Exploring the River & Agricultural Region

Although the beaches of Florida’s Historic Coast are on every visitor’s “must experience” list, there is another fascinating and fun area that offers something truly different.

September 21, 2022

Located west of St. Augustine and the Beaches, this area extends to the magnificent St. Johns River – a destination in its own right – and includes hands-on farming experiences, scenic parks, biking, and special events sure to create fond memories for every family member.

Going west on SR 207, travelers soon find themselves in big-time farming country centered on the quaint town of Hastings. Established in the late 19th century to ensure Henry Flagler’s wealthy resort guests would dine daily on fresh, flavorful vegetables, the town now sends its renowned farming products nationwide. Wesley Wells Farms and Sykes Farm welcome visitors and provide a close-up look at modern agriculture at its best. Both farms have seasonal special events that attract visitors from near and far (each fall, Sykes Farm has one of the largest and most challenging crop mazes in the Southeast – yes, some get lost, but all are found, eventually). A popular stop in the area is County Line Produce. Open seasonally, this is the place where St. Augustinians go to stock up on affordable, fresh-from-the-fields fruits and vegetables. For visitors, it’s also the place to soak up local culture while getting acquainted with delicacies like boiled peanuts, spicy datil peppers and okra.

The nation’s first cowboys lived and worked here – in the late 16th century! Part of the area’s original settlers, these Spanish vaqueros managed large herds of cattle whose descendants are still here. Known as Cracker Cattle, these sturdy animals are featured in the annual Cracker Day Festival held in October at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds on SR 207 in Elkton. The Fairgrounds features a wide array of events – something nearly every weekend – including horse shows, dog shows, wrestling, concerts and biking tours.

The St. Augustine – Palatka Bike Trail, one of the region’s most popular, parallels SR 207 for more than 19 miles. This paved trail is 12-feet wide and perfect for the entire family. It’s also part of the 260-mile-long St. Johns River to the Sea Loop Trail – the longest, multi-use trail in the Southeastern United States.

Running north to south along the St. Johns River, CR 13 is a scenic highway named for famed naturalist William Bartram. Today the 19-mile route offers many of the same views he enjoyed in the 1770’s. Numerous stops highlight the region’s natural attractions:

Alpine Groves Park

Begun in the late 1800’s as an orange grove homestead, today the park offers visitors an opportunity to experience the towering pines of an upland ecosystem, a mixed hardwoods forest with live oaks and hickories, and a flowing stream that leads down to the river with its cypress tress – and an occasional alligator or manatee. There’s even a picturesque public fishing pier.

Rivertown Park

Paved trails along the river offer relaxing walks among live oaks draped in Spanish moss. Great place for nature photography and views of the St. Johns River. The interestingly-designed pier is also an ideal location watching sunsets.

Trout Creek Memorial Park and Marina

Although used primarily for boat launching, the marina is a relaxing stop with waterside trails that offer an opportunity to see manatees. It recently gained historical significance when it became the new home for the Confederate Monument that had occupied downtown St. Augustine for 140 years.

St. Johns Botanical Gardens

Opening in Spring 2023, this is a must-see for botanical enthusiasts and will feature intricately designed gardens, ponds and terraces. Guided tours and educational programs will be offered with an extensive range of rare or endangered botanicals will be for sale.

Saturiwa Conservation Area

This 94-acre homesite has been restored to preserve the original longleaf pine forest. Home to a wide variety of wildlife, it is an ideal location for exploring Old Florida. A 30-minute hike along an elevated boardwalk takes visitors through a hardwood swamp with massive trees including cypress, black gum, ash and hickory. The trail ends at a small dock offering magnificent views of the St. Johns River (in summer, manatees are often seen here).