Florida Man on the Run

Amazing Day Trips from Jacksonville

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Northeast Florida is truly an underrated vacation destination. There are so many amazing day trips from Jacksonville that you can set out on. In fact no matter what you like to do, there is a chance you can find it just a short drive from Jacksonville. Looking for a beach vacation? Check! Enjoy historical sites? Done! Need a way to cool off? No problem! There are countless ways to explore all that Northeast Florida has to offer with these day trips from Jacksonville!

Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach

Less than an hour north of Jacksonville is the quaint town of Fernandina Beach located on Amelia Island. The area has been inhabited as far back as 1000 CE and has collectively flown eight different national flags since its colonization by the French and Spanish in the late 16th century. The city itself was founded in 1811 and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Florida.

This extensive history plus its amazing pristine beaches, make Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach one of the best day trips from Jacksonville. Amelia Island is home to a number of wonderful resorts that sit along the Atlantic Coast across the southern half of the island. However, the best beach to visit is located at Fort Clinch State Park. Undisturbed by an development, this pristine beach is a hidden little gem.

The turquoise waters of Fort Clinch Beach which is one of the best day trips from Jacksonville.
Beautiful turquoise waters at Fort Clinch Beach

If you’re looking to explore the historic side of the island, start with Fort Clinch. This fort was primarily active during the civil war and has been lovingly restored. Many of the artifacts you’ll find there are originals to the fort. You’ll be able to climb the walls and catch fantastic views of the St. Marys River emptying into the Atlantic.

Visit the historic courthouse of Fernandina Beach during one of your day trips from Jacksonville
The historic courthouse in Fernandina Beach

Finally, make sure you head into downtown Fernandina Beach. Centre Street is lined with beautiful art galleries, local shops, delicious restaraunts, and even the oldest operating saloon in America! Its the perfect way to wrap up your day trip and wind down with a cold beverage. Plus, by the end of the day you can catch the sunset over the Amelia River before you head back to Jacksonville.

For more on Amelia Island, check out my blog post here.

Historic St. Augustine

Luckily for those looking for day trips from Jacksonville, you’ve got the nation’s oldest city less than an hour away! The city of St. Augustine was founded way back in 1565. As the nation’s oldest city, its easy to take a trip back in time to when Spain ruled the shores of Florida.

Your first stop in St. Augustine should be the Castillo de San Marcos. This fort was constructed 1672 and has been occupied by Spanish, British, and American troops. After over 250 years of military occupation, it was made a national monument. The Castillo remains in excellent condition and is a great place to bring the kids. There are regular reenactments and even canon firings!

Castillo de San Marcos is a perfect historical stop on your day trips from Jacksonville
Castillo de San Marcos stands vigilant over St. Augustine. Courtesy of the NPS

Once you’ve finished at the Castillo, head across the street to St. George Street. This walking avenue is the heartbeat of downtown St. Augustine. It’s filled with shops (both touristy and local) and excellent restaurants. A number of prominent side streets take you to even more places to eat, drink, and be merry. Many of the buildings along the street are restorations or recreations of the Spanish buildings that once stood along the street. If you haven’t gotten your fill of history, the Colonial Quarter offers tours through the history of St. Augustine.

When you’ve finished with Historic St. Augustine, there is still even more to do. For some more attractions, head on over to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, or the fabled Fountain of Youth. If you’re looking to relax for a while, then take the opportunity to explore St. Augustine or Vilano Beaches and enjoy some sunshine.

Tubing on the Ichetucknee River

When its time to cool off in Florida, there is no better place to be than in the river. In my opinion, there is no better river to cool down than the Ichetucknee River just outside High Springs, Florida. Just 90 minutes from Jacksonville, its the perfect distance for a day trip.

Ichetucknee is contained within the state park of the same name. There are two entrances to the park. These entrances provide tubing experiences of different lengths, so plan wisely.

Cool off in the crystal clear waters of the Ichetucknee River during one of your day trips from Jacksonville
The beautifully clear waters of the Ichetucknee River. Image courtesy Florida State Parks.

If bringing your own tubes, then drop your party off at the North Entrance of the park. You’ll take your car back to the south entrance and ride the shuttle back to the top to start your adventure. It is approximately 3.5 hours from the North entrance to South Take Out. Alternatively, head straight for the South Entrance and tube from one of the access points here. Midpoint takes between 1.5-2 hours, while Dampier’s Landing lasts around 45 minutes. You’ll also be able to rent tubes from the South Entrance.

Our normal trip usually involves floating from Midpoint twice, while grabbing lunch in between. On a busy summer day, you’ll probably want to start at the North Entrance because people are less likely to want to be in the water for more than 3 hours. No matter what you choose, a day tubing down the Ichetucknee River is hard to beat. Make sure you sit back, relax, and enjoy the crystal clear 72° waters.

Springs Along the Santa Fe River

If you haven’t gotten your fill of cool spring waters at Ichnetucknee, then you’re only a short drive away from countless other springs! Get on the road and head for High Springs. This little town just outside of Gainesville and 90 minutes from Jacksonville is just down the street from multiple springs along the Santa Fe River.

Poe Springs is a great stop if your looking for day trips from Jacksonville
Cool off in the refreshing waters of Poe Springs

Since you’re just coming out for the day, consider heading to Poe Springs Park or Rum Island County Park. Poe Springs Park is maintained by Alachua County and features restrooms, hiking trails, and a nice shallow spring just off the Santa Fe River. Rum Island is situated on the other side of the river and is free to access but without facilities.

If you’re looking to turn these day trips from Jacksonville into a few days, then check out Ginnie Springs or Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park. Both of these sites offer camping and access to multiple springs to swim in. Ginnie Springs is privately owned, but boasts a ton of amenities. There are multiple springs to enjoy and access to multiple parts of the Santa Fe River. Gilchrist Blue Springs is less visited, but still a great place to camp out for a few nights with easy river access.

Florida is jam packed with springs across the state. Ginnie and Gilchrist Blue are just a start. If you want to plan more trips to springs across Florida, check out this post to the Top 12 Springs in Florida!

Exploring Paynes Prairie State Park

For a bit dryer expierience, think about spending the day at Payne Prairie State Park. Located just south of Gainesville, Payne Prairie is an ecological paradise. One of the more unique ecosystems in the state of Florida, it boasts more than 800 plant species, 300 bird species, and wild herds of horses and bison. That’s not to mention Florida’s most beloved animal, the alligator.

American Alligator basking in the sun. Image courtesy of Florida State Parks.

Paynes Prairie is has a wide range of trails that snake through its well preserved mixture of savannah and wetlands. Start by checking out the La Chua Trail. This trail features a board walk which takes you safely over the wetlands beneath your feet. Be on the lookout for alligators in the water and birds soaring through the skies above.

Lush green wetlands of Paynes Prairie. Image courtesy of Florida State Parks.

If you’re on the figurative hunt for American Bison, then you’ll want to hike Bolen Bluff or Cone’s Dyke. Bolen Bluff is 2.6 miles through lovely oaks, which will not only provide some opportunity to spot those bison but also a chance at rarer wildlife like bobcats or turkeys. Cone’s Dyke is the longest hike in the entire park at over 8 miles, but dives deep into the prairie. If you’re going to do this one, bring a hat and plenty of water. You’ll truly find yourself in an awesome wilderness and the dyke is a great place to catch a sunset before leaving the park.

Sea Turtles on Jekyll Island

The last but not least on this list of day trips from Jacksonville, is Jekyll Island. The only place on this list not in Florida, Jekyll Island is an easy hour drive from Jacksonville into Georgia. This small resort community is home to the excellent Georgia Sea Turtle Center which will be the highlight of any trip.

Baby sea turtles are so cute!

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is best visited twice during any trip to Jekyll Island. Get there early in the morning to see the exhibits in the visitor center. While there you’ll have an opportunity to take in one or two morning information sessions about the turtles rehabbing on site. The GSTC is a wonderful organization that helps protect and return these beautiful creatures to the wild.

The best part of any trip to GSTC is the opportunity to take a night time beach walk. These walks are held throughout the nesting season from May to August, with the best times being June and July. You might get an opportunity to see a sea turtle coming ashore to nest, but it is not guaranteed. At any rate, these walks are educational and a fun way to support the work of the GSTC.

Driftwood Beach is still pretty amazing at sunset

Between your two stops with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, be sure to check out the famous Driftwood Beach. Found on the northern end of the island, the beach has miles of waterfront littered with exposed driftwood. The strong currents coming from the East River and St. Simons Sound, erode the island and push the trees onto the Atlantic beachfront. It’s a brilliant place to catch sunrise, but don’t discount stopping here for sunset when the soft light illuminates the exposed wood.

For more on Jekyll Island, check out my blog post here.

More Day Trips From Jacksonville

While the above are all fantastic day trips from Jacksonville, they are by no means the only ones. Take a trip down to Gainesville and explore the home of the University of Florida or perhaps catch a game at The Swamp! For a taste of Old Florida, head towards Salt Springs south of Palatka. If you’re a civil war buff, head down I-10 and visit the Olustee Battlefield. There is certainly tons to see within an easy days drive of Jacksonville. Need to find another beach on your trip, check out this post from my friends at Mackintosh Travels about the wonderful Ormond Beach!

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13 Responses

  1. These are all great trips, Zach! The only I’m missing is Jekyll Island. I’d also love to see Driftwood Beach and compare it to Boneyard Beach on Big Talbot.

    1. Funnily enough, I’ve still yet to get to Boneyard Beach on Big Talbot. Hoping to get out there in the next month or two to get some pictures for another local Jacksonville post.

  2. We often head as far south as we can go when we visit Florida. So great to read about some reasons to stay in the north around Jacksonville. Pristine beaches like Amelia Island would definitely be a draw for us. Tubing on the Ichetucknee River sounds like a fun way to cool down. Good to know that the experiences are different from the two entrances. I like the idea of seeing sea turtles on Jekyll Island much more than finding alligators walking in the swamp! Certainly some good reasons to visit Jacksonville.

  3. We had the chance to visit Florida and did a little road trip. We didn’t get to see Jacksonville and its environs. From this post, its obvious we missed out but all of Florida seems to be beautiful.

  4. Great list! I have been to several, but there are some that I need to add to my list! We just visited the Jekyll Island area this past weekend, but did not do the seat turtle center!

    1. Really missed out if you didn’t do the Sea Turtle Center! Luckily, its just an hour away and you can go late in the afternoon to pack it all in at once instead of spreading it out over the whole day like we did.

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