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Hidden Gem: The Fort Gates Ferry

Tom Rose

Tom Rose is a freelance journalist specializing in outdoor, adventure and motor sports stories. His work has appeared in Rider Magazine, Florida Wildlife, Outdoor Adventures, Motorcycle Classics and many other national and regional publications. Tom has been an active member of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway for 4 years and a regular contributor to the Byway Newsletter. http://tomrosejournalist.blogspot.com/


Hidden Gem: The Fort Gates Ferry

There are so many great options for exploration of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway that it is difficult to zero in on just one. However, I do have a favorite that for me stands out. That would be just about any Byway motorcycle ride that includes a crossing of the St. Johns River on the historic Ft. Gates Ferry.

The Ft. Gates Ferry began operating almost 200 years ago to facilitate the river crossings of U.S. Army troops during the Seminole War. Originally the ferry operated manually by a cable/winch system. It evolved over the years to the present operation which was set up in 1946, consisting of a barge capable of transporting 2 cars, up to 20 motorcycles and numerous bicycle and foot passengers. The power comes from a small tug boat (converted sail boat) powered by an Isuzu Diesel engine. It is Florida’s oldest continuously operated ferry. It is also the only privately owned and operated ferry in the Florida transportation system.

A good route is to approach the ferry from SR 19 at Salt Springs. It is 7 miles of dirt and gravel on Forest Roads 62 & 29 to the west side ferry landing. The road winds through a particularly beautiful remote section of the Ocala National Forest.  It is an opportunity for some outstanding wildlife observation including deer, turkey, fox squirrel, scrub jay and black bear. Once you reach to ferry landing just pull up to the ramp and flash your head light. That is the signal that you want to be picked up. Be patient, within a few minutes you’ll see the ferry leave its base on the eastern side of the river and head your way.

The river is narrow here, less than ½ mile. You’ll enjoy crossing the mighty St. Johns at this pristine wilderness location. It is not unusual to see alligators, otters, turtles and a variety of waterfowl. The 20 minute ferry ride will provide a lifetime memory. From the eastern landing it is just a couple of miles to US Hwy 17 and modern civilization.

You will have experienced a real Florida back country adventure. You’ll be able to tell your friends about a unique and different Florida, far removed from the standard Florida theme park vacation. Yes, you will have experienced the real Florida.

Ferry Facts: The Ferry and the approach on Forest Roads 62 & 29 are a part of The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.  One way fare car $10, motorcycle $5. It operates from 7 am to 5:30 pm daily except Tuesday. Approaching from the west, pull up to the landing and blink your headlights. The ferry will come get you.  It is a good idea to call ahead to be sure the ferry is operating. Traveling from Crescent City to Salt Springs via the ferry is 20 miles, a savings of some 35 miles.  The ferry has a capacity of 5 tons.

FORT GATES FERRY 229 FT GATES FRY RD CRESCENT CITY, FL  32112   Contact Person: DALE JONES, Vice President & Ferry Captain   Phone: (386) 467-2411