Weekend Backpacker: Jacksonville

River City Rambles: Introduction
  |  Gorp.com

Straddling the mighty St. Johns River, the city of Jacksonville thrives on its waterfronts. Its creeks and bays bustle with life, from herons to naval vessels, submarines to manatees. With the Atlantic Ocean almost on its doorstep, the world's most sprawling city caters to outdoor recreation — on the water. Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing reign supreme. Birding is some of the best in Florida, with bald eagles nesting in subdivisions and flocks of ibis skittering past bathers along the expansive Atlantic beaches.

But the city limits are vast, encompassing the whole of Duval County — and a heck of a lot of pine forest. While backpackers have to do a little exploration to find their niche around River City, those niches exist. And like life in Jacksonville, those niches revolve around the water. Walk a lonesome beach at sunset on an unspoiled barrier island, or bushwhack a fading trail along the cypress-lined St. Mary's River. Plunge into a crystalline pool at Juniper Springs, or walk the edge of a crumbling escarpment along the Suwannee River, the sweet scent of wild azalea in the air.

The Jacksonville stop for gear, maps, and guidebooks is Black Creek Outfitters, whose well-known Orange Park store is now entirely devoted to water sports. Their new location at 10051 Skinner Lake Drive (off of SR 202 west, along the North Gate Parkway) covers the rest of us with camping and backpacking supplies.

The North Florida Trailblazers chapter of the Florida Trail Association runs activities throughout the year; check their website for details. Or pop in on the Northeast Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, which meets at 7 PM on the second Monday of each month, at the parish hall of Lakewood Presbyterian Church, 2001 University Blvd.


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