Kayaking in Jacksonville: Kayaking With An Urban Twist
*This trip is not recommended for beginners.
Jacksonville, Florida, isn’t necessarily the first place you’d think of paddling in Florida; but kayaking in Jacksonville is indeed a interesting way to experience the River City. Paddling the St. John’s River as it winds through downtown Jacksonville offers kayakers a unique view and new way to enjoy being on the water. With skyscrapers and sea walls replacing the Cypress trees and marshes familiar to paddlers in North Florida, kayaking in Jacksonville offers paddlers a departure from the norm – kayaking with an urban twist.
Located next to The River City Brewing Company, the St. John’s Marina boat ramp is the most convenient put-in for kayakers paddling in the downtown area. From the put-in, paddlers can cross over to the North river bank by following the railroad bridge for some protection from boat traffic – which, at times, can be quite heavy. The drawbridge is usually up to allow boat traffic in the main river channel to pass and there is a small craft span to the South of the drawbridge span all boaters need to be aware of when crossing the river or operating near the channel. As always, with any channel, use caution when crossing and obey the “Rules of the Road.”
After crossing the St. John’s River, kayakers may choose to enter the tunnel just West of the railroad bridge and paddle under the Times-Union building and into McCoy’s Creek – a little piece of green in the middle of a concrete jungle. McCoy’s Creek has a tree canopy filled with Ibis, Storks, Egrets, Heron and other large Coastal birds. Other options on the North bank include paddling West and South toward the River City Arts Market, or paddling East past the Jacksonville Landing, the Hyatt, the Jacksonville Piers and down to Metropolitan Park. Just past the Piers, kayakers may choose to paddle up into Hogan’s Creek past the Maxwell House plant and other historic sites.
Continuing to the East, paddlers can travel underneath the Hart Bridge and follow the St. John’s as it bends to the North toward the Matthews Bridge – underneath which is Exchange Club Island where boaters can take out and rest or enjoy a snack or lunch before heading back. From Exchange Club Island, kayakers can follow the South bank for a different perspective. Friendship Fountain offers a picturesque backdrop as paddlers return to the St. John’s Marina from the East. Again, when kayaking in Jacksonville, use extreme caution paddling past the marina and approaching the boat ramp and always be on the lookout for boat traffic.
Urban kayaking in Jacksonville comes with spectacular views of natural and man-made scenery, but boat traffic, tidal currents, unpredictable winds and weather, limited access and the surface conditions that can be created by these factors require a heightened sense of awareness. Kayaking in Jacksonville on the St. John’s River is not for beginners. If you are new to kayaking, spend time in other local waterways before paddling in the St. Johns – or go with a professional guide. Due to the limited access, any problems that happen on the water, including capsizes, must be handled on the water. Handling capsizes and other on-water emergencies requires training, so use common sense and be honest in your evaluation of your paddling skills
Kayaking in the middle of a major city may sound unusual, but when you consider the fact people have been paddling the Hudson River in New York City, the Delaware River in Philadelphia, the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. the Chicago River, and rivers, bays and sounds in practically every major U.S. city, what is truly hard to imagine is that more people aren’t already kayaking in Jacksonville, Florida. Though not a natural wonder on the order of the Okefenokee Swamp or the Everglades, Jacksonville is certainly a paddling destination that shouldn’t be overlooked by any serious paddler.
Click the link below to watch a segment from First Coast News anchors Lewis Turner and Jessica Clark as Jennifer — Jacksonville’s Sacajawea — takes the intrepid explorers on an urban adventure!
First Coast News — Lewis and Clark Urban Kayaking segment and article