. Your furry friends are also allowed; just keep them on a six-foot leash. Already pumped to go? The park is open all week, excluding Monday and Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
1 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084 Tel: 904-829-6506
The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, constructed by the Spanish over three decades in the 15th century to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route. The fort once served as a U.S. military prison but was handed over to the National Park Service in 1933. Located just south of Jacksonville in historic St. Augustine, this impressive structure features panoramic views and educational content.
Currently tours are self-directed, but hold on, there’s the NPS app that allows for a virtual tour. Experience living through history as there are rangers and volunteers ready to answer your questions and share stories on the life and experiences of the colonists who dwelt here. Admission for children is free, but adults (16 and above) are charged $15. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
11676 Palmetto Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32226 Tel: 904-251-3537
Even though the Kingsley plantation is now part of the Timucuan Ecological and History Preserve, this plantation has so much history to share. Originally 1000 acres of forests, the structure and grounds of the park are now almost 60 acres. The plantation initially belonged to Zephaniah Kingsley, a British Quaker who was a planter and slave trader. He also wrote a defense of slavery and the three-tier social system that acknowledged the rights of free people of color that existed in Florida under Spanish rule.
Located at the northern tip of Fort George Island, the plantation was used for agriculture by a New Hampshire farmer, became a tourist resort, and was used for luxury clubs before its handing over to Florida Park Service in 1955. Now, the remaining slave quarters have been preserved along with the owner’s waterfront house. Admission to the plantation is free and open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday.
Fort Caroline National Memorial
12713 Fort Caroline Road Jacksonville, FL 32225 Tel: 904-641-7155
Also, within the Timucuan Ecological and History Preserve, the Fort Caroline National Memorial has a story of its own to share. The story of Fort Caroline is a story of cultures colliding. The Timucua-speaking people, French explorers, Spanish colonists, and more shaped its history. As Timucua’s contact with Europeans increased, so did their contact with deadly European diseases like smallpox. Some Timucua were taken to Cuba, while others integrated themselves into nearby groups, such as the Seminole. While they may no longer be around, there is much to learn from their pottery art or their unique agriculture styles. Other stories to explore include the French artisans that provided entertainment and drawings and the conflict between France and Spain for a piece of the “new world”. Whatever it may be that you are visiting the fort for, they are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. While you’re there, ensure you get a historical experience and not just a history lesson!
Jacksonville is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse parks in the nation. If you’re looking for a place to relax or explore, be sure to check out at least one of these amazing places. Whether you’re a nature lover or history buff, there’s something for everyone in Jacksonville’s national parks and monuments!