boating to the Zoo

Trout RiverThe Trout River flows past the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens just before joining the St. Johns River on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Being located on the river’s edge provides unique opportunities for educational river experiences not found at most zoos. Visitors can arrive via water and enjoy exhibits, educational displays, and events along the river; soon the zoo will feature a manatee rescue center. Here are some more of the great things about having a riverfront zoo.Paddle to the Zoo 

Did you know that you can access the Jacksonville Zoo from the water? Arrive in style to the Jacksonville Zoo via the newly refurbished boat dock on the Trout River. Because of the tidal changes on the Trout River and the shallow water at the dock, the best way to arrive at the zoo is in your own self-propelled watercraft like a canoe or kayak.

Admission to the Zoo is free of charge if you arrive via watercraft. Non-motorized watercraft like canoes and kayaks are recommended, although other boats can access the dock by carefully planning visits during high tide. Watch for wildlife as you arrive including manatees, dolphins, ducks, cormorants, gulls and terns, osprey, bald eagles, and kingfishers.

Start your tour of the zoo at the Trout River Plaza, designed to embrace the natural landscape of our river. Sculptures of waterfowl include an anhinga and a pebble mosaic depicting the animals of the Trout River. The fragrant vines, large shade trees and themed lights all create a special area that can also be enjoyed for private parties after hours.

The question is, what kind of journey are you looking for? Here are a few suggestions for places to put in your canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard for a great time paddling to the Jacksonville Zoo.

North Shore Park

North Shore Park is a little less than 1 mile from the Jacksonville Zoo, allowing you to leisurely paddle along the Trout River to the zoo’s dock entrance. By following the “Canoe to the Zoo” community event on Facebook, you can find out about the next flotilla, and join this group on a fun paddle from North Shore Park. It’s a great way to get together with friends and neighbors, meet new people, explore the river, and enjoy a great day at the Zoo.

North Shore Park is nestled between Pearl Street and the Trout River on the Northside. It is an attractive, passive park overlooking the river, where visitors may relax and picnic under a canopy of oak trees and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Paddling from North Shore Park isn’t the most scenic stretch of river. But, it will get you to the zoo with minimal effort, so it is great for paddling newbies.…

Reddie Point Preserve

Reddie Point Preserve is one of the best places to go birding in Jacksonville. This preservation property contains a boat dock and fishing pier, three nature trails that traverse the property, and a subtle, hardly noticeable kayak launch facing directly across the St Johns River towards the Jacksonville Zoo. In this stretch, you will be crossing the St. Johns, so check the tides to ensure you don’t end up getting more of a workout than you intended. (To check tide charts, type in “NOAA and Tide Chart” into your browser, select Florida, and St. Johns River, then find your nearest tide marker. “Cedar Heights” or “Trout River” are the nearest to Reddie Point. Now that you see the times of the high and lows of tides on the day you plan to paddle, plan to launch with the flow of the tide. You want to ride high tide into and out of the zoo.)

Paddling from Reddie Point allows two adventures: exploring Reddie Point Preserve and exploring the Jacksonville Zoo. Allow for a full day of fun if venturing from this Jacksonville gem.

Join First Coast Outfitters

For many out there, you may not have a kayak, don’t want to learn the tides, or just don’t want to be responsible for strapping down a boat and transporting it on the roof of your car! If this is the case, First Coast Outfitters is available to provide the gear and take on the work of guiding you to the Zoo with their informed and knowledgeable crew.

On the Jacksonville Zoo Safari Paddle, tour the zoo and enjoy a bagged lunch with drinks and snacks provided by First Coast Outfitters, followed by a short paddle back across the St. Johns River to the put-in.

Paddling to the zoo allows you to encounter dolphins and osprey in their natural habitat and experience the wonders of our local waterways, while also enjoying one of our area’s best educational attractions. So, the next time you are planning a trip to the zoo, think about traveling by water before it catches on, and it’s no longer one of the best kept secrets in Jacksonville.

ZOO_baby alligatorWild Florida

Stop by Wild Florida to learn about the native plants and animals that live within the watershed of the St. Johns and Trout Rivers. This 2.5 acre exhibit of natural wetlands features alligators, a black bear, bald eagles, bobcats, Florida panthers, white-tailed deer, and 25 different species of reptiles and amphibians including the protected eastern indigo snake. If you are interested in learning about native plants to incorporate in your yard, this is also the place to go. In fact, the zoo features a wide variety of native plants throughout the grounds, making it a great learning laboratory for “river friendly” landscaping practices.

Manatee Critical Care Center

The zoo has plans to build the fourth critical-care center in the state for manatees suffering from boat collision injuries, cold stress, illness, and exposure to toxic algae.

Following a massive die off that was the worst year on record for the endangered species, the center could mean the difference between life or death for injured and sick manatees that would otherwise need to be transported to the nearest facility, Sea World in Orlando.

Although the manatee care center won’t be a regular exhibit for zoo visitors, this state–of-the-art facility will provide a tremendous benefit for our Florida state marine mammal. This new program expands the current wildlife rehabilitation services that the zoo has provided for years for injured or sick animals like gopher tortoises, wood storks, and birds of prey.

Environmental Stewardship, Events & Programming

The zoo offers more than just daily visits and tours. Major community events like “Party for the Planet” and “Garden Festival” are held on a regular basis to educate and engage visitors in environmental stewardship and local conservation initiatives. The Zoo’s Green Team strives to set an example for the community by making it an educational resource for sustainable practices and operating the zoo in the most environmentally sustainable way possible. As a result, the Zoo has become a great place to learn about the St. Johns River and its tributaries, like the Trout River, the connection between our local environment and global ecosystems, and ways we can all be more river friendly. Find out more about the great programs, tours, summer camps, outings, and events that the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is providing to our community


About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.