Bayard Conservation Area is a nature preserve in Green Cove Springs with about 10 miles worth of trails — all 10 of which we walked yesterday. I’m pretty impressed that we were able to do 10 miles in one sitting (er, walking?), but man. That definitely wore me down, especially given that the entire area consists mostly of pine trees, and pine trees are REALLY not good for shade. There was not a single cloud in the sky all day, and towards the end the only thing that kept me upright was the cool breeze coming off the St. Johns River.
This was also probably the widest trail we’ve done, wide enough for two cars to pass each other comfortably. It did narrow up in certain spots, but not for very long. The entire area switches back and forth between controlled burn zones, groves of skinny pine trees, and wide open fields. If you’re quiet, you might catch a few deer here and there too.
At about 5 miles into the white trail loop, there’s a picnic area with a weird amphitheater-type thing and a bathroom you’re not allowed to use (it was marked on the trail map, but for some reason it was locked. Rude.)
From here, you can take the red trail 1.5 miles out to a camp site on the river. Part of the red trail seemed to have been changed since they printed the trail maps they provide you at the entrance, probably due to flooding that happened a while ago, so you can ignore the detour and hike through some mud, or you can add an extra quarter-to-half-mile stretch onto your trek out there and go around.
There’s one ill-placed picnic bench (which I deemed Sunburn Island) in this area, so we ended up sitting our butts in the dirt facing the river to eat our lunches. Eventually a group of five or six hikers came out that way too, and between all of them they were able to relocate the picnic bench to a shadier area — so maybe if you decide to visit here, you’ll be able to eat your lunch at a table and not die of a heat stroke.
The last leg of the hike (hiking back out to the white trail and then taking that back to the parking lot) was about 2.5 to 3 miles and passes by an observation tower which you can climb up and look out over miles and miles of pine trees and palmettos. Sadly we were too exhausted to even consider climbing that many stairs, even though there was a group of people already up there with at least two dogs. Like, if we’re too tired to go pet dogs, that’s how you know it’s serious.
Also sadly, the skinny boardwalk I saw in other people’s pictures of Bayard Conservation Area was closed due to potential damage from Hurricane Matthew. This was really disappointing to me because it was part of the reason I wanted to do this trail, and there was no mention of any trail closures on their website (I actually checked ahead of time, for once).
So for me, I’m satisfied that we were able to walk that far, but in general this was definitely not my favorite place we’ve been so far. While I would not come back here to hike 10 miles again, camping by the river would still at least be worth a 3 mile hike from the parking lot.