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Top parks, preserves in Northeast Florida

When it comes to places to play outdoors, northeast Florida has a little bit of everything. In this section of Florida, it's a breeze for nature lovers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts to find great birding spots, hiking trails, bike paths and scenic waterways. All packed up and ready to go? Here are several places you don't want to miss on your next visit.

Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine

This park is a personal favorite, and my wife and I go as often as we can. Although located just minutes away from all the action of St. Augustine, it feels miles away. It has everything we look for in a coastal destination – history, trails, a beautiful beach with dramatic dunes, a great full-facility campground, and lots of birding and wildlife watching spots. Kayaks, bikes and other watercraft can be rented at the park's concessionaire. To learn more visit: http://www.floridastateparks.org/anastasia/.

Rice Creek Conservation Area, Palatka

Hikers, this is where you want to be. Rice Creek is the site of a late 1700's rice and timber plantation, and you'll see remnants of the operation as the trail follows along ditches and dikes, passing through a lush landscape of native bromeliads, ferns and towering trees. In fact, the eighth largest cypress tree in the state is located at Rice Creek, which you can see along the trail. It's a great place for a day hike – just remember the bug spray.

Talbot Island State Parks, Jacksonville

Seven parks and preserves make up the Talbot Islands system, giving visitors an in-depth look at the area's history and natural beauty. Each park has its own special draw: Visit the Civil War ruins at Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park, take a kayak trip at Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park or ride horses along the beach at Amelia Island State Park, just for starters. The other four parks in the system are Little Talbot Island State Park, Big Talbot Island State Park, Fort George Island Cultural State Park and George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park.

Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast

Situated on 1,500 acres along the Matanzas River and Pellicer Creek, Princess Place Preserve is the site of a real-life fairytale romance between the widow who once owned the property and an exiled Russian prince. The lodge was built in 1887 using local materials and constructed in the Adirondack camp style, and is most likely the only example of this style in the state. Florida's first in-ground swimming pool is here, too, drawing water from an artesian spring. Spend time kayaking, birding, hiking, biking or camping at one of the many primitive sites on the property.

Pellicer Creek Aquatic Preserve, Flagler and St. Johns counties

Both Princess Place and Pellicer Creek are part of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (just call it GTM Reserve; it's a lot easier), which protects over 73,000 acres of coastal habitat. At Pellicer Creek, kayaking and birding are the biggest draws. You'll find a state-designated paddling trail that's great for folks just starting out. Get all the details and a complete list of GTM Reserve properties at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/gtm/.

This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.

Top parks, preserves in Northeast Florida 05/10/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 1:35pm]

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