Explore the Outdoors: Kid-Friendly Destinations in Jacksonville

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The warm weather is so close I can almost feel it. Is it too early to start planning our summer vacation? Definitely not. But let’s not forget that sometimes the best vacations are staycations, and not only are we lucky enough to start feeling the effects of summer in what most of the country call “spring,” but we are surrounded by quite a few amazing sites to explore.

When I started putting this list together, I wanted to find things that maybe you or I have never heard about but need to add to our summer bucket list. I also wanted to add a few places that we personally love, and frequent every summer.

Jacksonville is filled with outdoor treasures perfect for adding a little adventure to those warm, summer days. Here are just a few to add to your spring and summer list!

Explore the Outdoors

Camp Chowenwaw

Have you heard of this place?? Probably not. Last year I had a friend post some pics of a multi-family camping trip that looked ridiculously fun. I started to do some research and was blown away by the lodging options available at this 150-acre camp site. I was even more surprised to find out that this amazing campsite is located in Green Cove Springs!

Camp Chowenwaw, located at the mouth of Black Creek, originally belonged to the Girl Scouts (for 70 years!) Now, the camp is open to the public and offers a variety of activities including, camping, picnicking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, hiking and bird and animal watching. Camp Chowenwaw also has a variety of educational programs so a great place for field trips!

Camping facilities include 15 tent sites, two lodges with bunk beds sleeping 16 people per cabin, nine tree house cabins, each accommodating four people, and seven cabins with bunk beds sleeping 4 – 8 people. Each campsite has a bathhouse with full restroom accommodations, and a unit house with electricity, including a stove and refrigerator. Prices for lodging are very affordable.

This is at the top of my bucket list for many reasons. A great place to take first-time campers, it’s close to home, and one of the lodging options is a TREE HOUSE. Yes, please!

Camp Chowenwaw Tree House

EcoMotion Tours at Fort George Island Cultural State Park

This is for the older kids but definitely worth a mention. For families with children 13 and up, ride a Segway off-road through island terrain! On your off-pavement adventure, you’ll be guided to bird’s nests and turtle digs, and track bobcats, deer, and marsh rabbits.

Located in Amelia Island, EcoMotions is open year round. There are two tours available on Fort George Island; the Maritime Forest Trail to Waterfront Kingsley Plantation and the Dune Ridge Trail to Point Isabel Shores. Click here for pricing and schedule.

Although my kids are not quite of age for the Segway tours, Fort George Island Cultural Park offers a ton of adventure for kids of all ages and is worth a day trip! We hiked some trails at Little Talbot Island last year and had a great time.

EcoMotion Tours

Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens

What an amazing place to spend the day with the kids. The Arboretum is one of the best keep secrets in Jax, but it shouldn’t be! A 120-acre natural park with 13 different ecosystems and over 3 miles of trails, all within the midst of our city – this is a must see!

We just went for the first time a few weeks ago when I saw they had an owl encounter. Not only did we get to see Merlin the Owl but the kids had a blast running around the easy trails. The Arboretum has a ton of kid-friendly events including guided tours, educational programs and of course, hiking. They also feature ongoing activities and special events throughout the year. This will be an outdoor locale that we will frequent all summer long.

If you love to take the kids hiking, please check out Megan John’s awesome guide for hiking with kids in Jax where she features the Arboretum.

Jacksonville Arboretum

Kathryn Abbey Hannah Park Splash Park

Hannah Park, located in North Beach in Mayport is another recreation area that boasts hiking, biking, and camping. But did you know they have an awesome playground and splash park? From Memorial Day (May 26) to Labor Day (September 1) kids under four feet can cool off in a gated water play area. This is a great option on those hot days and an even better option when looking for a spot to host a group picnic or event.

The splash park area has a ton of picnic tables that sit right next to the playground and water area. Last summer we finally gave the pedal boats a try, right on the lake by the picnic area. For a small price, you can take the kids out on the water!

Hannah Park Splash Park

Clarke House and Park

Another “wow, have you seen this?” spot. Thanks to Pam from popmommy.com and her post last week, I was introduced to this amazing playground – in Orange Park! We are always excited to find something to share in Orange Park 🙂

The Clarke House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Aside from the majestic playground, kids can enjoy nature trails, gardens, and the lake. It’s also a great facility for gatherings and birthday parties with pavilions, grills and a ton of big oak trees for shade.

 Clarke-Park-Playground

Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail

This is another outdoor experience that is on the to-do list! When the City of Jacksonville purchased an abandoned railroad corridor on Jacksonville’s west side, it was transformed into maybe one of the coolest places to ride bikes, rollerblade, and hike. The Rail Trail is a 100-foot wide Right-of-Way trail with a parallel equestrian trail. With 14 miles of paved trails and 8 miles of unpaved trails, this is a perfect spot for both newbie and experienced bike riders.

This trail is part of a nationwide, federally initiated “Rails to Trails” program designed to turn abandoned railroad lines into “linear parks.” Another highlight of the Jackson Baldwin Trail includes Camp Milton, which was once the largest encampment of Confederate troops during the Civil War. This Civil War historical site includes the remains of a mile-long defensive works, a re-creation of a late 19th-century homestead, a replica bridge, an arboretum, and extensive boardwalks.

We haven’t been to this spot yet, but I see a future trip with little bikes in tow!

Jacksonville-Baldwin

Are you as excited as me for the warm weather?!? Please share your outdoor adventures with other JMB readers below!

What are your favorite Jax spots to explore??

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Vicky Lane
Vicky Lane is the co-owner and co-founder of Jacksonville Mom (formerly Jax Moms Blog). Since 2012, she has been overseeing the content and technical side of Jacksonville Mom. In this role, she manages over 30 writers and works closely with the managing editor to provide the most relevant content for the Jacksonville parenting community. In her previous career, Vicky obtained her Masters in Education and served as University Registrar at the University of North Florida. Wife to adoring husband John, her love for all things “Mom” began in 2010 when their son Brendan was born. Vicky chose to put her full-time career in higher education on hold to spend time with her new baby, giving her a new respect for motherhood and parenting. In June 2012, John and Vicky welcomed sweet Audrey to the family. Vicky has created an amazing circle of Moms who are continuously seeking new ways to enrich their children’s lives in and around Jacksonville. Being part of the creation of an online parenting resource and small business that serves the great Jacksonville area has allowed her to flourish in a successful career while remaining present for her family.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t forget Tree Hill Nature Center! Trails, chickens, goats, alligators, other reptiles, and a little museum too 🙂

  2. Do you have a post for the Northside? It is just a while to travel to some of the places like orange park, gcs, etc. maybe there’s just not much to do up here besides the zoo.

    • Btw, my son is almost 1, so it’s hard to go places that he can enjoy and still take naps, etc. without us having to lug all his “stuff” around..

    • HI Megan! Yes, the Zoo is a big one, but also check out Catty Shack Ranch, Hugenot Park and Lannie Road Park. Towards the coast is Kingsley Plantation too 🙂

  3. Hi Vicky, I would like to add an event but could not enter the event name (grayed out?). Please let me know what to do to submit. The event is a free nature-oriented family-friendly program Mar – May 2017 at 9:30 a.m. at the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. I have a flyer about the event to attach. Thanks, Alice

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