When the folks around Jacksonville want to spend a day on the beach in a eco-friendly setting as opposed to those “city” beaches around Jacksonville Beach, well they head up to Fort George Island. This triangular-shaped island sits over the St. Johns River across from the naval town of Mayport. On the east, there is the Fort George River separating it from Little Talbot Island. The Intracoastal Waterway divides it from the swampy mainland.
What brings those people here is Huguenot Park, run by the city and bounded by the ocean, the inlet, and the river. And yes, there are a few miles of beach here that seem to enlarge both in length and width when the tide creeps down.
Fort George Island is far less urbanized than the Jacksonville Beaches. So you’re more likely to look down and see sand dollars and starfish along the beach at Huguenot Park whereas Jacksonville won’t have any of these; well, you’d be hard-pressed to find them.
And did I mention the dunes here? What a contrast to the flatter dunes at other beaches, Huguenot Park has extensive, tall and heavily vegetated dunes.
So it makes a lot of sense when I found out that Huguenot Park is really popular with families, brining the kids to fish, swim, or camp out. Although safe in most areas, there is concern where the Fort George River meets the ocean which at times creates turbulent currents that have led to drownings. Because of this, they brought lifeguards to the park in 1999, but they’ve had their hands full with more than 40 rescues each season.
Families with young kids can head to calmer waters on the inlet side of the island. Swimming and sunbathing aren’t the only thing to do, either – windsurfers carve their way around the inlet – fun to watch (or do!)
Bird-watchers can be seen gazing at the hundreds of birds here, including the painted bunting. And fishermen (and women) cast lines from the beach, jetty, and riverside. There are three camping areas here: the inlet, on the river, and in the woods, for a total of 88 sites.
Because this is one of the most pristine beaches in the area, don’t be surprised to see crowds of 5,000 or more on sunny weekends. You can easily get here from Jacksonville by taking the Mayport-Fort George Ferry ($3 per car, reachable by Highway A1A north of Mayport) or the Heckscher Drive exit off I-95. Beach access near a big city doesn’t get much cheaper than the Huguenot admission fee of .50 per person.
Location: on Fort George Island, east of Jacksonville. Take Heckscher Drive exit off I-95, go east to Highway A1A, then north to the park.
Parking: 50 cents per person entrance fee. Camping fees are $5.63 per night for tents and $7.88 for RV’s, there are no hookups.
Hours: 8 AM – 6 PM (8 PM in the summer)
Facilities: concessions, lifeguards (seasonal), restrooms, picnic tables, and showers
Contact: Huguenot Park 1-904-251-3335