One thing that sets the Jacksonville area apart from the rest of Florida is the effort taken to preserve the region’s natural setting. With an abundance of sunshine and mild, sunny winters, outdoor activities are yours for the taking if you know where to look.

While one does not necessarily think of Jacksonville as a great locale for hiking, there is an abundance of hiking trails in the area. One such trail can be found at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach. Fort Clinch is a Civil War-era fort guarding Nassau Sound and the St. Mary’s River. Construction of Fort Cinch began in 1847 to guard the deep, navigable waterway of the St. Mary’s River and the eastern terminus of the cross-state railway at the port of Fernandina.

A six-mile hike begins at the fort parking lot and winds parallel to the entry road through the tree canopy of live oaks and cedar trees. This is the primary hiking trail at Fort Clinch. The path itself consists of fallen leaves and sugar sand. It crosses the entry road and returns to the fort along some of the highest dunes in the state. There are two loop trails around fresh water ponds. Along your hike you are likely to see alligators, deer, and several species of marsh birds, including blue herons and snowy egrets. Guided nature walks are provided on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m., weather permitting.

Other hiking trails or casual walking areas include the beach on the St. Mary’s River side. From that beach, you can see Fort Clinch from outside its walls as well as enjoy views of Cumberland Island Seashore and the wild horses that roam freely there. If you are lucky, you could have the unique experience of seeing a trident nuclear missile submarine leaving or entering Nassau Sound on its way to the home port of King’s Bay. If a quiet stroll on the beach is more your style, a walk along the shore on the ocean side is available with the opportunity to hunt for shells or sharks’ teeth.

Fort Clinch State Park is located at the northern end of Amelia Island in Fernandina Beach, on the border of Florida and Georgia. Fort Clinch has oceanside and riverside camping available as well as tours of the fort during daylight hours. On the first Saturday of each month, reenactors recreate life at the fort for visitors to have a firsthand look at life in the late 1800′s.

Getting outdoors and experiencing what nature offers is a great way to get to know Jacksonville and northeast Florida.