As I strolled along, admiring the perfectly mirrored reflections of palm trees and palmettos in Hanna Park’s freshwater lake, a blue heron sailed over the scene, closely followed by a majestic white egret.
Suddenly a large brown turtle, seemingly startled by my presence, propelled itself off a partially submerged tree trunk and plopped into the water. The popular park was so quiet that day that the turtle’s splash startled, and then delighted me.
As a long time First Coast resident, I’ve visited Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park many times, and every visit brings something fun and different. The naturally beautiful oceanfront park offers something for everyone. I have many fond memories of being there, memories filed away like snapshots in a photo album: camping in the woods with my family, hiking a nature trail, swimming in the ocean off an serene beach and watching giggling children cool off while splashing through the water playground.
On my latest visit, after leaving the shores of the 60-acre lake, I went over to one of the beaches across the way. There, by a wooden walkway over the dunes, I encountered Richard and Carolyn Ridenour, who told me they were visiting from North Carolina, and had been coming to camp there for 10 years.
The park is popular with locals and out-of-towners alike.
“We like the beach and the hiking, and we do ocean and lake fishing,” said Richard, who, along with his wife, had fashioned a walking stick from a tree branch. “We also used to bike a lot. It’s great.”
The park, owned and operated by the city of Jacksonville, features a mile and a half long beach in 447 acres of mostly mature coastal hammock. Seventeen miles east of downtown Jacksonville, it sits just south of Mayport Naval Station. Eleven parking areas provide plenty of beach access, and the park also has picnic areas, 15 miles of wooded bicycle trails that range from easy to difficult, hiking trails, almost 300 campsites for tents and RVs and a beachfront plaza that can be rented by groups for weddings and parties.
The freshwater lake, which is ringed by scenic trails, has a fishing pier and there are also opportunities to kayak, paddleboat and canoe.
Then there’s “The Poles,” the beach located at the extreme northern end of the park, just south of the naval station, which is legendary for great surfing.
With woods, a lake, beaches, picnic pavilions, and a water playground, the park offers something for people of all ages who enjoy being in the outdoors in a quiet, pristine setting.
The park is named for Kathryn Trimmer Abbey Hanna (1895-1967), a Chicago-born college professor and author who settled in Florida and served on the board of Parks and Historic Places.
For a modest $5 daily entry fee per car (with up to six people), it’s a great place to spend an entire summer day. And overnight camping rates are reasonable as well.
500 Wonderwood Dr., Jacksonville, FL 32233