Kayaking in Jacksonville may seem like an obvious choice; but kayaking in downtown Jacksonville is an often overlooked outing for the more adventurous paddler. Swift currents, heavy boat traffic, fixed obstructions and limited access make the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, a venue for experienced paddlers with self-rescue skills. But, for those who qualify, the scenery, wildlife and even the aforementioned “hazards” combine to make downtown Jacksonville and urban paddler’s playground.
Jacksonville’s St. Johns River is wide and powerful where it flows through the heart of downtown, but experienced kayakers should have no problems negotiating the current– as long as they have the appropriate gear and training. Concrete seawalls limit access and egress to and from the river, so self-rescue skills are a must. There will be no swimming to shore and walking out of this river in the event of an unplanned capsize. And, though current and bridges (along with other fixed objects in the water) don’t mix, experienced kayakers can utilize these structures to predict and protect themselves from the heavy boat traffic this part of the river is known for.
Despite the obvious hazards associated with urban kayaking in the River City, the scenery provided by Jacksonville’s “concrete jungle” makes paddling here a surreal departure from any other venue in Northeast Florida. Lined with skyscrapers and traversed by concrete and steel bridges, downtown’s St. Johns River offers an impressive array of man-made vistas which take on an entirely different appearance when viewed from the seat of a kayak. There are various outings one might choose in this section of river, but a quick loop of the downtown section only takes about an hour or so.
Access to this section of the St. Johns is easiest from the city boat ramp next to the River City Brewing Company. The safest crossing to the north side of the river follows the train bridge. Make sure you take time to look both ways for traffic as you approach the small-traffic channel and the drawbridge. Once on the north side, paddlers can venture underneath the Times-Union building for a unique experience in and of itself. Paddling along the seawall, kayakers can cruise by the Times-Union Building, the Jacksonville Landing and the Hyatt as they travel east along the north bank, and past Crowne Plaza and the Friendship Fountain on the south bank as they return to the take out at the city ramp.
Urban kayaking is more than a fad. With kayaking growing in popularity, more and more city-dwellers are searching for water access to enjoy their new sport. Downtown Jacksonville, with its warm weather and water, offers the perfect playground for urban paddlers. As with any coastal kayaking, checking the tides and weather is essential. Kayakers should use extreme care when paddling in swift moving water with boat traffic and fixed structures, but with the proper skills, planning and preparation, kayaking in downtown Jacksonville offers an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.