The Guana Tolomato Matanzas Estuarine Research Reserve is a park near Ponte Vedra with about 10 miles worth of hiking trails. We decided to take the red and purple trails down to the southernmost point of the island, which added up to just under 6 miles of walking.
The trailhead warns you up front about ticks and “other biting insects”, but weirdly the most annoying thing we ran into along the way were errant strings of spiderweb hanging out in the path. There’s nothing quite like feeling something all over you and not being able to tell when and if you finally got it off.
For the most part, the trail down wasn’t particulary scenic, but we got there pretty early in the morning and the weather was nice and chilly. Once we got to the south point, there was a well-placed picnic bench where we ate a snack after checking out the beach. The shoreline was covered in oyster shells and what looked like raccoon prints (or maybe armadillos?) and as usual for Florida, plenty of large birds sitting out in the water.
On the way back out, we stopped off at an oyster reef project where the park was recyling oyster shells to try and reconstruct the reef, which was neat to look at even though the tide was in and we couldn’t see much of it.
By the time we were solidly on our way back to the parking lot, the temperature had risen a fair amount and the latter half of the trail definitely did not have much in the way of shade, so that was how I found out that apparently I did not put enough sunscreen on my face. The heat made me extremely grateful for the hydration system that Cairn sent out this month…I never knew how inconvenient water bottles were on the trail until I started using this thing, holy crap, I love it.
At the very end of the trail there was a short boardwalk with a little gazebo in the middle that had a couple benches and information about prescribed fires, but unfortunately it was occupied by a very large bee, so we decided to keep moving.
This park has a $3 per vehicle entrance fee (which you’ll have to put in an envelope and stick in a box if there’s nobody operating the gate), and you can also come here to go fishing or put a boat in the water. So while the island itself is not very big, there’s definitely plenty to do. Also they have bathrooms. This is very important.