For this long weekend adventure I loaded up the car and headed almost six hours to Little Talbot Island State Park near Jacksonville, Fl. I chose this destination because it was a good jumping off point to explore six other nearby state parks, time permitting, and it held the allure of fantastic fishing opportunities, hiking, kayaking and horseback riding on the beach at nearby Amelia Island.
I pulled in just ahead of a thunderstorm and managed to get my hammock tent and rain cover erected before the skies opened. The forecast had called for a 60% chance of thunderstorms and it did not disappoint. I grabbed my camera and headed off toward the campground fishing pier to get some shots before the lightning forced me to seek shelter in the bathhouse.
About half an hour later the rain let up and I started exploring the campground. A word of advice, if you have a ground tent and plan on camping at Little Talbot don’t reserve site #11. It was completely flooded and I was exceedingly glad that I hadn’t reserved that particular spot. In fact I watched a camper pull into that exact spot the next day (when it was dry) and they decided to leave again after only a few minutes.
I made my way back to my campsite to check on my hammock. Everything was dry as a bone so I decided to hop in the car and drive to town a few miles away and grab some groceries. I passed Big Talbot Island State Park, George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier SP, and Amelia Island SP along the way. I noted the proximity of Kayak Amelia and Kelly Seahorse Ranch along the way and contemplated partaking in the activities later.
Upon my return to my campsite I had an easy dinner of baked chicken before deciding it was time to take my fishing pole down to the campground pier. I timed my arrival with the return of high tide, and although it appeared that there were fish aplenty they showed no interest in my bait. A fellow fisherman joined me and as we chatted it turned out that he was in the area for a kayak fishing tournament being held the next day. He gave me a few pointers on fishing the area and then we parted company for the evening.
After an uneventful fishing evening I headed back to the campsite and prepared to turn in. A couple of things immediately grabbed my attention. My campsite’s proximity to the restroom turned out to be more bane than blessing as I lay there listening to the loud droning of a fan. Next came the camp rats/mice. They seemed smitten with my hammock and spent much of the night rustling around directly beneath it. Mice and rats don’t bother me except when they keep squeaking and keeping me awake, not that I got much sleep anyway.
At about 1:30 a.m. some belligerent woman a couple of campsites over started cussing and hollering about all manner of things. I treasure sleep above most things so I loudly said, “They eat the noisy one first!” and wouldn’t you know it, she shut up after that.
Morning dawned with a cloak of fog but that didn’t deter my plans. I quickly downed breakfast, grabbed my camera and camelbak and headed out for some hiking. The campsite has a nature trail that winds about .07 miles near the marsh. The benefits of early morning hiking is that some of the nocturnal animals like raccoons are just heading back to their dens and nests and the diurnal animals are just coming out. It’s also cool and quiet in the wee hours, a magic time that’s perfect for hiking.
The trail wound its way through low hardwood hammocks before finally giving way to the tidal marsh. Low tide was beginning and I quietly observed a heron stalking its breakfast and a lone fisherman trying his luck along the shoreline. I stealthily moved past, taking care not to disturb either and finished up my hike. I checked in at base camp and moved on to my next hike across the street at the main park.
I obediently registered as a hiker at the ranger station and set out for a four mile hike down the Island Hiking Trail. This trail begins in the hardwood hammocks and moves down to the coastal dunes before returning on a two mile stretch of beach. It should be noted that this trip is much more easily done at low tide when there’s more beach to explore. Luckily for me, I’d timed it perfect.
Again, early mornings are great for hiking. It allows you to beat the heat and catch the forest coming to life. Of course, you also have to worry about walking into spiderwebs strung across the trail. That’s where keeping a sharp eye out comes in handy; I managed to dodge most of them and make it to the shoreline unscathed where a bench was waiting for me so that I could take a break and watch the pounding surf.
After a short break I headed down the beach toward the boardwalk that would take me back. It’s almost unfair of me to critique the beach at Little Talbot Island because I’ve become spoiled by the sugar-white sand beaches of Okaloosa Island back home. Little Talbot has an abundance of shells littering the beach, more than enough to satisfy any beachcomber and the surf alone attracts surfers to its north beach.
I enjoyed a relaxing stroll back to the boardwalk passing a lone surfer and a couple of surf fisherman testing their luck along the way. I crossed the boardwalk and headed toward the ranger station to let them know I’d survived my hike when lo and behold I happened upon a Southern black racer. I took a few photos and went on my merry way.
My next hiking stop was Big Talbot Island, but I’ll save that review for a separate article. During the afternoon I took a brief nap and was awakened by a large branch breaking and falling into the road right across from my campsite. The park ranger happened to be driving by at that exact moment and had to get out of his truck and drag the moss-laden branch out of the roadway.
After dinner I decided it was time to go fishing again. The tide was coming back in and it was shaping up to be a lovely, relaxing evening. I got to the fishing pier and wet my line while listening in on the other fisherman. Two of the fisherman had been at the campground all week and were lamenting that they hadn’t caught anything at all despite trying different nearby locations. If made me feel somewhat better about my lack of luck despite the high claims of this being a fisherman’s paradise.
I called it quits for the evening and headed back to camp. I had new neighbors one campsite over with two rambunctious children. I figured I could suffer through it with the ear plugs I’d packed so I settled down to enjoy the fading sunset. The animals were just starting to come out when a group of about five vehicles pulled into the campsite on the other side of me. A handful of adults and about a dozen rowdy teenagers poured out of the “Youth Group” van, shattering the magic of the evening.
I hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous night and knew it would be well into the night before this large group would ever settle down, so I broke camp and headed for a hotel that would get me that much closer to tomorrow’s adventure at Suwannee River State Park near Live Oak.
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