The dunes framing the beach at Little Talbot Island State Park are as natural and undisturbed as they were in the days of the Timucuan Indians.
As I walk along a boardwalk toward the beach, I am alone amid a vast expanse of shrubs, wild flowers and sea oats. Stepping out onto the beach, I see only sand, ocean and sky. The hazy far-off silhouettes of US Navy ships to the south at Naval Station Mayport are the only signs of civilization.
After a relaxing stroll, I hike back to my car and drive a few miles north to Big Talbot Island State Park. The adjacent islands are a beautiful study of contrasts.
On Big Talbot, soaring majestic live oak trees grow all the way to the shoreline. And the beach is littered with the salt-washed silver-white skeletal remains of oak and palm trees. The beach is famously known as Boneyard Beach.
Big Talbot and Little Talbot are part of a collection of seven state parks known as The Talbot Island State Parks, which also includes Amelia Island, Fort George Island, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve, Yellow Fort Bluff and George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier. They’re First Coast treasures, and great places to spend a day beachcombing, viewing and photographing wildlife, fishing, kayaking, surfing and picnicking.
Little Talbot has five miles of white sandy beaches, and is one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands in Northeast Florida. Its western side is filled with maritime forest and salt marshes, home to river otters, marsh rabbits, bobcats and many migratory birds. This particular day, I meet a few photographers looking for a snowy owl that temporarily made the beach-side dunes its home.
A full facility campground is also located on the island, where kayak rentals and guided paddle tours are available.
Big Talbot is a unique sea island and a magnet for photographers who are attracted to its wild, other-worldly beach landscape. Due to steep bluffs between the forest and shoreline, visitors need to hike Blackrock Trail to get down onto the beach. A sign at the beginning of the trail says that it is a quarter-mile long, but I was up for it. Walking along the wooded winding pathway, I see no other people, and have the beach to myself.
Strolling Big Talbot beach isn’t an option, because of all the skeletal trees. They form a natural obstacle course which you need to climb over, under, or find a way around — depending on the tide.
Other trails on the island lead to other habitats. Big Pine Trail leads to marsh, and Old Kings Highway and Jones Cut lead through maritime forest.
I’ve been to the Talbot islands before, in the summer, when there are more people, but they are great places to get away any time of the year — whenever you want to escape the clutches of civilization.