A half-hour trip from the million or so people in the northeast Jacksonville, FL area there's an isolated barrier island where you can get away from it all – Little Talbot Island State Park. We headed up there last week for a few days, and enjoyed the break from city life. Fortunately, not enough people know about it to completely fill it up, so there are camping spots available if you're flexible about dates and avoid holiday weekends.
The geography is pretty complicated around Little Talbot Island – it's on the ocean east of the Okeefenokee Swamp and other wetlands, all of which generate rivers and channels which intersect and join in an elaborate pattern to create islands. The big river coming up from central Florida is the St. Johns, and Jacksonville is a major shipping port and has a large US Navy facility near the river mouth. Like the Virginia tidewater area, early settlers found this combination of sheltered inland waterways bordering good farmland attractive. The Kinglsey Plantation, dating from the pre-Revolutionary War British colonial period, is on St. Georges Island, just west of Little Talbot. Early planters grew rice and indigo, a dye crop important before the invention of synthetic dyes and still used today. Your blue jeans are dyed with indigo. Construction was done with tabby – a concrete-like substance using shells instead of stone for the filler material. They had a LOT of shells -oysters were a diet staple for the native Americans and early settlers alike.
Little Talbot Island State Park is bisected by the coastal highway, the fabled A1A. East of the highway is the park office and a two mile long road leading down past parking areas with beach access, all the way to the north bank of the St. Johns where it joins the Atlantic Ocean. We like the southernmost parking area for day camping because of the beach access and the views across the river mouth to the town/fishing village of Mayport and the Naval Air Station.
You can see quite a bit from the south parking area – out to sea are huge cargo ships sitting at anchor, waiting for pilots to guide them upstream to the Blount Island docks, or preparing for trans-Altantic voyages. Another nice thing about this parking area is that most people go to the more accessible ones, and we were alone there for much of the time in mid-week.
You can spend the day clambering over the dunes, bird-watching and beachcombing (which is strictly a spectator sport here – no shell or driftwood collecting allowed), or just sit around. We had sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 60s and lower 70s, which is not bad for late February. One morning was foggy, and we had quite a serenade of foghorns from all the shipping coming and going before the fog burned off around mid-morning.
Everything on the ocean side of A1A is day stay only- they close that side of the park at sunset, and we were there every minute they were open. The campground is on the inland side, with smallish sites under trees along the waterway separating Little Talbot from Big Talbot Island immediately west of it. It's too mosquito-y and crowded with campers for my taste – all we did was plug in, sleep, and use the dump on that side of the park. For us, the main attraction is the beach. Camping fees are $24 a night plus tax (half price for Florida seniors) and can be reserved on the www.reserveamerica.com website. Give it a shot if you're in the area.