Florida's Wildest Beaches
One of Florida's newest and most farsighted acquisitions, Guana River State Park covers 2,400 acres. Stretching from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean, it offers public access to five miles of the finest beach in northern Florida. Nature programs are offered year-round, and a visitor center is in the offing.
A Rich Habitat
Guana River affords plenty of unrestricted beach access, in marked contrast to the stingy surrounding communities of Ponte Vedra Beach and South Ponte Vedra. In addition to towering, thickly vegetated dunes and a long, primeval beach, the park contains a rich variety of habitat that attracts a diversity of wildlife, including more than 240 species of birds. Where there's birds, there's fish, and the Guana and Tolomato Rivers' tidal waters are teeming with them: redfish, bluefish, black drum, and flounder, as well as shrimp and blue crab. In addition, anglers can fish freshwater Guana Lake for trout and striped bass. (Boats are restricted to 10 horsepower or less.) Nine miles of old service roads make for challenging mountain biking, and another 30 miles of trails offer excellent hiking through varied plant communities that include hardwood hammock, salt marsh, inland marsh, pine flatwood, and scrub coastal strand.
Guana River State Park maintains two official"beach use areas," known as North Beach and South Beach. (Before the park was established, the whole area was called North Beach.) They are three miles apart, with the state park's main entrance in the middle. Entrances and parking lots for all three areas are on the inlet (west) side of Highway A1A. To get acclimated, go to the main park entrance and obtain a brochure and directions. The fee at the beach parking lots is modest, self-paid on the honor system.
Each of the beach use areas has an ample paved lot with a few portable toilets - and that is the extent of the facilities. A word of warning: To reach the beach, you must dash across Highway A1A, at which point a wooden dune crossover will take you the rest of the way. Trust us; it's worth the sprint (though you should be mindful of traffic, especially if you're dragging kiddies).
Here's a case study of a healthy beach, with three separate shelves of sand leading to a veritable mountain range of dunes, held in place by glistening sea oats, grasses and vines, sea grape, and a few squatpalm trees. Though there are no lifeguards, the water gets packed with swimmers. An observation tower beside the boardwalk at the South Beach area affords stunning views of the wetlands to the west and miles of unbroken, undeveloped beach to the north and south.
A Bit of History
If all that isn't sufficient enough for you, Guana River State Park marks the approximate location of Ponce de Lesn's first landing and explorations. This fact was recently determined by studying a newly unearthed account written by a Spanish historian in 1592.
Guana River State Park
2690 South Ponte Vedra Boulevard
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082
Location: Between Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine on Highway A1A. There is an entrance fee for vehicles.
Hours: 8 A.M. to sundown.
Facilities: Rest rooms.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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