Need a quick and nearby escape into the woods in the heart of the city? Look no further!
Located on the west side of Jacksonville, near the naval air base, is the Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park. Managed by the City of Jacksonville, this local park boasts an interesting history and quite pretty landscape.
From the City of Jacksonville website:
“The land was first leased from the Navy in 1979. A decade later, then-Councilwoman Tillie Fowler (later U.S. Representative) began to push hard to develop the land. Remnants of an 16-foot wide brick road linked Ortega to Jacksonville and can be found at several locations in the park. The road pre-dates 1917 but was heavily used when Camp Johnston was built as part of the preparations to train American troops during World War I. In September 1996 the observation tower, nature center and outdoor classroom were dedicated. In 2005 the park was renamed for Tillie K. Fowler. A woman of impeccable grace and civility, she tenaciously advocated on behalf of issues important to the City of Jacksonville and on behalf of the needs of the United States armed forces, particularly the U.S. Navy. An entry sign into the park now bears her name and honors her efforts. In more recent years, the park has improved and expanded the hiking and off-road bike trails as well as added a dog park.”
As explained above, the park has a few “hiking trails” (although I’m not sure that I’d classify most of the trails in Florida as hikes since it’s so flat. More like nature trails, if I’m honest), a playground, dog park, bike trails, bathrooms, an observation tower, nature center – and a few other amenities.
This park had been on my list for a while and I finally went one quiet Saturday afternoon in spring. It wasn’t too busy and on the trail that I took, I only saw two people on my journey back. Quite lonely for a city park!
At the time, the weather was beautiful and not too humid so I was expecting there to be not as many mosquitoes out – boy was I wrong! This place is definitely somewhere you need to bring the bug spray year-round. I got probably 10 giant mosquito bites all over my legs and arms that turned into horrendous welts.
There are two main trails in Fowler park – Tower trail, 1.2 miles, that takes you to the observation tower; and Island trail, 2.25 miles, which takes you on a loop through the woods. I took the Island trail since it was the longer of the two. The trailhead for the Island trail was confusing to find – it’s across the street from the bathrooms and nature center, near the bus parking. There’s a picnic area with lots of tables also at the trailhead. The trail starts on a boardwalk through a bit of a swampy area. If it’s rained recently, this trail might not be the best to experience. There were a few spots that it was particularly muddy with no boardwalks to cross on.
I feel like this trail is kind of “make it your own experience” because there are a two extra loops or “spurs” that you can add to add a bit more distance to your hike. I took both spurs and it ended up being like 2.3-4 miles total, less than an hour at a very leisurely pace. Going on the first spur was fine, but that second one wasn’t as maintained. There was a bunch of overgrowth to wade through (not great during tick season – brushing up against plants is the easiest way to get ticks on you) and lots of fallen tricks to duck under.
Regardless of the rustic spurs, the trail was really pretty. It features quite a few of the different environments that you can find it Florida – swamp, pine, bamboo, palm, plains.
I would recommend taking a photo of the map just in case, but I thought that the trails were fairly well marked. There were a few spots on the spurs where I could see someone going the wrong way, so better safe than sorry.
I thought that this “hiking” trail was really easy and definitely doable with kids, so it’s a great spot for families, especially so because of the playground and bathrooms. I hope to walk the Observation trail soon, so stay tuned!
Thank you for reading! Have you been to Fowler Park? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!