Fort Caroline National Memorial | HAMMOCK TRAIL

Start of the hiking trails at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Start of the hiking trails at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Length: 1.2-mile loop
Time: 1 hour, including a stop at Fort Caroline
Difficulty: Easy with a few moderate hills

The Hammock Trail is a loop trail that circles the Fort Caroline National Memorial property. It passes Fort Caroline, an “educated-guess” reproduction of the original French fort. The trail offers no insight into the history of Fort Caroline and is therefore recommended for exercise purposes only. If history is all you are after, walk to the fort from the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve Visitor Center and return, a .6-mile round trip.

Being a loop, the trail can be hiked in the clockwise or counterclockwise direction. I hiked in the counterclockwise direction, which is the quickest way to get to Fort Caroline. An information panel near the parking lot marks the start of the trail system, though you are not yet officially on the Hammock Trail at this point.

Hammock Trail Map (click to enlarge)

Hammock Trail Map (click to enlarge)

A couple minutes after departing is an intersection with a connector trail that leads to the official Hammock Trail. If you are a local who is out for exercise, you may want to do this (take a left), but if you are a tourist who also wants to see the fort, stay straight and follow the “FORT” signs. Ultimately you will pass the fort no matter which way you go, but taking the “tourist” route leads past a Timucuan Indian hut exhibit that you won’t see if you go directly to the Hammock Trail. Being a tourist, I kept straight.

Signs on the Hammock Trail point the way to Fort Caroline

Signs on the Hammock Trail point the way to Fort Caroline

Soon after the intersection is the reproduction of a Timucuan Indian hut and an Indian canoe. The Timucuan lived in this area when the French arrived and originally helped them build the settlement, supplying labor, food, and even precious metals. In return they wanted an alliance with the French to fight their enemies. The French had no real intentions of doing so and put forth a half-hearted effort at best. Once the Timucuan realized the French were not going to help them, they quit trading with them, and by the spring of 1565 relations had soured. The French resorted to violence in order to obtain the food and supplies they needed. This did not work out well, and the French colonists soon found themselves facing starvation. Some fled the area to take their chances elsewhere, while the rest were ready to sail back to France when Jean Ribault arrived with supplies in August 1565.

Timucuan Indian hut exhibit at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Timucuan Indian hut exhibit at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Example of an American Indian canoe on display at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Example of an American Indian canoe on display at Fort Caroline National Memorial

A minute farther down the trail is another intersection with the Hammock Trail, and at this point the two trails merge and lead to Fort Caroline. If you are contemplating hiking the trail after seeing the fort but are curious as to just how hilly it gets, take a look at the Hammock Trail, for the hill you see is the biggest hill on the hike—and you don’t even have to hike this portion if you don’t want to. Unless you have problem walking, the Hammock Trail should be no problem.

Intersection of the Fort Caroline exhibit trail and the Hammock Trail

Intersection of the Fort Caroline exhibit trail and the Hammock Trail

There is also a boat dock near this intersection. Those with boats can land here to access the park. From the dock you can get a nice view of the St. Johns River and what I believe is the Northside Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant.

Power plant on the St. Johns River

Power plant on the St. Johns River

In less than ten minutes you will arrive at the entrance to Fort Caroline. Inside are information panels and a few cannon. The area is not very big, so plan to spend no more than 20 minutes for a visit. See the Fort Exhibit web page for more information and additional photos.

Turnoff from the Hammock Trail for the Fort Caroline exhibit

Turnoff from the Hammock Trail for the Fort Caroline exhibit

At this point you have walked .3 mile. The return trip on the Hammock Trail, which continues just outside of the entrance to Fort Caroline, is another .9 mile. The trail is marked with a NATURE TRAIL sign and a post with an orange blaze. These posts are placed periodically along the trail, letting you know that you are still on the right path.

Hammock Trail continues just outside the entrance to Fort Caroline

Hammock Trail continues just outside the entrance to Fort Caroline

The terrain of the Hammock Trail is hilly, though never challenging, and it remains a former dirt road at this point. Frequent joggers passing by indicate that it is easy to hike. The scenery is lovely, with palmetto bushes and Spanish Moss-draped trees lining the path. It reminds me of Cumberland Island, which isn’t too far north of Jacksonville.

Typical terrain of the Hammock Trail at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Typical terrain of the Hammock Trail at Fort Caroline National Memorial

I hiked the trail in early March and encountered enough mosquitoes that I applied insect repellant…and I hate applying insect repellant. Gnats were also prevalent in the morning in the open areas such as the parking lot, though I saw none once entering the forest. Starting in May, the yellow flies and mosquitoes become a big problem, though it is the flies that are the worst since insect repellent does not deter them. To hike on the trails in the summer you need a mosquito net on your head to keep from getting attacked. Believe me, there is nothing worse than a constant bombardment by flies.

Just a few minutes after leaving the fort, the trail crosses over a salt marsh area via a wide foot bridge. However, the vegetation is thick, so you really can’t get a good look into the area.

Bridge over the salt marsh near the Fort Caroline exhibit (Fort Caroline National Memorial)

Bridge over the salt marsh near the Fort Caroline exhibit (Fort Caroline National Memorial)

The Hammock Trail eventually becomes more of a traditional hiking trail, no longer a former road. The otherwise smooth terrain is periodically interrupted by hilly sections populated with tree roots ready to trip up those doing too much daydreaming. You find these exposed roots on the hilly sections because it is here that rain water has washed away the topsoil, depositing it on the smooth, level areas of the trail.

Tree roots are exposed on the hilly sections of the Hammock Trail at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Tree roots are exposed on the hilly sections of the Hammock Trail at Fort Caroline National Memorial

There are numbered posts on the trail, which means that somewhere there is—or was—a trail guide that you can read when coming to the posts. These usually provide information on trees and plants in the area. If such a guide still exists, you can probably pick up a copy at the Visitor Center, so ask at the information desk if this interests you. Many such nature trails no longer have guides despite the posts still remaining on the trail.

Numbered posts on the Hammock Trail correspond to information on a printed trail guide

Numbered posts on the Hammock Trail correspond to information on a printed trail guide

The trail eventually reverts back into a sandy road as you come to the end of the hike. There is one last intersection, and you have a choice to continue on the Hammock Trail or return to the Visitor Center. Unless you must walk the Hammock Trail in its entirety, turn right towards the Visitor Center. If you recall the very first intersection that you came to after leaving the parking lot, this is the same trail you would have been on had you taken a left to get directly to the Hammock Trail. Staying straight at this point simply brings you back to the boat dock. From here it is just a couple minutes walk to the parking lot.

Intersection on the Hammock Trail for the return to the Fort Caroline Visitor Center

Intersection on the Hammock Trail for the return to the Fort Caroline Visitor Center

As mentioned, the Hammock Trail, at least without the printed trail guide, is for exercise purposes only. It does not add anything to the Fort Caroline experience. However, if you are out to see the fort, unless you are adverse to exercise or simply short of time, you might as well add this trail to your itinerary. Overall, it adds about a half hour to your schedule.

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Last updated on April 14, 2022
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