Amelia Island is one of the Sea Islands, a chain of barrier islands that begins in South Carolina and stretches all the way to northern Florida. Amelia Island is one of the furthest south, just outside Jacksonville, FL. First settled by westerners in the sixteenth century, Amelia Island has changed hands no less than eight times: at various times, the French, Spanish, British, gangs of pirates and smugglers, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and finally the United States have all claimed Amelia Island as its own. In modern times, Amelia Island has long been considered a resort and vacation spot, famous for its Victorian-style mansions, its historic shopping district, and its beautiful beach, the Fernandina Beach.
About Amelia Island State Park
Considering the rush to develop Amelia Island’s land for tourist dollars, it was probably very wise to have set aside over 200 acres of protected wilderness along the island’s southern tip. Located where the Nassau Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean, the beach line protected by the state park is one of the most scenic and wild in all of Florida.
Amelia Island State Park also includes salt marshes and coastal maritime forests. With all these unique, natural habitats preserved by the park, Amelia Island State Park provides visitors with an opportunity to observe wildlife they might not otherwise see in the more developed side of the island, or even within other parts of Florida.
Horseback Riding at the Park
Spotting wildlife is not the only thing to do at Amelia Island State Park. The park is also unusual for its extensive equestrian trails. Amelia Island State Park is one of the only places in Florida where it’s possible to take a beach tour by horseback.
Kelly’s Seahorse Ranch is located within the park itself, and is the only state-endorsed horse ranch in all of Florida. For $60 per person, you can take a one-hour guided beach ride. Before getting the kids excited about horseback riding, however, be aware that Kelly’s will only take children 13 years and older of at least 4′ 6” height, and only two children between the ages of 13 and 15 are allowed for any given group ride. The ranch also dissuades individuals who suffer from arthritis or who have had a knee or hip replacement from participating, and will not allow pregnant women to ride.
Besides the guided beach tours, Kelly’s Seahorse Ranch also offers private riding lessons. Be sure to reserve a space in advance; Kelly’s is a very busy place!
Fishing at the Park
Fisherman are also welcome at the state park. You can fish from the shoreline itself into the surf, or you can fish from the mile-long pier, the George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier, which spans the Nassau Sound. Considered one of the best fishing spots in Florida, the George Crady Bridge is 24 hours per day, every day, 365 days per year. The northern end of the bridge, within Amelia Island State Park, is the easiest way to gain access. The southern tip of the bridge is located within Big Talbot Island State Park, where there’s a small, often crowded, parking lot.
No pets are allowed on the bridge, so leave Rover back at your campsite. Kids, however, are welcome.
What kinds of fish can a good fisherman haul up from the waters surrounding the pier? Whiting, jacks, drums, and tarpons are amongst the most common.
Things to Do Around the Park
There is no shortage of things to do outside Amelia Island State Park. As previously mentioned, the island has long been known for its beautiful beaches, its shopping, and its long history and rich culture. Golfers and tennis players will find plenty to keep them occupied, and the Amelia Island Lighthouse is a great place to visit to learn a little bit about the local history. There are restaurants aplenty, and the seafood is of course extremely fresh. For those who like a scare, try the Amelia Island Ghost Tours, a walking tour based on the long-standing legends and ghost stories of Amelia Island.
In short, Amelia Island State Park is a great place to base a vacation in northern Florida. Few other tourist destinations in the state offer such a blend of wildlife, fishing, shopping, and history as Amelia Island State Park and its surrounding area.