Places To Go Outside This Summer … That Aren’t the Beach

Words by Harry Moore

With Memorial Day having come and gone, we are officially diving headfirst into the summer, and what better way to enjoy the season than by getting outside and basking in the heat.

Many people will typically flock to the beach for a fresh tan and a cooling ocean during these months when the Sunshine State truly lives up to its title, and with Jacksonville’s premier location near the coast there are plenty of waterfront spots to choose from that are just a short drive away. But what about those who are a little tired of, or simply, hate the beach? After all, it is often overly crowded, the waves can be too rough and sand is coarse, irritating and gets everywhere — sometimes the beach just isn’t the escape you’re looking for. Luckily for them, Florida has many oases of natural beauty scattered across the state with several hosted in and around the Duval area. Here are some outdoor gems we think you should explore this summer:


7 Creeks Recreation Area

Just north of Jacksonville, not far off I-295, the 7 Creeks Recreation Area is a paradise for nature lovers. 7 Creeks comprises over 5,000 acres of parks and conservations that feature a variety of unique ecosystems and some of the most glorious landscapes you can find in Northeast Florida. The area boasts a range of activities for visitors; with more than 30 miles worth of hiking trails, camping grounds, opportunities for horseback riding and seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, as well as fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding on some of the many creeks and lakes available, there is something for everyone in 7 Creeks Recreation Area.


Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

A peaceful garden right on Jacksonville’s doorstep, the Arboretum and Botanical Garden is a Zen-filled retreat from the city. Located near the airport, the Botanical Gardens is home to a floral wonderland with an abundance of plant life able to grow unimpeded with the help of dozens of devoted volunteers. The gardens have several hiking trails that allow you to become fully engulfed in the natural beauty of the area, the gardens also offer weekly yoga classes as well as other programmed events that are sure to spur many return visits.


Ichetucknee Springs

Visiting Ichetucknee Springs should be on every Floridian’s bucket list. The idyllic park is a bit of a drive away from Jacksonville but is definitely worth the trip. Nestled within acres of lush forest scenery, Ichetucknee features several springs that are perfect for cooling off on a hot day. There is also a natural lazy river that you can float along, letting all your troubles wash away as you relax on the water under the shade of canopy trees lining the Ichetucknee River. Renting equipment for water sports such as kayaking, paddling and tubing is offered by the park; you can even go scuba diving in the clear waters of Blue Hole spring and explore the intricate underwater cave system, which is an experience you’re unlikely to forget.


Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

Just in case you can’t pull your friends or family too far away from the beach, Hanna Park will have you covered with the best of both worlds. Located between Mayport and Atlantic Beach, Hanna Park is easily accessible and has a lot to offer when it comes to summer fun. More than 20 miles worth of picturesque hiking trails can take you through a range of gorgeous sceneries that take you between a 60-acre lake with kayaks and canoes and a beautiful beach that is known as a prime spot for surfers. Hanna Park also has over 300 campsites that can host both tents and RVs — and there are also six cabins available to rent in the secluded woods area of the park so you can live out your horror movie fantasies. You’ll fall head over heels for this local treasure.


Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

Another state park that offers a little something for everyone, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park is home to a collection of springs that visitors can swim, paddle and snorkel in. There are also several hiking trails and campsites, so it is ideal for a weekend escape. Gilchrist Park also offers boat tours and wildlife viewing amenities that allow you to see a range of animals in their natural habitat from a safe distance, as well as horseback riding and stargazing. Located just outside of Gainesville, the park is the perfect place to enjoy all the pleasures that Floridian nature has to offer.


About Harry Moore