Hidden Gems: Unique camping adventures within 100 miles of Clay County

Lauren Fox

Summer is in full swing, and while rising airline prices may deter you from flying away for a vacation, plenty of hidden gems within 100 miles of Clay County offer unique experiences.

Camping can help you make the most out of the long summer days and offers an affordable option for a relaxing getaway. Whether you want to pitch a tent and test your survival skills or opt for a more modern "glamping" option, you don't need to travel far to find these hidden camping gems.

Camp Chowenwaw Park

A treehouse campsite at Camp ChowenwawPhoto courtesy of Floridahikes.com

Climb up into the treetops at Camp Chowenwaw in Green Cove Springs for an elevated camping experience. The former Girl Scout camp offers treehouses for guests to sleep in so campers can experience a unique night in the forest.

Each treehouse has two bunk beds to sleep four people, but no bedding is provided for the bunks, so bring your sleeping bags. Although there's no air conditioning, screened windows provide airflow for a cooler night. When you get hungry, a shared kitchen house with a refrigerator and stove tops is at your disposal. A centrally located bathhouse with hot water is also available so you can enjoy the modern convenience of plumbing, even in the forest.

Kayaking routes near Camp ChowenwawPhoto courtesy of Clay County Parks and Recreation

Outside the treetop cabins, Camp Chowenwaw offers paddleboard kayak rentals for exploring the 13-mile-long Black Creek. Water adventurers can paddle to the smaller nearby Peters Creek

Or make their way to Jessie Island or Dead Lake. For those who prefer to relax over paddling, fishing is also offered.

When you need to cool off, the park has a swimming pool that's open during the summer months. Children under 2 can enter the pool for free, and swimming lessons are available by appointment.

If you'd like to make your trip a bit more educational, you can stop by the Pawpaw nature center from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. to learn about Clay County's different animals and habitats. The park also has a pollinator garden for visitors to learn how to attract and support butterflies.

If you want to spend a night in a treehouse, the cost is $35 per cabin per night. The park requires reservations ahead of time, and if you plan to come with a large group, you can even reserve the entire campsite with all nine treehouses. Other camping options are available as well, and some even offer private bathrooms. The camp is located at 1517 Ball Road Green Cove Springs, FL 32043.

Little Talbot Island State Park

Little Talbot Island State ParkPhoto courtesy of FloridaStateParks.org

Visit one of Florida's few undeveloped barrier islands. With winding tidal creeks and large undeveloped sand dunes, guests can catch a glimpse of how Florida beaches once were before they became largely developed.

Guests can bring their own kayaking equipment or rent equipment near the campsite. Kayaks, paddle boards and bikes are available, and guests only need to make equipment reservations if they would like a guided tour.

Casting at Little Talbot Island State ParkPhoto courtesy of FloridaStateParks.org

The North Florida park offers many different fishing spots. Free editions of Fishing Connection magazine are available at the ranger station so visitors can get the inside scoop on the island's best fishing spots. Whether you wish to cast for bait, crabs and shrimp, or throw a line out for some redfish or trout, Little Talbot Island State Park is a great place to test your fishing abilities.

The park offers 5 miles of undeveloped beaches, a 4-mile hiking trail and paved paths for skating or biking. The park's Nature Loop Trail is offered for kids and has "Hike and Seek" interpretive programs. The ranger station offers activity booklets for children to complete and use to earn badges.

The park has 36 campsites with electricity, fresh water and picnic tables. Campers can sit around the camp's fire rings to make s'mores and tell campfire stories. Laundry facilities and hot water showers are also available so you can stay clean during your stay.

Reserving a tent space is $24 for a night. Availability and camp slots can be found online and the address is 12157 Heckscher Drive Jacksonville, FL 32226.

Fort Clinch State Park

Firing a cannon at Fort Clinch State ParkPhoto courtesy of FloridaStateParks.org

If you're a history lover, Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach might be for you. At this park, you can camp near a fort that began construction in 1847 and learn about the history surrounding the area.

Visitors can enter the fort and see staff dressed in Civil War-era uniforms, giving guests the feeling of going back in time. Inside the fort, guests can tour the guard rooms, barracks, a prison, a blacksmith shop, a hospital and more. At the gun deck, there is a 360-degree view of Cumberland Island and the park.

Fort Clinch State ParkPhoto courtesy of FloridaStateParks.org

A museum is set up near the fort, which is free with paid entry into the park. Displaying artifacts from the fort, the museum offers videos and interactive exhibits so guests can learn all about their vacation destination.

Outside of the history, the park appeals to hikers, bikers, fishers and geo seekers. The park's website describes how experienced geo catchers can hide their own treasures and offers geo tours for children to learn about the game.

The park has six miles of off-road bike trails that take adventurous bikers through the forest and dunes. Guests can also launch kayaks at the park, but rangers warn that visitors should exercise caution because there are strong and unpredictable currents for sea kayakers.

Fort Clinch State ParkPhoto courtesy of FloridaStateParks.org

A more relaxing activity at the park is shelling. Visitors have been known to find various interesting shells and shark teeth during low tide along the shorelines. Sometimes guests can even see deer or sea turtles.

For $26, reservations can be made for campsites with shared bathrooms, picnic tables and fire rings. If you visit the fort on the first weekend of every month, you can even see a soldier fire a cannon. The park is located at 2601 Atlantic Ave. Fernandina Beach, FL 32034.

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park beach approachPhoto courtesy of Timucuan Parks Foundation

Surfers, bikers, bird watchers and paddle sport enthusiasts can all have a good time camping out at one of Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park's 300 wooded sites. The 450-acre park is right by the beach, offering plenty of ways for guests to beat the summer heat.

The park offers kayak rentals, including adaptive kayaks, for people of all abilities. Offering kayaking experiences for people with brain injuries, spinal injuries and amputees, trained American Canoe Association instructors are available for people with all abilities. Special equipment and instruction are available for the same cost as standard kayak rentals.

For surf lovers, the Mayport Poles, located near Jacksonville’s Mayport Naval Station in the north of the park, are known as a great surf spot by Jacksonville locals. The spot can get crowded sometimes, but luckily the park has a long stretch of beach with plenty of waves to go around.

For those who prefer the land over the sea, bike rentals are available. The park boasts over 13 miles of off-road bike trails for a range of experience levels. Hikers can also find long paths to enjoy, surrounded by live oaks and a variety of birds. The park reminds visitors to follow the marked paths.

Children may enjoy the park's "playscape," which is built with a custom treehouse. In the summer months, a splash pad is also available.

At the camp store, guests can rent fishing poles, bait, beach cruisers, charcoal, beach chairs and more. If you forget some of your camping equipment, the store is available for extra supplies.

Campers can reserve a space for their tents for $20.25 or a cabin or RV spot for $33.75. The campsite offers electric water hookups, restrooms and showers and 24-hour security. The address is 500 Wonderwood Dr, Jacksonville, FL 32233.

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Lauren Fox is a communication major at the University of North Florida, focusing on journalism. Lauren has years of international work experience, working jobs in countries such as Australia, New Caledonia, Vietnam and Morocco.

Jacksonville, FL

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