In addition to its rivers and the ocean, Jacksonville also has several fun recreational lakes to explore.
Some of these offer fantastic boating and kayaking opportunities, some have lakeside camping, and others are top fishing spots.
All of the options are within an hour’s drive, and a few are just outside the city. Whether you like spotting wildlife, paddling, or fishing, there is a lake here for you.
Check out what Jacksonville has to offer!
Lakes near Jacksonville:
- Doctors Lake
- Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
- Kingsley Lake
- Flamingo Lake
- Gold Head Branch State Park
- Palestine Lake
- Lake Dumont
- Butler Lake
- Lake Sampson
- Ocean Pond
1. Doctors Lake
- Official Page: Doctors Lake
- Distance from Jacksonville: 17 miles (25 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing
Doctors Lake is a 3,500-acre basin south of Jacksonville. Despite its name, it’s linked to St Johns River and, in turn to the Atlantic, making it a tidal inlet where salt and fresh water mix.
Most of the lake’s shoreline consists of residential housing, creating an easy way to find lakeside cabins and lodges on VRBO or Airbnb. But when it comes to public access, there are just a few options.
One is Doctors Lake Park on the southern end. It features a 320-foot fishing pier, as well as boat ramps and picnic ramadas. It’s an excellent family-friendly spot for day visits that doesn’t get crowded.
Another option is Doctors Lake Marina off Route 17. Here you can rent boats and slips or tend to all your boating needs. Considering Doctors Lake is open for water sports like wakeboarding and water skiing, the marina is a fantastic base for water thrills.
Another popular activity at this lake is fishing. It’s not rated very high, but the selection of species is impressive, and you can catch saltwater fish like red drum and Atlantic croaker, although there is plenty of largemouth bass, bluegill, and various catfish, too.
What’s more, folks tend to catch many crabs here, including gorgeous blue crabs that never fail to impress with their bright-colored claws.
The drawback to Doctors Lake is the lack of campgrounds or hiking trails. It’s a well-developed lake that feels urban. It may not be the best for nature trips, but for romantic lakeside lodging or family get-togethers, it’s great.
2. Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
- Official Page: Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
- Distance from Jacksonville: 17 miles (25 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Surfing
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park must be the most versatile destination on the list. Besides the lake, it has access to the 1.5-mile beach and one of the best surfing spots in north Florida – Mayport Poles.
The 60-acre lake at the center of the park is an excellent spot for kayaking and canoeing, with rental stations available. Alternatively, there is a boat ramp for launching your own craft but note that powerboating is prohibited.
Another popular activity at the lake is fishing. There are numerous piers and docks for casting, and you can rent fishing tackle, too. Expect largemouth bass, cats, and various panfish. And don’t forget, you can surf cast at the beach, too, so there is a lot of fishing to do here.
Although swimming is prohibited at the lake, there is a splash pad and the beach for cooling off in summer. And if you don’t want to get wet, miles of hiking and biking trails are waiting for nature explorers.
Despite the proximity to the city, Hanna Park is an excellent place for multiday trips, too, thanks to its developed campgrounds with RV hookups and cabins.
Needless to say, a place like this is hectic at all times, which is its only drawback. For family trips and beginner explorers, this is the best spot near Jacksonville, but if you’re looking for peace and solitude, this isn’t for you.
3. Kingsley Lake
- Official Page: Kingsley Lake
- Distance from Jacksonville: 45 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Waterskiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing
Kingsley Lake is a 2,000-acre lake known for crystal clear water and its perfect circular shape. Marked as Outstanding Florida Water, it’s an incredible destination for water recreation, but here’s the catch – there’s no public access.
As things stand in 2022, there are no public boat ramps, beaches, or parks at the lake. The only way to enjoy this highly-rated gem is to rent one of the lakeside cabins or lodges. You can check out Airbnb, VRBO, or the residents’ website to find accommodation.
When it comes to water activities, Kingsley Lake is outstanding. The water is clear, the bottom is sandy, and at 100 feet, it’s one of the deeper lakes in Florida, which is great for wakeboarding and waterskiing.
What’s more, because of little pressure, Kingsley Lake is an excellent fishery with jumbo largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, and black crappie. The former often exceeds the 8-pound mark.
If you’re looking for an exceptional lake for a romantic getaway or family reunion, this is the perfect spot, but without public access, you will have to splash on lodging.
4. Flamingo Lake
- Official Page: Flamingo Lake
- Distance from Jacksonville: 11 miles (20 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping
Flamingo Lake is a 17-acre spring-fed waterhole on the outskirts of Jacksonville. It’s a part of Flamingo RV Park, making it an excellent spot for campers and tourists.
The lake offers swimming, sandy beaches, pedal boat rentals, and an inflatable aqua park for joyous splashing. Although not a wild destination, it’s a fun location for families and the perfect base for exploring Jacksonville and the area.
If you don’t have an RV, it’s not a problem. The park has cabins and yurts, so everyone can enjoy this local gem.
Fishing is allowed at Flamingo Lake, too, and it’s stocked with largemouth bass. But as you may expect, it’s too small to produce lunkers. If fishing for pleasure rather than for a result, you’d love it here.
Overall, it’s a nice developed waterhole that’s worth a visit, but if you’re looking for more traditional lakes teeming with wildlife and crowd-free, this isn’t it.
5. Gold Head Branch State Park
- Official Page: Gold Head Branch State Park
- Distance from Jacksonville: 51 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Hiking
Gold Head Branch State Park is a popular and versatile park with several sinkhole lakes and excellent amenities. It’s easily accessible from Route 21, yet it offers plenty of outdoor adventures.
Little Lake Johnson is open for water activities, including swimming, kayaking, and canoeing. You can rent a canoe at the park or bring your own and use a kayak launch. Motorized boating is prohibited here, so it’s a tranquil little lake.
When it comes to fishing, it’s not great. The ongoing water shortage puts pressure on the fish population, and you won’t catch any lunkers. Still, there are rock bass, cats, and plenty of panfish. You can cast from shore or a boat.
In addition to water activities, the park has over 8 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, biking, and horseriding. The surrounding area is teeming with wildlife. You are guaranteed to see deer, and there is a chance to spot Sherman’s fox squirrel, Northern harrier, or a bald eagle, too.
For accommodation, you have a choice of primitive campsites, RV sites, and cabins, making multi-day trips a breeze.
Perhaps not the most versatile lake, the park itself is an excellent choice for outdoor enthusiasts. For paddling and swimming, it’s great, but for serious boating and fishing, there are better options on the list.
6. Palestine Lake
- Official Page: none
- Distance from Jacksonville: 56 miles (1h)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing
Palestine Lake is a 900-acre natural lake west of Jacksonville. It is a pristine and undeveloped destination best suited for boaters and anglers.
There are no parks, residential housing, trails, or campgrounds here. The only way to access the lake is the boat ramp on the eastern shore. And if you don’t own a boat or a kayak, you won’t like it here.
Although it lacks amenities, Palestine Lake offers serenity, captivating scenery, and large fish. Anglers love the lake for its jumbo largemouth bass, frequently exceeding 8 pounds, and a wide selection of other fish typical to central Florida lakes.
Overall, it’s a hidden gem that only a few boaters or kayakers tend to experience. If you’re looking to spend some time in the wild with not a soul in sight, this is an excellent spot.
7. Lake Dumont
- Official Page: Lake Dumont
- Distance from Jacksonville: 16 miles (20 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Picnics, Playgrounds
Lake Dumont is part of a recently-established regional park in Oceanway, just north of Jacksonville. It’s known for crystal clear water and is a diving spot for daredevils (not recommended).
With many warning signs of alligators, swimming in Lake Dumont isn’t promoted, but many people still do; the clear water is too hard to resist on warm days.
What’s promoted, however, is fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. There are a couple of fishing piers and a kayak launch, but you may have to drag your boat from the parking lot; bring a trolley.
In addition to water activities, the park has playgrounds, sportsfields, picnic shelters, and a 3-mile-long circular trail around the lake. It’s a popular spot for dog walking, jogging, and bicycling.
Although not as rich in wildlife and quite busy, this destination is worth visiting for afternoon strolls and mid-week workouts. It’s just 20 minutes away.
8. Ocean Pond
- Official Page: Ocean Pond
- Distance from Jacksonville: 50 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Tubing
Ocean Pond is a 1,750-acre lake near Lake City. It’s a popular outdoor destination known for its sandy beaches and campgrounds.
Located in Osceola National Forest, this lake is set up for recreational use and offers several campgrounds, beaches, launching ramps, and miles of hiking trails. And if you want to learn more about Florida’s rich history, Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is just around the corner.
If visiting for the first time, Ocean Pond Campground on the northern shore is the best option. It’s an all-in-one place with primitive and hook-up campsites, a boat ramp, and a swimming area.
Alternatively, the nearest spot is Olustee Beach on the southern side. It’s excellent for short day trips but has a few primitive tent sites, too.
When it comes to water activities, Ocean Pond is excellent. You can swim, go on kayak adventures, or blast down on jet skis – it’s a versatile lake.
However, the drawback here is fishing. The lake scores below-average reviews, but skillful (or lucky) anglers get their catch. The selection of species here is similar to other lakes in the area – largemouth bass, some cats, bluegill, black crappie, bowfin, and an occasional gar.
In short, it’s a fun lake and a solid choice for families and campers. But if fishing is your main activity, there are better options on the list.
9. Lake Sampson
- Official Page: Lake Sampson
- Distance from Jacksonville: 52 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing
Lake Sampson is a 1,990-acre lake near Starke. It’s a highly-rated fishery and a hidden gem that most lakegoers tend to avoid.
The main access point is the boat ramp between Lake Sampson and Lake Rowell, which acts as a transfer point. It’s an easy launch suitable for most types of boats.
However, this is it when it comes to facilities. There are no parks, designated swimming areas, or campgrounds at Lake Sampson. This keeps crowds away and is great news for folks who like to avoid the hustle and bustle of more developed lakes.
Where Lake Sampson stands out is fishing. It’s a highly-rated fishery with little pressure known for jumbo largemouth bass, black crappie, and chain pickerel, among others.
What’s more, Lake Rowell is just on the other side of the ramp, so it’s really a two-in-one destination. Although smaller, fishing is excellent there, too.
Because of little use, both lakes feel remote and pristine, offering diverse wildlife. You are guaranteed to spot turtles, ducks, storks, and birds of prey.
Overall, Lake Sampson is suited for seasoned anglers, boaters, and adventure kayakers, but it’s not as developed as some other options on the list.
10. Butler Lake
- Official Page: Butler Lake
- Distance from Jacksonville: 53 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Playgrounds
Butler Lake is a charming 350-acre lake easily accessible from Route 121. It’s excellent for family day trips and fishing expeditions, but it’s not as versatile as some other options on the list.
The only way to access this lake is via Lakeside Park in the City of Lake Butler. It offers well-kept facilities, including a paved boat ramp, large picnic ramadas, playgrounds, and a splash pad.
Another unique feature of this park is a U-shaped concrete dock that has plenty of space for fishing and birdwatching. Also, there is a wide sandy beach, and if you’re brave enough, you can take a quick dip in the refreshing lake when alligators aren’t watching.
Kayaking, canoeing, and boating are fantastic ways to explore this cozy lake and test your luck fishing. The angling reports are unimpressive but plentiful, probably because of the easy shore access thanks to the pier.
You can target largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, sunfish, gar, bowfin, and many other species. The lake has a diverse selection, but the sizes are nothing to write home about, as you may expect from a reservoir of this size.
Although there are no campgrounds or hiking trails, Butler Lake is an excellent choice for day trips and getting on the water, and the city has eateries and concessions to make your stay easy.
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