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Jacksonville & St. Augustine | Big Canoe Fun

Jacksonville & St. Augustine

Jacksonville & St. Augustine Featured Tours

The Jacksonville Zoo Kayak TourImagine telling your friends you went paddling in a War Canoe and saw lions and elephants! They’d be sure you went on a paddling safari in Africa, but the truth is slightly less exotic — and a LOT less expensive. Since 1914, the Jacksonville Zoo has given visitors an opportunity to discover and appreciate the Earth’s wildlife right here at home. From mild-to-wild, guests can experience local species, as well as animal species from around the world, in an environment that is friendly and comfortable to both inhabitants and visitors. A visit to the zoo is always a great way to spend the day; but paddling a Big Canoe to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens adds the Action to your Adventure.

A guided War Canoe trip to the Jacksonville Zoo is the perfect group outing for families and larger groups. Up The Creek specializes in large group tours for the area’s finest resorts and largest companies as well as for school groups, church groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and many other organizations. This day trip features a relatively short paddle on Jacksonville’s Trout River, with the outgoing tide, from the Bert Maxwell boat ramp to the dock at the Jacksonville Zoo. After a 2 to 3-hour visit to the zoo, we get back in our Big Canoes and paddle with the incoming tide back to the boat ramp. Because of the tidal nature of the Trout River, this trip can only be done with morning ebb tides and afternoon flood tides; so check with our staff to ensure the tides are favorable for your trip before making arrangements.

There are souvenirs, gifts and food items available for purchase at the zoo in case you’d like to bring along extra money. There is plenty of room in the Big Canoes for food and drinks (smaller, soft-side coolers, etc…) if you’d like to bring your own lunch or make lunch arrangements with us. There is no additional charge for zoo admission. Call us, and one of our staff will help you plan the perfect outing for you group. Book Your Big Canoe Adventure Now.

Jacksonville_Florida_downtown-kayaking_canoeUrban Canoeing in the River City is an adventure you won’t soon forget. Jacksonville, Florida is one of the few places where you can paddle a War Canoe while surrounded by bridges, skyscrapers and dolphins. With several activity options, trips in Downtown Jacksonville can be tailored to your group. The City Boat Ramp adjacent to the River City Brewing Company provides water access on the south side of the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville and creates the perfect opportunity for lunch or dinner cruises for your group in our Big Canoes.

Cruising along the Jacksonville Landing, or under any of Jacksonville’s iconic bridges, paddlers will be treated to an exciting new view of the city. Jacksonville’s riverfront is rich in history and scenery and a War Canoe trip offers paddlers a unique perspective as they get front row seats to the heart of the city. Certain tide levels allow access to McCoy’s Creek, a canopied sanctuary for hundreds of coastal birds. Hidden behind a secret passage under the Times-Union building, McCoy’s Creek is one of Jacksonville’s hidden gems.

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kingsley plantation kayak canoe tour Kingsley Plantation, part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve administered by the National Park Service, is located on Fort George Island and includes the plantation house, a kitchen house, a barn, and the ruins of 25 of the original slave cabins. The plantation was named for one of several plantation owners, Zephaniah Kingsley, who operated the property from 1813-1839. Kingsley operated under a “task” system, which allowed slaves to work at a craft or tend their own gardens once the specified task for the day was completed. Proceeds from the sale of produce or craft items were usually kept by the slaves. Purchased as a slave, Kingsley’s wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, was freed in 1811. She was active in plantation management and became a successful business woman owning her own property. As an American territory, Florida passed laws that discriminated against free blacks and placed harsh restrictions on African slaves. This prompted Kingsley to move his family, impacted by these laws, to Haiti, now the Dominican Republic, where descendants of Anna and Zephaniah live today. Paddle a Big Canoe past the picturesque dunes and marshes of the Timucuan Preserve to the dock at Kingsley Plantation and enjoy a picnic while exploring this 19th century Florida plantation. Book Your Big Canoe Adventure Now.
bridge of lions Historic waterfront buildings, salt marshes and a marina made for sunsets provide an ideal backdrop for leisurely paddles – and the perfect place for a War Canoe adventure. From our put-in near the Villano Bridge, we’ll paddle down the Matanzas River past historic Castillo de San Marcos and along the historic waterfront before paddling under the Bridge of Lions on the way to the Municipal Marina. Paddling in the Matanzas River, visitors are treated to beautiful and historic scenery and landmarks — like the St. Augustine lighthouse. Before returning to the put-in, we’ll stop at the marina where we’ll enjoy a snack and check out El Galeon (when it’s in port) — a full-size reconstruction of a 16th century Spanish galleon that would have prowled the Florida coast some 500-years ago.

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A Little about Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida, isn’t necessarily the first place you’d think of paddling in Florida; but taking a War Canoe trip in Jacksonville is indeed a interesting way to experience the River City. Canoeing the St. John’s River as it winds through downtown Jacksonville offers paddlers 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, Jacksonville offers paddlers a departure from the norm – War Canoe paddling with an urban twist.

Located next to The River City Brewing Company, the St. John’s Marina boat ramp is the put-in for paddling trips 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, paddlers 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, we 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, use extreme caution paddling past the marina and approaching the boat ramp and always be on the lookout for boat traffic, obstructions and swift currents.

Urban paddling 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 the St. John’s River in downtown Jacksonville 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. Our Big, Stable Voyageur-style War Canoes are built for big, open water and offer those without paddling experience a much more comfortable way to experience paddling downtown.

Paddling a War Canoe 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 paddling 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.

A Little about St Augustine Florida

The area that is now St. Augustine was first explored in the early 1500’s by the French and Spanish — most notably of which was Juan Ponce de Leon. The city of St. Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States.  Established by Florida’s first Governor, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, St. Augustine served as the capital of Spanish Florida for more than 200-years. In the past 500-years, the area that is now St. Augustine has been explored or occupied by the Timucuan, French, Spanish, and British before finally coming under the American flag — giving St. Augustine a rich and storied history. Since the late 19th century, St. Augustine’s colorful and historic nature has made it a popular tourist destination with dozens of landmarks, points of interest and attractions that each tell a small part of a very big story.

The architecture of St. Augustine, the nature of the historic landmarks and the names of many buildings, streets and rivers, tell of an often violent past.  The Matanzas River, for instance, gets its name from the Spanish word for, “massacre,” after Admiral Menendez, at the inlet south of Anastasia Island, encountered and executed the survivors of Jean Ribault’s fleet — which had been blown off course by a devastating storm at sea while on the way to attack St. Augustine. Around 1565, Jean Ribault arrived at Fort Caroline with reinforcements to protect the French settlement established by his former Lieutenant, Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere. Soon after, Ribault, against the advice and wishes of Laudonniere, loaded most of the men and weapons he had brought to defend the French Fort Caroline onto ships and headed south to attack St. Augustine. When the ships were being pummeled by the week-long storm, Menendez was able to march his forces over land and wipe out the weakly-defended Fort Caroline — killing everyone except for the women and children. Ribault and his surviving forces met the same fate at the hands of Menendez at what is now called, “Matanzas Inlet.”

What is now the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park sits on the site of the original fortification built by Menendez when the Spanish first arrived. In response to an attack on St. Augustine in 1668 by English privateer, Robert Searle, the Spanish decided they needed more formidable defenses and a more secure fortification. As a result, Castillo de San Marcos, was constructed beginning in 1672 . The fort, which took approximately 25-years to complete, stands as the oldest masonry fort in the United States and was used continuously for 205-years under 5-different flags until being taken off the active duty rolls as an operational base in 1900 — just after the Spanish-American War. Castillo de San Marcos was declared a National Monument in 1924 after 251-years of military possession and is one of the most iconic landmarks in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine has a number of other notable landmarks worth visiting. Fort Matanzas was built by the Spanish in 1742 to protect Matanzas Inlet after British Governor James Oglethorpe used the inlet to blockade St. Augustine during a 39-day siege of the city. Like Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas was declared a National Monument in 1924. Other points of interest in St. Augustine include the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine Light (Lighthouse), St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, Casa Monica Hotel and numerous other historic structures and landmarks.