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    Day Trips from Jacksonville: Beaches, Springs, American History

    By Kevin Mims

    A vacation day trip from Jacksonville can mean driving south and cruising the beaches along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, going west to hike in a national forest or splash in the freshwater springs, visit historic landmarks, and so much more.

    Here are 10 great day trips you can make easily from your base in Jacksonville.

    swimming area at Salt Springs, snorkeler

    The large swimming area at Salt Springs is shallow enough for waders and deep enough for snorkelers.

    - Amanda Mims

    Salt Springs, 82 miles

    About 90 minutes south of Jacksonville, and west of the St. Johns River within the Ocala National Forest, lies Salt Springs. The clear, turquoise waters here and slight salinity make it a beautiful place to swim and see wildlife such as stingrays and crabs. Salt Springs has a wide swimming area, some of which is shallow enough for children to wade. Stay for a picnic and explore the easy two-mile hiking trail.

    Daytona Beach, 89 miles

    Daytona Beach is immediately renowned as a capital of car racing and family beach vacations, but the list of things to do here is long and varied. Spend the day surfing, boating, or fishing. Find a spot to relax along the city’s 23 miles of beaches and stroll the historic pier and boardwalk. Explore the museums and cultural centers, a historic lighthouse, or go shopping. See the Daytona International Speedway, home of the annual Daytona 500, and take a tour that includes the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Visit Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the local stadium and now shrine where the late Hall of Famer and civil rights pioneer integrated professional baseball.

    Amelia Island, 33 miles

    Thirteen miles long and four miles wide, Amelia Island is nonetheless packed with history, natural beauty, and Florida vacation experiences. Start with Fernandina Beach on the north end and visit Fort Clinch State Park, whose 1,400 acres include golden-sand beaches, a Civil War-era fort, and scenic oak hammocks. To the south, American Beach was a historic African-American shoreline established during segregation in the 1930s. A museum and a 40-acre historic district preserve that story.

    Directly south of Amelia Island are Big Talbot Island State Park and its “boneyard beach” of bleached oak remnants, Little Talbot Island State Park, and Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

    Cross Creek, 82 miles

    In the 1930s, the small community of Cross Creek was made famous by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling. Today, the Rawlings home and farm, just south of Gainesville, are open to visitors as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Public tours of her home, preserved as she had kept it all those years ago, are available, and visitors can walk the grounds and see her car parked next to the house and the orange trees and magnolias like the ones she wrote about, as well as the barn, tenant house, and flourishing vegetable garden.

    Osceola National Forest, 54 miles

    Osceola National Forest covers 200,000 acres of wilderness between Jacksonville and Lake City. Ocean Pond is one of its most popular day-use spots, and for good reasons: the ample opportunities for fishing and hiking, the two-acre pond’s sandy beach, and the picnic area off its scenic shore.

    Just outside the national forest is Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, where reenactments of Florida’s largest Civil War battle take place every February.

    De Leon Springs, 96 miles

    A stack of pancakes, a slice of Florida history, and a dip in a cool, clear spring make for an incredible day trip, and all of these things are available at De Leon Springs State Park.

    The Sugar Mill Restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch, is a century-old replica of the 1830s mill that once stood here. In the cooler months, restaurant patrons can relax next to a crackling fire while their food is prepared. Part of the fun of this restaurant is the cook-your-own option: Guests receive a pitcher of batter and make pancakes on cast iron griddles right at the table.

    The Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge visitor center has native wildlife exhibits and a native plant garden. In the mood for a river cruise? Book a Fountain of Youth ECO/History Tour, which begins at De Leon Springs State Park and takes passengers through the waterways of the wildlife refuge.

    Flagler Beach, 71 miles

    The easy beach access and uninterrupted ocean views from A1A roadside cafes stamp this coastal community with a retro charm. A classic fishing pier stretches into the Atlantic Ocean and serves as a nightly gathering spot. The come-as-you-are atmosphere makes for a perfect family-friendly day trip.

    Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area is a small park sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. You can play in the waves, lie on the cinnamon-colored sand, and eat watermelon slices in the shade of a picnic shelter.

    At Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, the remains of the 19th-century plantation house, slave cabins, and sugar mill are testimonials to the Second Seminole War and earned the park a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Also check out Washington Oaks Gardens State Park in nearby Palm Coast, where you can explore the formal gardens, fish, hike, or spend time on the beach.

    Gainesville, 72 miles

    Home of the University of Florida, Gainesville is a center of academia, arts, culture, and outdoor recreation, with miles of hiking and biking trails, theaters, and museums. At the Florida Museum of Natural History, birds and butterflies roam free in the Butterfly Rainforest.

    Wander just south of Gainesville to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and you may see roaming herds of wild horses and bison. The small town of Micanopy is a place to shop for art and antiques, stop for lunch, and stroll the quiet main street. One day is not enough to see all that Gainesville has to offer. Just keep coming back.

    Castillo de San Marcos, 17th-century landmark, St. Augustine

    Castillo de San Marcos, the 17th-century landmark known to locals as “the fort,” is the centerpiece of St. Augustine’s historic district.

    - Daron Dean

    St. Augustine, 41 miles

    St. Augustine, first inhabited by the Timucuan and then settled in 1565 by Europeans, is commonly called the nation’s oldest city. Its past still thrives in the present.

    Among the must-see historic sites are Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (locals say “the fort” as shorthand), the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, the Spanish Military Hospital Museum, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Heritage Museum, and Fort Mose, the first free African-American settlement in the United States. See the sights on foot, by horse-drawn carriage, by trolley, or by boat.

    Ichetucknee Springs, 83 miles

    Ichetucknee Springs State Park is an unforgettable springs and river adventure. The clear-as-glass Ichetucknee River is one of the best places in the state for tubing, and tube rentals and shuttles are available. The river is also a great place for seeing wildlife from a kayak or paddleboard, and the two springs within the state park are perfect for snorkeling.

    Ichetucknee is among the most famous of Florida’s freshwater springs, whose waters derive from an underground aquifer and measure a constant 72 degrees.

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