Nature Walks on Jekyll Island

Nature Walks on Jekyll Island

Loggerhead turtles like summer-time on Jekyll. From early June to August is when they come ashore, eager to lay their eggs. And while June is usually balmy, this 2-mile walk along the beach to (hopefully) encounter nesting sea turtles was turning into a big chill.

Loggerhead turtle walks

Loggerhead turtle walks are held from early June through early August and led by naturalists from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, located in the Historic District. We were part of a group of fellow “Logger-Heads”, folks itching for a chance to see a real live sea turtle doing it’s thing.

The beach was dark (turtles can be confused and disoriented by light), except for the red-beamed, low-intensity flashlight our guide carried. Because of the problems lights cause the loggerhead turtles, don’t bother bringing your own flashlight or cameras. Guides may allow infrared cameras, however. Check with them beforehand for permission.

Our guide was a young lady who kept up a running commentary about loggerhead turtles, their nesting habits and their lives in and out of the sea, while our group continued to plow ahead against a stiff sea breeze. Some of us even pretended we were warm.

We didn’t see any loggerhead turtles on that walk, although our guide pointed out several nesting sites. It’s never a sure thing. But the walk and the talk were both fun and informative, and we learned a good bit about loggerhead turtles. And I learned never to journey out on the beach at night in early June without a sweat shirt for backup.

As of this writing, there’s a $6.00 charge for Members of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and $12.00 if you’re not a member. Reservations are encouraged, as these walks fill up fast. Call for the latest prices.

To make reservations for a loggerhead turtle walk, call the Georgia Sea Turtle Center at (912)635-4444.

The Loggerhead Turtle Walk is just one of the many nature walks you can experience while on Jekyll Island. Some are guided interpretive walks, and others are spur-of-the-moment, go-out-on-your-on, take-nature-on-it’s-on-terms, tooth-and-claw, adventures of your on making.

Well, maybe not that extreme. But there are plenty of opportunities to walk on the wild side on Jekyll, and meet the many animals (and plants) of the island. I’ll review them for you here.

You may even make friends with a loggerhead turtle.

Tidelands Nature Center

Tidelands Nature Center offers 3 guided walks:

Clam Creek Trek – This nature walk introduces you to the marsh lands and beach at the north end of the island.

St. Andrews Walk – See more marsh land and beach life, plus learn about Jekyll Island’s maritime forest.

South Dunes Experience – This adventure covers more of the maritime forest environment and the beach on the south side. (This was the area we hiked on our loggerhead turtle walk).

Mid-Island Forest Walk

Grab a bottle of water and head out on this intriguing walk from the trail head alongside the Flash Foods Store and Dairy Queen to the Millionaire’s Village. You’ll stroll down an old access road past Jekyll Island’s treatment plant and into the woods.

Along the way you’ll cross a tidal creek, where you’ll see a shaded pond on the left. American alligators like to make this pond their home. We’ve seen a few big ones here, and some mama gators with babies. The Jekyll Island Authority sometimes relocates these alligators if they get too big. It was also at this pond that I saw one of only two snakes I’ve ever seen on Jekyll. It was a cute little green snake, about a foot and a half long, entwined in the branches of a Southern wax myrtle.

You can circumnavigate this pond, but be alert as to where you’re going. Once I ducked low to get under a hanging limb thick with leaves, and when I came up there was an 8′ gator lying in the path, sizing me up. I beat a hasty retreat.

Past the pond is more old-growth forest, thick with palmetto and Spanish moss draped oaks. Deer are plentiful here; in fact, it’s unusual not to see them if you’re quiet.

This trail is easy walking, but watch out for exposed roots. They’re easy to trip over.

The trail ends across the road from the Millionaire’s Village. It’s also open to bike traffic, so keep alert for over-exuberant kids who sometimes don’t pay attention to where they’re going.

South Island Trails

Several sandy trails cut through the maritime forest from South Riverview Drive to South Beachview Drive. These trails actually have a few feet of elevation change. Don’t let that scare you – the trails should be easy walking for most everyone.

Be on the look out for deer. Squirrels are plentiful, and if you’re walking in spring you could see marsh rabbits nibbling grass at the end of the trails where they come out at the roads.

It was on one of these trails (I forget which) that I saw the second of only two wild snakes I’ve ever seen on Jekyll Island – a 2′ black snake, curled at the side of the trail.

I wouldn’t worry too much about snakes (or gators, for that matter). The really dangerous creature to watch out for is the wild, untamed bicyclist. They’re everywhere, sometimes rove in packs, and can run down an unwary walker in an instant. BEWARE!

Shark’s Tooth Beach Access Trail

The trail to Shark’s Tooth Beach is probably the longest overland trail on Jekyll Island (unless you count walking the bike trails or golf course paths, which we’ve been known to do). The trail is not strenuous, unless you’re dumb enough to walk it in late July like I did. Then it’s hotter than blue blazes, so take plenty of water. And snacks – I about starved to death.

Come to think of it, I think buzzards followed me for part of the way – hoping for just that.

Next time I walk it I’ll take a pedometer so I can get an accurate mileage count. It seems like it’s more than a mile (actually felt like ten miles in the freaking heat), but could be less. You’ll see marsh on both sides at times, alternating with maritime forest and isolated stands of trees and brush.

It’s an interesting walk, with several twists and turns. Lots of tight squeezes between or under heavy growth. Wouldn’t recommend a bike, though you could take one about halfway in and walk the rest of the way.

You’ll get a good view of Summer Waves Water Park‘s water slides on your right.

Jekyll Island Fun Tour Segway Experience

It’s not really a walk, but it is a nature tour. And it’s relatively new – we haven’t experienced it, so can’t give you a yea or nay vote. But here’s a description.

You get to ride Segways – wheeled personal transportation devices controlled by a gyroscope that supposedly keeps you from tilting over.

That alone is enough to make me want to do the tour. Jekyll Island Fun Tours takes you through Jekyll’s maritime forests, where you learn the ecology of this environment. I don’t think they allow them on the beach because of the danger of salt damage. Too bad, ’cause the Segways would be perfect for seeking out loggerhead turtles.

The Segways themselves are environmentally friendly. They’re powered by batteries, are quiet, and emit no pollutants.

The tours last about 2 hours, and include being checked out on the Segways before departure. You also must watch a safety video, be 16 or older to participate, and weigh less than 250 lbs. (no cheating!)

To book a spot with Jekyll Island Fun Tours, call (912)625-9704. And if you get there before us, let us know how you liked it.

Horton House Woods Walk

Hike the roads through the forest behind the Horton House. Easy walking on sandy roads. Take water. And insect repellent.

Amphitheater Walk

The Jekyll Island Amphitheater is located off Stable Road in the Historic District. For years the thespians at Valdosta State College put on great plays during June and July. Now, however, the plays aren’t offered anymore, and the outdoor theater where we watched “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, “Guys and Dolls”, and a host of other wonderful productions is abandoned and forlorn, slowly deteriorating.

A narrow service road was constructed to bring in equipment, and provide access for the actors, stage hands, and crews. This sandy lane circles the amphitheater and passes through maritime forest. It’s a great place for a relaxing walk.

You’ll start your hike just inside the entrance to the amphitheater. This is a loop trial. We’ve always started at the left fork and walked clockwise, although you can go either way.

You’ll pass through cathedral forest alive with bird song. Deer, raccoons and rabbits are common sights along this trail.

The prize is behind the amphitheater – there’s a pond here, encircled by pines and hardwoods. The pond is a nesting spot for cranes, wood storks, and herons.

Bring binoculars and a camera – you’ll want to linger here for a bit, as the birds are beautiful, and highly entertaining as they come swooping in over the pond, vying for prime roosting spots.

There are no loggerhead turtles here – they’re strictly a marine animal, except for the brief time they hit the beach for their egg-laying parties.

When you resume your walk, you’ll leave the pond and pass behind the amphitheater itself. Like an aging star, it exudes a feeling of melancholy.

Or maybe that’s just how I feel when I think of this wonderful venue of the arts left to rot in the heat and humidity. Hopefully, the Jekyll Island Authority will lease the old girl to a new outfit, she’ll get a complete make-over, and the Jekyll Island sea air will once again ring to the sounds of soliloquies, music, and the laughter of children enjoying a good story.

Once past the amphitheater, the lane continues through the maritime forest before ending at the entrance, back where you started. Before leaving, check out the parking area for herds of deer. They like to dine out on the grasses here around dusk.

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