Fort Caroline National Memorial is a nice bit of history located in Jacksonville. Fort Caroline was a short adventure just .3 miles walk to the actual fort. Once at the fort there was a lot of the area fenced off to the public, but still was neat. We have been here before, and they didn't have the orange fencing around keeping visitors from looking over the fort walls to see the beautiful Saint Johns River. I wonder if there was an incident that caused them to block it off or if it was more so due to preservation reasons.
The parking lot is located right in front of the visitors center. There has been plenty of parking everytime we have visited Fort Caroline. There is no fee associated to parking for Fort Caroline or the Spanish Pond which is located on the other side of Fort Caroline Rd.
There is no parking or any entrance fee at this park which is a huge plus! The only place you might have to pay for something is in the Visitor center if you are interested in buying some of their merchandise. Because the park is free if you really like what they are doing and you want to support them you can donate Here On their website it also says "You can help protect America's national treasures. Supporting your favorite park can be as simple as picking up a piece of trash during your visit, or as generous as volunteering your time long-term. Even the souvenirs or books you purchase to remember your visit contributes funds for special events and programs. Parks can also accept donations. The National Park Service works with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world. Partners like the Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation help the preserve achieve it's mission. Thank you for supporting America's national parks!" Having an amazing park like this that is completely free is very rare. Doing your part to atleast help keep it clean goes a long way!
Like most places like this it is dog friendly excluding the Visitors Center. They even have a dog board along the trail right before you get to the dock that has a bunch of pictures of dogs that have visited. On the Dog Board they refer to all of the dogs listed as Bark Rangers.
The Visitors Center consists of a small loop filled with a ton of historic information, and artifacts. This is something I highly recommend you check out if this is your first time visiting this location, but probably something you will skip on any future visits. Even though the visitor center is cool it doesn't really ever change so once you have seen it you have seen it.
The "Hike" from the Visitor Center to the actual fort is .3 miles, but can be made slightly longer with detours. There are 3 real potential detours that take you off the trail slightly. The first is located right behind the visitors center, and is your first St. Johns River lookout point.
The Second detour is on the left hand side of the trail, and consists of several grass huts on the right, and a few long rows of benches on the left which were filled with kids on a field trip when we went.
The Last detour is off to the right, and is a dock that takes you pretty far out onto the St. Johns River. Everytime we visit Fort Caroline we walk all the way out just to stare at the water. When you first walk onto the dock look at the beach usually there are a ton of pretty good sized fiddler crabs running around. The Male Fiddler crabs have one large claw, and you can see them from the dock.
Throughout the remainder of the "hike" there are cool little things to check out leading up to the fort like the oldest bread oven in Florida, and other artifacts.
After .3 miles of "hiking" you arrive at the front gates of Fort Caroline! If you look on your left side right before you come into the gate you might see a few more fiddler crabs. The gates have a lock on them to help keep the doors open to the public. The Fort is spacious, and has cannons throughout that look almost new which in my opinion takes away from the historic feel of the fort. Upon further investigation the cannons themselves are the artifacts, and the bottom part that holds the cannon were provided as an Eagle Scout Project a few years ago.
The orange fencing placed inside the fort kept us away from pearing over the wall to get another glance at the St. Johns River. This fencing was there the first time we visited a few months ago, and we are unsure of how long they are planning to keep it up.
I have no insight regarding the history of the fort, but I did some research, and have included a paraphrased version of the history provided by "The Jacksonville Historical Society".
The French were the first to settle in Florida, and arrived one year prior to the Spanish in St. Augustine. The French came to America looking for religious freedom as they were Protestant Huguenots, and were fleeing the anti-protestant rage that swept their homeland. When they arrived in 1562 they traded gifts with the local Timucua Indians, and later officially established Fort Caroline in 1564. In 1565 Jean Ribault (Leader of the French Colony) heard of the Spanish colony of St. Augustine just 35 miles south and set out twith several ships including 200 sailors and 400 soldiers to take over the spanish settlement. Unfortunately the French ran into a violent storm that lasted several days. The Governor of Florida for Spain Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés found out about the French misfortune, and headed by land to attack Fort Caroline who only had 200- 250 people at the time. The spanish killed off almost all of the people only sparring women, and children.
The short walk up to the fort is very nice, and eventful but if you want to actually go on a hike they have an option to do just that. On the way back from the fort heading towards the Visitors center there is a pathway that leads you on a 1.2 mile loop. The trail constantly goes up and back down, and has a halfway point where they have a table with water on it. The trail is also consistantly wide which is nice especially if you are walking with somebody else. Towards the end of the hike there is a nice bridge you have to cross, and about a third of a mile after the bridge you find yourself back at the Fort. The loop is called Hammock Trail.
On the map above you can see the other nearby hiking trails as well including our favorite trail in Jacksonville "The Spanish Pond Trail". For more information about the Spanish Pond click Here