Hiking & Biking Trails of Clay County Florida: Discovering Nature
With fall approaching and the promise of cooler temperatures coming our way over the next few months, it’s the perfect time to start planning your hiking and biking adventures for the season. Clay County has many beautiful parks that allow you to discover nature while getting your steps in or closing that exercise ring on your smartwatch. Whether you’re looking for your new favorite park to enjoy walks with the family on the weekends or you want to hit up all the parks in the area as a personal challenge, we’ve compiled a list of the best hiking and biking trails of Clay County.
Green Cove Springs’ Camp Chowenwaw County Park was once Florida’s first Girl Scout Camp. Today, the park offers 150 acres with a variety of recreational activities, including hiking and biking trails.
Enjoy the Jungle Trail, the oldest of the trails, leading to an observation deck on Black Creek. This is an easy walk for those getting back into physical activity after quarantine, looking for a quiet walk in nature, or those with younger kids as the trail is a boardwalk.
The Treehouse trail is another boardwalk trail through the floodplain forest along Peters Creek. Finally, the Hickory Trail loops through forests with huge magnolias and pines providing lots of shade.
While the park is accessible by bicycles on a paved trail, it has no internal cycling trials. Leashed pets are welcome on the trails, so your furry friends can tag along!
Bayard Conservation Area
Just south of Green Cove Springs is the Bayard Conservation Area. This conservation area is close to the St. Johns River and the Jacksonville metropolitan area. Here, hikers can enjoy 15 miles through John P. Hall Nature Preserve. Don’t forget your binoculars as this is a prime destination for wildlife watching. An observation platform lets you view deer and wild turkey, and along the riverbank, you can spot green herons, gopher tortoises, and little minnows.
Jennings State Forest
Jennings State Forest is located outside of Oakleaf. At nearly 24,000 acres it is home to 15 different biological communities, including sandhill, slope forest, flatwoods, blackwater stream, and more.
There are three hiking and biking trails in the forest ranging from 1.7 miles to 5-mile loops. While on these trails, you can explore both the waterways and the primitive areas in the forest.
The Fire and Water Nature Trail is a 1.7-mile trail that offers a great learning experience at how fire and water impact forest communities. The Dunn’s Farm Trail is a 2.7-mile trail and the North Fork Black Creek 5-mile loop offers a variety of ecosystems to discover nature and spot wildlife.
All three trails are included in the Florida Forest Services Trailwalker Hiking Program.
Black Creek Park
In 1929, the Clay County Bicycles, Blueways, Trails Committee, and the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association of Jacksonville opened the Clay County Black Creek Park Mountain Bike Trail. This gives cyclists a new, thrilling trail to enjoy on the First Coast.
Black Creek Park is one of Clay County’s most popular trails, and it’s no surprise since the park has a wonderful 8-mile paved trail creating a great environment for walking and biking. The trail passes through scenic forest and wetlands and even crosses Fleming Island (though it’s not truly an island!). There is so much to be explored at Black Creek Park.
Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is known as one of Florida’s First State Parks. With over 2,000 acres and 5.44 miles of trails along the Florida National Scenic Trail, this park should be at the top of every hiker and biker’s list. The park is located on rolling sandhills with one of the few remaining examples of an old-growth stand of longleaf pines.
Cyclists can enjoy over 3 miles of paved park road and hikers have a variety of trails to choose from. The Ridge Trail is 1.1 miles and works its way along the upper ridge of the ravine between the stairway and the mill site. The Loblolly is a 1-mile loop that begins and ends at the mill site and winds past the largest loblolly pine trees in the area.
The Fern Loop is one of the shorter trails (0.8 miles), along with the Nature Trail (0.1). The Fern Loop begins at the bottom of the ravine stairway and passes by the headsprings of Gold Head Branch. The Nature Trail, while short, leads to one of the oldest lakes in Florida, Sheeler Lake.
Finally, the Florida National Scenic Trail is 5.4-miles long and passes through Gold Head Branch State Park and connects to other public lands in the area.
For our outdoor-lovers, there is an abundance of parks to explore and enjoy in the Clay County area. From forested areas to waterside trails, hikers and bikers will never be bored on their adventures. Jot down these parks and get ready to enjoy the cooler weather!