outdoors staycation

by madeleine peck
For those about to embark upon a staycation, one rule might be observed: turn off the phone; leave an “away” message. Even if you’re only as far away as your Xbox.
But as nicely appointed as your house is, there will come a time when the desire to leave becomes manifest. To that end, there are several places worth exploring. Especially at the beach, but in unexpected corners of Duval too.
For bicycle enthusiasts who count timidity among their traits, the Rails to Trails in Baldwin is 14.5 paved miles through quiet neighborhoods and forest. Originally a part of the CSX line, the trail is perfect for those who like to maunder along, considering their navels as much as their speed. To the trail: Camp Milton (mid-way point), west on Interstate 10 to Chaffee Road (N); go to Beaver Street/90 (W); go to Halsema Road (N); park entrance on right just past Old Plank Rd.
If camping is preferred, there are practically beach-side spots at both Hanna and Hugonaut Park. Hanna Park, located off Mayport Rd., borders Atlantic Beach and boast extensive bike trails as well as a lake for freshwater paddling. Plus, if you can get one, there are tiny air-conditioned cabins for about $30 a night…but they’re booked out months in advance by hippies in the know.
Huguenot Park, Little Talbot Island Park, and Big Talbot Island State Park. These three parks comprise what locals laughingly call the Redneck Riviera, and with good reason-though incredibly beautiful they boast a wide variety (ahem) of lifestyles and people. The ‘earthiest’ of these (think pick-up trucks, Confederate flags and good-natured pit-bulls), Huguenot Park is one of a number of dwindling Florida Parks where driving is allowed on the beach. Though it doesn’t make for the most aesthetically pleasing experience, it does make toting beach gear a heck of a lot easier. Hugonaut is also open for camping, and allows dogs, unlike the Talbots to the north. Getting there early is recommended, and it has one of the best surf breaks in Northeast Florida. The spot is as unpretentious as it is fun at just $4.
Little Talbot and Big Talbot offer a more rarefied beach experience. After paying $4 per car, one then drives along a winding road until finding the beach access that feels “just right.” And though the walk down the walk-overs can seem to take forever, once there its easy to wander off, exploring the wide sand beaches and the crazy, twisted trees that define this stretch of beach. You’ll come back with more than a tan, since these beaches feel like the Florida that Native Americans and pirates once knew. For info ahead of time, check out floridastateparks.org
Of course, for those of use who want a slightly more in-depth exploration of the beach, there’s always kayaking or surfing. For kayaking, check out kayakonline.com and for novice surfers, John Tully’s Surf Camp or the Saltwater Cowgirls are a great way to get started.
Gennie Springs and the Ichetucknee River are both about an hour away and are a delightful way to spend the day. Pack a cooler full of sandwiches and plenty of water, stop on the way in to rent a tube or raft, and float through some of Northeast Florida’s most spectacular landscape. It’s a great way too, to stop and think about ways to preserve and protect wild spaces. Check it out on floridastateparks.org.
So get your staycation on! Northeast Florida has a host of things to do and places to visit. There’s more here than the seemingly endless strip malls and chain restaurants, and it’s worth exploring…it’s at least worth turning the cell phone off for.