Dutton Island Preserve

Dutton Island Rd W
Atlantic Beach FL 32233
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When driving down Dutton Island Road, don't get confused by two separate signs for Dutton Island Preserve. Both say Dutton Island Preserve and both are on a salt marsh ecosystem, but only one is on an island. The first Dutton Island Preserve is on the right, just before the road dead ends into the gates to the second Dutton Island Preserve. Both have hiking trails and picnic tables, but the second Dutton Island Preserve also has two large primitive camping sites, restrooms, a fishing and observation pier, and a kayak launch.

Parking at Dutton Island Preserve
Parking is free. Be forewarned that the few spaces on the first Dutton Island Preserve can fill up quickly, especially on weekends. The second Dutton Island Preserve has more parking spaces.

Best and worst times to go to Dutton Island Preserve
Go in the morning, when wildlife can be readily seen. Weekends can be crowded at both places, so it is best to go early.

Admission to Dutton Island Preserve
Both places are free. The City of Atlantic Beach (904-247-5828) charges around $30/night for the reservation-only primitive camping sites. Wheelchairs are available at no charge, but must be reserved by calling the same number.

Must see/do at Dutton Island Preserve
Take the main hiking trail at the first Dutton Island Preserve and visit the two overlooks. It's an easy trail to walk but watch out for the roots. Make any of the waterfront, planked observation areas your main destination at the second Dutton Island Preserve. Bring your binoculars, or just come and fish.

Other places to visit near Dutton Island Preserve
Drive over to nearby Mayport, a historic fishing village, where you can see even more wildlife. Park along the intercoastal waterway and watch for dolphins frolicking in the water. To get a better view, drive into the heart of Mayport and take the St. Johns River Ferry. Pelicans roost by the ferry dock on each side of the river, and dolphins often play beside the ferry as it crosses.

Insider tip for visitors to Dutton Island Preserve
Bring your camera and go at low tide to stand on the bridge that links the park to the mainland. There is usually something interesting to see: egrets and blue herons fishing, deer crossing through, tiny crabs scavenging in the muck, or turtles wandering about.

Author's bio: Freelance writer Barbara Merchant roams Jacksonville and St. Augustine with the experienced eye of a native and the open eagerness of a tourist.