Kayak fishing in Ponte Vedra Beach

Kayaking Guana River at the GTM Research Reserve

Anastasia State Park beach

Salt Run at Anastasia State Park is a great place for kayaying and all types of water sports

Kayaking toward downtown St. Augustine

Kayaking toward downtown

Anastasia Watersports

Anastasia Watersports offers all types of rentals on Salt Run at Anastasia State Park

Kayak fishing in Ponte Vedra Beach
Anastasia State Park beach
Kayaking toward downtown St. Augustine
Anastasia Watersports

Kayak St. Augustine and See the City From the Water

Paddle Your Way Through State Parks or Along the Beach

As I slipped my kayak into the water on a sparlking April morning, the wading birds feeding along the tidal flats of Salt Run in Anastasia State Park didn’t seem bothered by my presence.

I drifted for a moment on the leeward side of Conch Island, then broke out my weathered bird guide and started a list: great blue heron, snowy egret, tri-colored heron, great egret and the elusive wood stork, aka "iron head."

The waters around St. Augustine have played host to many over the centuries – Indians, conquistadors, pirates and fishermen – and now the Nation’s Oldest City can add sea kayakers to the list.

With miles of protected water, and current and tidal flow to help in any direction, even the most hard-to-please paddlers will find St. Augustine one of the most kayak-friendly destinations in the United States.

I left the state park at sunrise hoping to fish the shoreline, but my natural curiosity soon got the better of me. The travel guides and tourist brochures at the rest stop on the interstate had whetted my thirst for history, and I wanted to see the Old City as the Spanish had four centuries before – from the water.

Those early settlers had chosen this spot for a reason. The natural harbor provides easy access to the open Atlantic. The Tolomato River brought fresh water from the north, and another, the Matanzas, provided easy access to all areas south.

So for an intrepid adventurer like me, the challenge was not finding good water to paddle, but how to limit the seemingly endless list of good kayaking destinations. Anastasia State Park, with its full-service campground and its top-notch canoe/kayak rental service, seemed the logical place to start.

From there, it would be a leisurely, two-hour paddle to the city itself and one of my primary reasons for coming: the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, built over a 23-year period from 1672 to 1695. As I float by the imposing structure, I can imagine the thunder of naval artillery and cannonballs bouncing harmlessly off the fort’s thick coquina-shell walls.

St. Augustine must have been an inviting target, for twice during its long history pirates pillaged the old city. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake took the city by storm, and then in 1668, Jamaican Robert Searles went on a similar rampage.

But on this November morning, the only mariners I need worry about are weekend warriors in cabin cruisers who might not see my small, plastic yellow boat as it heads south beneath the Bridge of Lions. Ahead, the Matanzas River flows south. Behind me, I’ve passed up a chance to explore the Tolomato and Guana rivers, some of the best paddling St. Johns County has to offer.

It will be impossible to do everything, so perhaps I will have to return another day or two for further exploration.

The Tolomato and Guana rivers, found a short drive north of St. Augustine, empty into the Intracoastal Waterway that flows by the Old City. As you paddle along both waterways, any high ground you see has historic significance. Archeologists estimate that one Indian mound along the Tolomato is 5,000 years old.

The 40-foot high sand dunes that separate the inland waterway from the beach are believed by some to be among the largest in the United States. It is here that the conquistador Ponce de Leon first claimed Florida for Spain.

During the winter months, bird watchers come to the 2,400-acre GTM Research Reserve to see huge flocks of white pelicans, black-necked stilts and ducks that migrate through on their route south.

Only boats with motors of 10 horsepower or less are allowed on nearby Guana Lake, which makes it ideal for kayakers. The Guana River is long and narrow, but lined with little spots to stop and rest. The Tolomato, although part of the busy Intracoastal Waterway, has a few more twists and turns, which makes for interesting paddling.

The Matanzas River, which flows south from St. Augustine, is traveled by numerous large boats heading north and south on the Intracoastal Waterway. But off the main river, you will find several small creeks worth exploring.

Moultrie Creek, which enters on the west side of the river, was the site of a famous parlay between the U.S. Army and the Seminole Tribes prior to the Second Seminole War. Moses Creek, which can also be found on the west side of the river, is one of the last, undeveloped tidal waterways of its kind Florida. Pellicer Creek lies farther south but has a full-service state park nearby.

If this sounds like too ambitious an adventure to try on your own, contact Ripple Effect Ecotours. This full-service kayak outfitter offers a variety of trips, including its daily sunset tour.