Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
Emergency Contact Numbers:
St. John’s County
Sheriff’s Office: 800-346-7596
Sheriff’s Office: 904-630-0500
Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission 24-hour wildlife emergency/boating
under the influence hotline: 1-888-404-3922
Begin: Palm Valley Road (Highway 210)
End: Sister’s Creek
Distance: 21 miles
Duration: 2 days
Boat traffic can be heavy
along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), especially on weekends and
holidays. Paddling along the high energy East Coast shoreline is not
recommended due to safety considerations. Plus, there are no inlets in
this segment connecting the ICW to the Atlantic with the exception of
the St. Johns River. Jetties that extend almost two miles into the
Atlantic along the mouth of the St. Johns make this option prohibitive.
Tides will begin to have a stronger influence as you head north.
Paddlers in the ICW must
often contend with a strong easterly shore breeze.
The city of Jacksonville,
chartered in 1832, was named after Florida’s first territorial governor,
Andrew Jackson. An important seaport, the city figured prominently in
the Civil War, being occupied by Union forces on four separate
occasions. In 1901, a devastating fire left almost 9,000 homeless, but
the city was quickly rebuilt and today Jacksonville is a thriving urban
center and port. Paddlers may spot numerous fast-moving helicopters
along the ICW as Jacksonville is home to the United States Coast Guard
Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, commissioned to interdict
high-speed drug-running vessels and helping to ensure homeland security.
While this segment covers
one of the largest urban areas in the state, paddlers will be pleasantly
surprised. Numerous unspoiled areas provide optimal paddling
opportunities. Vast stretches of marsh, islands and coastal forest have
been protected largely through the efforts of the City of Jacksonville,
the Timucuan National Preserve, and private landowners. The Preservation
Project Jacksonville was begun in 1999 by then mayor John Delaney after
voters approved a bond issue. Since then, more than 50,000 acres have
been protected. The goal of the project is to help to guide growth,
protect environmentally sensitive lands, improve water quality, and to
provide more outdoor recreation opportunities.
Four main preserves are
accessible along the trail: Cradle Creek, Castaway Island, Dutton Island
and Tideways. The scenic network of these preserves has helped to create
the Jacksonville Intracoastal Salt Marsh Paddling Guide:
. Access to all of these preserves except for Dutton Island is limited
at low tide.
This segment also
traverses the southern part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic
Preserve. Managed by the National Park Service, it is named for a large
Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. The 46,000-acre
preserve encompasses wetlands, upland forests, and historic sites.
Paddling trails for day trips are available in the preserve. To learn
more, log onto
Leave No Trace guidelines
should be followed for primitive camping in this segment
1. Palm Valley Road
to Dutton Island, 16 miles
The landing at the Palm
Valley Road Bridge is on the eastern shore, with a restaurant adjacent
to the landing.
Although the ICW becomes
long and narrow for about nine miles north of the bridge, the west bank
is relatively unspoiled and primarily consists of a mature hardwood
forest. A private landowner owns the property. Two restaurants can be
seen along the eastern shore, but access from the water is difficult.
The ICW widens after the
Highway 202 Bridge and becomes more natural looking, with numerous tree
islands, tidal creeks and unbroken expanses of marsh. Cradle Creek,
along the eastern shore, is the first of three Jacksonville preservation
lands that are ideal for kayaking. The next city preserve, Castaway
Island, is along the western shore just past the Beach Boulevard Bridge.
Call 904-630-CITY or log onto www.coj.net
to find current information.
To access nearby
restaurants, a drug store and a supermarket within easy walking distance
(about a half mile), you can land at the Palm Cove Marina (see map).
Check in at the marina service station first. There is also a restaurant
at the marina. Directly across the ICW on the eastern shore is Beach
Marine where you can also access restaurants.
Proceeding north in the
ICW, past the Atlantic Boulevard Bridge, the Tideways and Dutton Island
preserves will be along the eastern shore. This unspoiled area of
islands and tidal creeks features a kayak launch dock and a mile-long
marked paddling trail through a pristine tidal zone. Currently, paddlers
can utilize the park’s group camp area (a fee is required) by walking a
quarter mile north of the kayak launch dock. For camping reservations,
call the City of Atlantic Beach Recreation Department: (904) 247-5828. A
primitive campsite for paddlers is being established on a small
peninsula east of the kayak launch.
2. Dutton Island to
Sister's Creek Marina, 5 miles
Be wary of currents and
large boats as you enter the St. Johns River. You must cross the river
in a diagonal direction to reach Sister’s Creek. If you want to visit
the Fort Caroline National Memorial in the Timucuan Preserve, paddle a
short distance up the St. John’s along the south shore to the low
floating docks just before the reconstructed French fort. Jean Ribault
landed near here in 1562, exchanged gifts with area Timucuan Indians,
erected a stone monument and claimed the area for France. “It is a thing
unspeakable,” wrote Ribault in his journal, “to consider the things that
be seen there, and shall be found more and more in this incomparable
The French established a
colony at the site in 1564, building Fort Caroline, but only a year
later, Ribault and several hundred French soldiers sailed south to raid
Spanish St. Augustine. He was shipwrecked by a powerful tropical storm.
Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez saw an opportunity and raided Fort
Caroline, brutally killing most of the adult males. He then hunted down
Ribault and other shipwrecked sailors and killed them at a place called
Matanzas (“slaughter”), part of segment 24. The fighting marked the
first of many battles over European control of the “New World.”
Regarding the Timucuan Indians, their numbers dwindled from tens of
thousands to only a few hundred by 1700, primarily due to disease. The
tribe is considered extinct today.
The Sister’s Creek Marina
is located on the west side of Sister’s Creek just off Heckscher Drive
(State Road 105), a short distance from the St. John’s River. Please
note that the marina is closed to the public during the Greater
Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament in July and one week before. Restrooms,
water and a picnic area are available.