Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
Timucuan Trails/Ft. Clinch
Emergency Contact Numbers:
Duval County Sheriff’s
Nassau County Sheriff’s
Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission 24-hour wildlife emergency/boating
under the influence hotline: 1-888-404-3922
End: Fort Clinch
Duration: 2-4 days
Paddlers need to be watchful of tides and currents, especially near
river mouths. The Intracoastal Waterway can be busy with recreational
boaters on weekends and holidays. This guide will focus on interior
routes as the Atlantic side is considered dangerous and recommended for
expert paddlers only.
History and natural beauty combine in this exceptional segment just
north of Jacksonville. In this segment of the paddling trail, five
rivers either merge together or flow into the Atlantic Ocean: the St.
Johns, Nassau, Amelia, St. Mary’s and Fort George. The St. Johns is an
American Heritage River, one of only 14 in the country. Winding creeks
through unspoiled marshlands help to evoke a feeling of original
Florida. Kayakers also have easy access to historic sites such as
Kingsley Plantation, the Ribault Club, old Fernandina, and Fort Clinch.
Paddlers have a choice of taking interior creeks and the intracoastal
waterway, or the Atlantic shore. Those familiar with the area agree that
only expert paddlers should attempt the Atlantic shore due to
strong currents and wave action, and the fact that jetties along the
mouth of the St. John’s River extend almost two miles into the Atlantic.
The interior route suggested here is considered safer, with more
opportunities for camping and visiting points of interest.
A unique partnership of city/county, state, federal, and non-profit land
managers is responsible for the waterways, lands and facilities that are
included in this segment of the paddling trail. Known as the Timucuan
Trail State and National Parks, the partnership includes the National
Park Service, the State of Florida, the City of Jacksonville, and the
Nature Conservancy. This coalition has come together to develop the
Florida Sea Islands Paddling Trail, a network of 10 saltwater trails and
2 freshwater-brackish creek trails through public lands. To learn more,
This segment covers the
Nassau River-St. Johns River Marshes and Fort Clinch State Park Aquatic
Preserves, which altogether encompass approximately 66,000 acres of open
waters, marshlands, tidal creeks and rivers, and tree islands. The
preserves overlap the boundaries of the Timucuan Preserve and some of
the state parks. They act as buffers to help filter pollutants and
protect upland areas from storm surge, and they are home for numerous
aquatic species and resident and migratory birds. To learn more, log
The segment also traverses part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic
Preserve. managed by the National Park Service, it is named for a Native
American tribe that once inhabited the area. The 46,000-acre preserve
covers encompasses wetlands, upland forests, and historic sites.
Paddling trails for day trips are available in the preserve. To learn
more, log onto
Five state parks are also part of the route: Fort George Island, Little
Talbot Island, Big Talbot Island, Amelia Island and Fort Clinch. Besides
paddling, numerous opportunities for hiking, swimming, biking, fishing
and other activities are available. To learn more, log onto
www.floridastateparks.org . For reserving state park
campsites as outlined in this guide, call toll free 1-800-326-3521 or
1-866-I CAMP FL, or go online to
. For primitive campsites, users are required to keep these sites
clean and follow all regulations in order for them to remain open for
paddlers. Most of these sites will be “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” only,
with campers following Leave No Trace principles
1. Sister’s Creek
Marina to Little Talbot Island State Park; 7-8 miles.
The 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 and a picnic area are
From the marina, paddle
north up Sister’s Creek, which is also the Intracoastal Waterway, so be
wary of motorized craft. An incoming tide will be helpful. After about
four miles, take an eastward turn at the Ft. George River. Less than a
mile on your right you will spot the white wood buildings of the
Kingsley Plantation, open seven days a week from 9 AM to 5 PM. You can
land at a small beach about a hundred yards past the dock and visit this
historic site free of charge. The plantation is located on Fort George
Island and much of this 1,000-acre island was used to grow crops,
especially cotton, during the plantation period (1763-1865). During your
visit, you can view the planter’s residence, kitchen and barn, and the
half moon arc of slave quarters.
The Kingsley family was
unique in that Zephaniah Kingsley took an African wife and they had
several children together. Mrs. Kingsley owned her own plantation and
slaves. In the 1830s, when harsh restrictions were enacted regarding
free and enslaved people in Florida, most of the Kingsley family and
fifty newly-freed slaves moved to Haiti, a free black colony.
The next historic stopover is less than a mile on your right down the
Fort George River. Paddlers can land at a convenient boat ramp at the
Fort George Island Cultural State Park and tour the Ribault Club, a
1920s style structure with grand rooms and unique architecture. The park
itself is open daily, and the Club is open Wednesday through Sunday from
9:00 am to 5:00 pm. This multi-agency visitor center is cooperatively
managed by the Florida state park service and the national park service.
To camp at Little Talbot
Island State Park, paddle northeast from the Ribault House across the
Fort George River and travel north up Simpson Creek a little over a
mile. Then paddle up Myrtle Creek about a mile to the Little Talbot
Island State Park campground. Sites 34, 35, 36 and 37 are near the boat
ramp on your right. Advance reservations for these coveted spots are
Another camping option is
to proceed down the Fort George River a little more than two miles to
the Huguenot Memorial Park, inside the Ft. George Inlet. Operated by the
City of Jacksonville, tent camping is inexpensive and you can paddle up
to the campground. Across the St. John’s River mouth to the south, you
can view the large naval ships of the Mayport Naval Station. It is
important to walk the half mile or so to the office and check in before
setting up tents. You can make reservations by calling (904) 251-3335.
2. Little Talbot
Island State Park to Fort Clinch State Park, 21.5 miles via Simpson
Creek and Amelia River
Paddlers have two options to get to Nassau Sound from Little
Talbot campground. One option is to proceed north on Myrtle Creek, (only
passable a half hour on either side of high tide) and shave off about a
mile and a half. A second option is to take a highly scenic route by
backtracking a half mile south on Myrtle Creek to Simpson Creek and
proceeding north on Simpson Creek. This creek is passable at high or low
tides. If you camped on Huguenot Park campground, proceed north on the
Fort George River to Simpson Creek.
On Simpson Creek, just
before the AIA bridge on the right is a state park concessionaire
outfitting business, Kayak Amelia/Long Island Outfitters, where
restrooms, snacks and rental equipment are available along with up to
date information about paddling conditions.
About a mile north of the
AIA bridge, paddlers will be greeted with an unmarred view of Half Moon
Bluff, where the creek is creating a sheer cliff. Look for wading birds,
wood storks and a variety of other avian creatures along this scenic
creek. The cliff, combined with expansive views of unspoiled salt marsh,
creates an unforgettable scene.
At the mouth of the creek,
proceed along the shore of Nassau Sound. To your right is Bird Island, a
bird rookery off limits to humans. Please observe birds with binoculars
from a distance of at least 300 feet. If you spot birds standing up and
paying attention to you, they are not performing essential functions
such as resting, grooming, incubating and sheltering eggs or feeding
Along the shore of Big
Talbot Island, you’ll soon spot scenic bluffs where ocean waters are
cutting into the uplands. On the map you’ll see a GPS point that marks
the beach end of a short trail beneath a scenic live oak canopy atop the
bluff. At the end of the quarter-mile trail, you’ll find a picnic area
Be wary of strong
currents as you cross the Nassau Sound and enter the South Amelia River,
which is the Intracoastal Waterway. There is a launch site, with a small
store and restrooms, at the northern end of the AIA bridge on Amelia
Island. This is part of Amelia Island State Park. Contact the Little
Talbot Island Ranger office if you plan to leave a vehicle overnight at
this launch site; (904) 251-2320. There is no camping allowed on Amelia
Island State Park.
Paddle north up the South
Amelia River. Look for flocks of white pelicans in the cool months.
Numerous spoil banks provide opportunities to stretch and have a picnic.
At the State Road 200 (A1A) bridge, the current is very strong. Just
past the highway bridge, you’ll see one of the few remaining swinging
railroad bridges. A restaurant is located at the bridge site and there
are several places to disembark.
North of the bridge,
you’ll pass the sprawling Rayonier paper mill on the eastern shore.
Within a half mile you will then see the docks and marina of Fernandina
Beach, where you can find numerous restaurants and bed and breakfast
establishments. An impressive fifty blocks of this historic town are
listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Stroll along the
streets and check out the charming Victorian architecture.
In the spring, Fernandina
hosts the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, which celebrates the
town’s shrimp industry and the fact that eight flags have flown over
Amelia Island—more than any other spot in the United States. Since the
1500s, the flags have been French, Spanish, English, Patriots, Green
Cross of Florida, Mexican, Confederate and U.S. To learn more about
accommodations and other features, log onto
You have the option of
camping under live oaks at a primitive site on Little Tiger Island,
which is managed by Fort Clinch State Park, or you can camp at the park
itself. The safest way to reach Little Tiger Island is to cross the
Amelia River at the county boat ramp and hug the sandy western shore
until reaching Tiger Creek. Proceed west about a quarter mile up Tiger
Creek and the Little Tiger Island campsite will be on your right (see
map for GPS point). No reservations are necessary for camping at Little
Tiger Island at this time. Campers should adhere to Leave No Trace
principles. Fort Clinch is directly east of Tiger Island, but do not
attempt to cross this wide expanse of water unless conditions are calm.
You can camp at one of
two campgrounds at Fort Clinch State Park. However, water access is
highly restricted in the park. The park will allow for kayaks to land at
the River Campground about a half mile before the fort, but you may have
to carry your kayaks to your campsite. Sites 29, 30, 39, 40, 41 and 43
are near the water. Reservations are recommended. If you are registered
at the campground without a vehicle and seeking to launch the next day,
the park will ask you to wade and pull your boat along the shore about
1,000 feet south to the county-operated North End Boat Ramp. This is due
to strong currents and liability concerns.
The historic red-brick
fort is worth checking out. Reenactors provide an 1860s feel to the
place on the first weekend of each month. Look for shark’s teeth along
the beaches, or hike interior trails that traverse scenic maritime
If you are beginning or
ending your journey on the circumnavigational trail, it is best to
utilize the county-operated North End Boat Ramp along the state park’s
southern boundary. This is accessible by following North 14th Street to
its terminus from Atlantic Avenue. The state park has no official kayak
launch. From the ramp, you can paddle north less than half a mile to
view the historic Fort Clinch and see the state of Georgia across the
channel, ensuring you are at the trail’s terminus. Hug the shore to
avoid swift currents
If you want to keep
paddling north, you can follow the Georgia Saltwater Paddling Trail to
the South Carolina border:
http://www.crc.ga.gov/docs/bluewayplanfinal.pdf It is part of
an overall National Park Service/multi-state effort to create a
Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail.
More Site Information:
The City of Jacksonville:
St. Johns American Heritage River:
The Nature Conservancy:
Directions to Sister’s
Creek Marina (City of Jacksonville): From Interstate 95 (south
of I-295), take the Heckscher Drive/State Road 105 exit (#358A) and
drive east (signs may indicate that you are northbound, but it is east)
for approximately 12 miles. Sister’s Creek Marina will be on the
north side of the road just before you cross the Intracoastal
Waterway/Sister’s Creek drawbridge.
Directions to Little
Talbot Island State Park: From Sister’s Creek Marina, continue
east/north on Heckscher Drive/State Road 105 for an additional 6 miles.
The state park entrance station is on the east side of the road.
(Note: At the point where the automobile ferry crosses the St.
Johns River, the highway designation changes to State Road A1A).
Continue north on S.R. A1A over the Fort George River Bridge.
After crossing the bridge, drive another 2 miles north on S.R. A1A to
the Little Talbot Island State Park entrance on the east side of the
road (right). Proceed to the Ranger Station for camping
information and instructions on how to access the launch site. A
fee of $4 to use the launch is charged to non-campers.
From I-95, take the
Heckscher Drive/State Road 105 exit (Exit 358A - Old Exit 124A) and then
travel east for 18 miles. Heckscher Drive becomes State Road A1A once
you pass the St Johns River Ferry Terminal. Continue North on S.R. A1A
over the Fort George River Bridge. After crossing the bridge, drive
another 2 miles North on S.R. A1A to the Little Talbot Island State Park
entrance on the east side of the road (right).
Directions to access
site at Ft. Clinch State Park: Fort Clinch State Park is north of
the City of Fernandina Beach on State Road A1A (Atlantic Avenue).
Take I–95 to the Fernandina Beach/Callahan exit (Milepost Exit 373 - Old
Exit 129), and stay to the right. You will then be traveling east on
A1A. (This road becomes 8th Street within the town limits of
Fernandina.) Stay on this road, (A1A), for 16 miles until you come to
the intersection of 8th Street and Atlantic Avenue. Turn right on
Atlantic Avenue and go about two miles; Fort Clinch State Park will be
on the left. A fee of $5 per vehicle is charged for entrance to the