Where is the trailhead?
Thomas Creek Conservation Area, managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, is located at 12831 New Kings Road, Jacksonville, Florida.
There is a 1.4 mile loop on the west side of New Kings Road (U.S. 1) and a 3-mile loop on the east side of New Kings Road. Both loops have their own parking lots.
What is the cost?
There is no fee to access the trails.
What are the trail conditions?
I first visited this park one day following heavy rainfall. Both parking lots were completely flooded. I returned four sunny days later, and hiked the three-mile White trail. It was still full of water in many areas.
The White Trail is reasonably well marked. Each trail intersection is marked 30-50 feet out.
This area is mixed prairie and marshland, with young forest on its edges. The trails are roughly mown and wide in some areas, narrow in others. The narrow parts are uncomfortably close to standing water, so watch for snakes and gators.
One flooded area was large enough that it was necessary to go off trail and cross streams, in order to resume hiking. Later in the day, I returned to this same spot and the water levels were much higher. The area had become a marsh with no passage around it.
A question arose in my mind. Do marshes and swamps have high and low tides? This park is well inland, but a Google search revealed that it is subject to tidal fluctuations.
It borders Thomas Creek, which is a tributary of the Nassau River. The Nassau River is affected by tidal surge, which means its tributaries are also affected. As a result, trails accessible during low tide may be impassible at high tide.
I found two links to monitor tidal surge for the Nassau River:
The Yellow Trail consists of new-growth pine forest. It traverses natural basins and is swampier than the White Trail. I took it during a day in June, following a period of high temperatures and drought. Although many of the depressions were dry, others still contained standing water.
At the half-way point, the trail follows a fenceline. Just beyond the fenceline is an active train track.
Near the train track, the trail had deep tire ruts. I misjudged how wet they were.
As I continued, the trail became increasingly overgrown and then disappeared completely. I had to go back the way I came.
Biting yellow flies swarmed me throughout.
Remember to mind the hunting schedule
This is a wildlife management area.
Hunting season begins in late September and ends in early April, and it may not be safe to hike the trail during scheduled hunts. Click here to access a PDF brochure listing the current hunting schedules.
What will I see?
If one went early in the morning or in the evening, they might see animals listed as game: deer, wild hogs, turkeys, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, beavers, coyotes, skunks, bobcats, and nutria. Anyplace in Florida with standing water and vegetative cover may also have alligators.
During mid-day on the White Trail, I saw a large Yellow-bellied Slider along the trail and the tail-end of a water moccasin, which deserted the trail ahead of me when it saw me coming. There were also butterflies, which were a bit ragged like the trail.
I heard only two birds singing, a Brown Thrasher and a White-eyed Vireo. However, birds seem to avoid areas with heavy noise pollution, and this area is beneath military and commercial fly-zones. The sound of airplanes could be heard throughout the hike, and one military jet was loud enough that I was forced to cover my ears.