William Bartram Scenic and Historic Highway: Natural Beauty
Where: State Road 13 along the St. Johns River, about 25 miles west of St. Augustine.
Length: 17 miles.
How to get around: Car.
Best time to visit: Late March to see the oak trees in full foliage, or December to experience St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights display.
Fun fact: Once filled with agricultural groves, the region is home to town with names like Fruit Cove and Orangedale.
For more info: Check out bartramscenichighway.com.
Eighteenth-century naturalist William Bartram explored much of Florida during his heyday. But only one of the state’s 25 official scenic highways can claim to bear his name, and that’s this road parallel to the St. Johns River.
“William Bartram is the first natural-born botanist in America. He and his father explored this entire area,” said Al Abbatiello, chairman of the William Bartram Scenic Highway and Historic Management Group. “They traveled up the river because it was the only mode of transportation when they were exploring the area.”
Of course we have many more modes of transportation today, but some of the best ways to experience the area are still the simplest: Take a kayak tour of Trout Creek Park or linger in the butterfly garden of Alpine Groves Park. The latter sits on the site of a former citrus grove; visitors can still visit the farm historic house. Whichever park you choose, keep an eye out for eagles, osprey wood ducks and other wildlife that Bartram probably recorded in his journals.
Even if you choose to drive, you’ll be treated to “a beautiful canopy of oak trees, some of them being centuries old” all along the route, Abbatiello assures.
There are also some man-made attractions of note, particularly in the community of Switzerland. Don’t miss the riverfront mansions and historic cemetery.
During his time in Florida, Bartram lived on a plantation near what is today the Shands Bridge spanning the St. Johns River. Food choices were probably limited. But today, it’s not hard to find good eatin’ along the highway. Abbatiello recommends Woodpeckers Backyard BBQ.
“It’s quite quaint,” he said. “Very informal, but the food is outstanding.”
Photos by Daron Dean for VISIT FLORIDA