As mentioned previously in one of our other North Florida series articles, North Florida is rich with cruising grounds and the vast majority of it is accessible through the Intercoastal Waterway (the “ICW”). The ICW provides a unique opportunity for the cruising sailor. You seldom have to worry about favorable weather windows, rarely have to go outside, and if you do not want to motor or sail overnight, there are many off the beaten path, side road type of places that you can stop and recharge for the night.
Another of these places is Fort Caroline and the Roosevelt Area of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. If you are on your way to the heart of Jacksonville, Florida, or farther up river to a destination like Green Cove Springs, somewhere on Doctor’s Lake, or if you are on your way out to the ICW north or south, or out the mouth of the St. Johns to further destinations unknown, then Fort Caroline deserves a stop off on the way. Nestled between the Mayport area and the North Dames Bridge, Fort Caroline is better known as the Fort Caroline National Monument. The Fort Caroline area of the park contains a fort, hence the name, that was used by the French when they attempted to occupy the North Florida area for a time until conquered by the Spanish, and all the history that goes along with the area. This particular area is also the headquarters for the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, which manages numerous parks in the Jacksonville and North Florida area. As such, there are excellent facilities and information about some of the other areas and parks you may want to visit while in the North Florida area.
North Florida may not conform with the general perceptions of the romantic portrayal of Florida, those portrayals of palm trees and exotic resorts. Even though North Florida may contain palm trees, white sand beaches, and beautiful expanses of coastline, there is an additional appeal to North Florida over and above those general perceptions. North Florida’s waterways, especially on the St. Johns River, its tributaries and delta have their own feel to them that is unlike many places in Florida and is certainly different than that of the general landscape of Florida that has been painted by so many people. In North Florida, old live oak and pine forests give way to a dark, and beautiful flowing river, and one that is rich with the history of a state that is an increasingly popular tourist destination. Flat expanses are replaced by subtle, but certain elevation changes; some carved and defined by the river, and others solely a feature of the land. It is more akin to South Georgia, it is clear, it is cool, and it is full of opportunities for anyone who enjoys being outside. Fort Caroline and the Roosevelt area are excellent examples of this unique area.
If you are coming to Fort Caroline by water you are in luck, because as in many of the preserves and parks on the water on the St. Johns River, there is a more than sufficient dock for a dingy, and perhaps your cruising vessel, depending on the draft of the boat. I do not claim to know the depth of this area, and it may be safer just to anchor near, dingy in and ask the staff whether or not the dock and depth are sufficient to accommodate your vessel. There is no charge for the experience and there is an excellent park with miles of hiking paths in walking distance from Fort Caroline and the dock, known as the Roosevelt Area.
Unless something has changed, Fort Caroline does not offer overnight docking, and while the holding may be good further off the dock, the river is narrow and swift in this area making it a less than ideal, and potentially dangerous place to call your home for the night. There are, however, many cheap and free options further up the river that will be and are addressed in other areas of these series. Some of the safer, free areas depending on the ultimate direction of your destination are:
- The Jacksonville Landing;
- Memorial Park;
- Exchange Club Island;
- Kingsley Plantation and the Fort George River.
Since Fort Caroline is not necessarily an ideal place for stopping off and mooring for the night or a couple days, it is really a day trip area. A good write up of what one can do while there on a day trip can be found here. Even though it may not be the greatest place to stay, it is a fantastic, free area to get out, stretch your legs, get some exercise, enjoy a picnic, and indulge in the rich history of the St. Johns River.