Weekend Backpacker: Orlando
The St. Johns River is broad and deep just south of Green Cove Springs, where Bayard Point preserves a segment of unique Florida riverfront, bottomland floodplain dense with hardwoods bald cypress, sweet gum, and red maple.
Myriad wildlife call St. Johns' banks home. White-tailed deer and wild turkey play hide-and-seek in the dense forests; bald eagles and osprey dive for fish from the massive cypresses along the river's edge. Green herons and little blue herons pick their way along the riverbank, stabbing at shellfish and minnows in the shallows.
Looking for a quick weekend getaway? Bayard Point is only 12 miles south of Jacksonville the closest wilderness hiking to the metropolitan area. Fifteen miles or more of developed hiking trails meander through flatwoods, sandhills, and the river floodplain. Add to that an extensive network of vehicle-free forest roads, and you've got plenty of wandering to do through this 10,000-acre wood.
From Orlando, take I-4 east to I-95 at Daytona Beach; I-95 north to SR 16, north of St. Augustine. Follow SR 16 west across the Shands Bridge; look for the park turnoff on the left. The southerly portion of the park can be accessed from SR 209 (a mile south of the US 17/SR 16 intersection). Driving time: 2.5 hours.
There are two primitive campsites in the northerly portion of the park, the most popular one at Davis Landing along the St. Johns River. No permit is necessary unless your group is larger than seven people, but hikers are encouraged to"check in" particularly when fire danger is high by calling Bayard Point rangers.
While local high school outdoor environmental classes have developed some of the trails, most are rough, little-used, and unblazed. Carry a compass. Regulations prohibit hunting north of Bayard Point Road, but other portions of the conservation area are sporadically closed during winter weekends for hunting season. Call for information.
Guidebook & Maps
The St. Johns River Water Management District Recreation Guide to District Lands contains information on campsites and a map of the hiking trails at Bayard Point.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication