We're glad that we've now discovered this "piece of paradise" in the
Jacksonville, Florida area, too. It's one of the nicest military
campgrounds where we've ever stayed.
Jim found it while researching
southeastern Fam Camps online. We made reservations
for the last week of January here at Mayport, and the whole month of February a few
miles north at Kings Bay Submarine Base.
View of the St. Johns River from Dolphin Run Park
in front of the campground;
you can see several speed boats near Huguenot Park
on the north side of the river.
While in Savannah we heard such great reviews of Pelican Roost from
other RVers that we called to also reserve a space for the first two
weeks in March before even seeing this place. We think that's a good
decision because this campground has so much to offer.
Unfortunately, reservations are limited to two weeks at a time but
that gives more people the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful RV park.
Fortunately, if there is a spot available at the end of the two weeks,
folks can extend one to seven more days.
That usually doesn't happen in the winter, however, because the place
stays full most days.
There is also a long-term campground at Mayport but it's hard to
get in for the whole winter unless you reserve a spot to begin in
October or November. I'll talk about it later in this entry.
HERE WE ARE!
We had a relatively short drive from Hunter Army
Airfield in Savannah to Pelican Roost RV Park. Our GPS correctly directed us to
the main gate at the
Mayport Naval Station, which is one of
three Navy installations in the Jacksonville area.
This base is close to the town of Mayport on the St. Johns River.
Base property borders the Jacksonville city limits on the west and
south, the river to the north, and the Atlantic ocean to the east.
Here's a map section showing more detail of the base:
The campground, under the arrow I drew on the map section above, is in
a great location next to the river -- with a
front-seat view of Navy and private ships coming and going -- and a
1/3-mile walk to the Atlantic beach.
The Navy bases in Jacksonville require RVers and other repeat
visitors to get a decal on their first visit. In addition to filling out
a lengthy form at the office near the gate, you need military ID, proof of insurance,
and vehicle registration. It's a bit of a hassle initially but the decal
is good for entry to all three of these Navy bases for the next five years.
I believe this is the first time we've had to apply for a decal on a military
base. Guards still check ID each time we re-enter the base.
The building to the right is for fire fighter
training -- very interesting to watch!
It was much easier to find this campground than
some at other military installations.
We arrived at the RV park just after 2 PM and got checked in efficiently
by the efficient MWR staff on duty.
It's very handy to have one or more MWR employees stationed right in the
campground on weekdays so you can pay there, extend reservations, ask
Side view of
the campground activity room and MWR office
At most other FamCamps where we've stayed, MWR is in a building up to several miles away
and we have to go there to pay our campground fee.
At Pelican Roost there is another MWR
building on base that handles all the other recreational activities like
renting boats, campers, and equipment.
In addition to the MWR staff at Pelican Roost there are also two amiable campground
host couples that rotate duties during the evening and on weekends.
This RV park has 49 well-spaced campsites with full hookups and
additional overflow sites with no hookups on grass at the rear of the
campground. There is also a designated tent camping area.
The prime spots are the
19 pull-thru waterfront sites, which are about 100 feet from the wide
St. Johns River channel. The sites are about 100 feet long. A paved
road, a linear, grassy Dolphin Run Park, and a low wall of rip-rap are
all that separate these campsites from a perfect view of all the ships
L-R in front row: Class A motorhome,
5th-wheel coach, Class A, Class A
These sites are particularly good for people with motorhomes because
their large windshields face the water. Although 5th-wheel and travel
trailers have fewer windows on the front (that's usually their
sleeping quarters), you can still get good views of the river from side
windows in the waterfront sites.
One guy pulled his 5th-wheel in the wrong way so his back bay windows
faced the water but he was quickly told to turn around the proper
direction. The reason given was safety in case of a hurricane
The major downside to
the waterfront sites is the wind. The sites in the back row and a half
may not have as good views but they are more protected.
A second and partial third tier of back-in sites lie behind the
waterfront sites. They are not as long as the front row but most of them
have as much space between sites. Some of the second-row sites have
unobstructed views of the river.
When we made our reservations we asked about a waterfront site but they
were all reserved for our time period (unless we wanted to move a few
Upon arrival we had a choice of two second-tier back-in sites.
We chose one near the western end of the RV park where we had a better
view of the river, especially when one of the waterfront sites in front
of us was empty -- see next photo from my desk window:
We like our site. It has a large concrete pad and about 20 feet of grass
on either side between us and our neighbors. We have some nice palm
trees on our site and a picnic table.
The only downside is the noise and bright lights from the ball field
complex right behind us (with a tall chain link fence and high
protective netting). Sailors are often out there doing noisy
calisthenics before daylight.
Their morning running route also begins and ends there so it's fun to
watch them go out and back on the road between the RV park and river:
Tent camping area is under the trees; runners go by on the road between
campground and river. We get some beautiful sunrises and sunsets here.
So what does a site
cost in this little slice of paradise?
It's $21/day for waterfront sites and $19/day for the back-in sites.
That includes water, electricity, sewer, cable, and free WiFi, which is
not the greatest. Our Verizon cell phones and MiFi internet connections
work fine, though.
There are no weekly rates or refunds and people must cancel their reservations 14 days in
advance or be charged one night's fee -- that's the most strict
cancellation/refund policy we've found at military campgrounds so far.
You can't beat this RV park for entertainment.
In addition to all the Navy vessels, commercial ships, fishing boats,
and recreational watercraft that you can see from the campground, there
are also lots of fishermen, other people, feral cats, dogs, migratory
and resident birds, and dolphins to watch.
View from our campsite of a German container ship
heading for the docks in Jacksonville;
we've got a great view when one or more of the
sites in front of us are empty!
We haven't seen pelicans close to the campground but there are lots of
them on the rocks (jetty) closer to
the mouth of the river channel. I'll show photos of them in the next
entry, which focuses on the beach.
We don't have to go very far to walk along the scenic river.
We're about 100 feet from grassy Dolphin Run Park and 175
feet from the St. Johns River. RVers are asked to walk their dogs at the
park so we're over there often to let Cody and Casey do their business.
At five months of age Casey has to pee fairly frequently . . .
End of Dolphin Run Park near the shipping yard
Looking east toward the other end of Dolphin Run
Multiple daily trips
across the road to the grassy area are no problem. The
weather has been good and it's
great fun to see the tide go in and out, watch all the activity on and
near the water, and enjoy the scenic beach-and-dune views across the
channel at Huguenot Park.
Most days we can spot dolphins jumping in and out of the water in the
Dolphin at high tide
All the nearby ships don't seem to bother them.
People fish for smaller marine life from the boulders used to prevent
the waves from eroding the sides of the wide river:
This couple is out there fishing every morning.
At least a dozen feral cats hang out in the park and on the rocks near
the fishermen, hoping for fish scraps or bait:
They also come into the campground looking for food. Unfortunately, some
campers feed them. That's a no-no. One of the other campers told me
there used to be about 200 cats hanging out until Animal Control, um,
Casey-pup really wants to meet those cats! Cody learned long ago
not to mess with cats.
I've never seen so
many kinds of boats and ships in one place before. It fascinates the
heck out of me to watch them come and go.
Pelican Roost RV Park is
situated about half a mile upstream (west) of the mouth of the St. Johns River
into the Atlantic Ocean.
Mayport Basin, which is the large shipyard for
the Naval Station, is about a minute's walk upstream from our campsite.
If we walk out to the nearby road and look left, we can see the large
ships docked there:
Sunrise brightens the Navy shipyard at high tide.
The gate is closed in this picture.
It's fun to walk across the grassy strip toward the water and watch the
Coast Guard boats guarding the entry "gate" to the shipyard.
We know a ship is either coming in or going out fairly soon when the
gate is open:
Open gate to the shipyard at sunset
and low tide; center left in photo
a Coast Guard boat is patrolling the water with
its lights on.
What a variety of ships come in and out! They aren't just American, either.
This week we've been treated to the national anthems
of not only the U.S. at 8 AM each day but also the national anthems of
Germany and Canada -- because those countries each have a ship
docked in the yard:
German flag on the Hamburg
F220 Hamburg, a German frigate
We can also see the ships from the roads inside the base on three
sides of the large ship yard. Jim likes to ride his bike over there and
he took me in the truck to see them one day.
The ship yard can accommodate almost three dozen ships at one time.
Ship yard at sunset
There is also quite a variety of recreational boats (sailboats and
motorboats) and commercial ships (cruise ships, container
ships, barges, ships hauling hundreds of cars, shrimp boats, etc.)
plying the water on the north side of the river channel, heading to
points closer to downtown Jacksonville.
We hear lots of helicopters flying to and from the base, too, but
there are fewer aircraft here than at the Air Force bases or Army
airfields where we've stayed. This base has an airfield with one
8,000-foot runway. A larger naval air station is about 25 air miles from
Mayport, at the southern end of Jacksonville.
SHIPS WE'VE IDENTIFIED
We've been so fascinated with the various ships coming in and out that
we've looked online to determine the types and names of some of them.
Here's a partial list of the ones that have been here this week:
the HMCS Preserver (Canadian supply ship)
the F 220 Hamburg (a German frigate with stealth-like destroyer capability)
the USNS Kanawah
(T-AO 196), a fleet replenishment oiler
the USS Simpson (a guided-missile frigate)
CG-68 (the USS Anzio, another guided-missile cruiser)
CG 66 (the USS Hué City, a guided-missile cruiser named
for the Battle of Hué
during the 1968 Viet Nam Tet Offensive)
the USS Underwood FFG 36
(guided missile frigate completed in 1982 and set to be decommissioned this year)
the Wave Knight A 389 (a British fast fleet tanker that
delivers fuel, food, fresh water, etc. to other ships)
There are also several Coast Guard boats protecting the Navy yard and
guiding military ships in and out to/from the Atlantic:
article has a more complete list of
the frigates, cruisers, destroyers, amphibious docks, and other ships
based at Mayport.
- the Hamburg, a German container ship
a Hyundai container ship from South Korea
a Crowley barge;
this U.S. company transports petroleum and chemicals
A cruise ship
- a Spliethoff
cargo ship from the Netherlands; the company hauls dry cargo
- a couple cruise
ships headed for warm Caribbean islands
In 2009 Congress approved legislation to upgrade the Mayport Naval
Station so it can accommodate one or more nuclear aircraft carriers and
the ships that support them.
Currently the only such carriers on the east coast are based at Norfolk,
VA, leaving the country more vulnerable to nuclear attack than if they
were located in more than one place. Moving one or more carriers to
Mayport involves some major personnel and infrastructure changes,
including making the ship yard more accessible to such large ships.
Ship yard at sunrise; the moon is
setting in the west.
This winter the busy St. Johns River channel is being dredged around the
clock until the water is deep enough to accommodate several large
Navy ships from Norfolk that will be coming in later this year and next.
Sand and small rocks continually fill in the channel from the
ocean tides so this is a periodic endeavor that must be taken.
The channel is being dredged to a
depth of 38 feet on the north side used by commercial ships and 42-47 feet
deep on the Navy side of the river going to the ship yard:
Dredging on the north side of the river at sunset
The Weeks Marine base of operations for the
dredging is lit up all night.
It is stationed on the south (Navy base) side of
When enough sand has
been collected the company doing this extensive job -- Weeks
Marine -- will fill in the
beach on the east side of the Naval Station from the river jetty to the
south boundary of the base at Hanna Park, a distance of about
miles. That phase of the project hasn't begun yet.
Here's a shot of the Weeks equipment from the closest Navy pier at the
I'll include photos in the
next entry that show how narrow that beach is during high tide. It's
just about ready to erode the dunes.
The upside of this project is being able to watch the dredging machinery
on both sides of the river. The downside is some noise, but we don't
hear it inside our camper and it's not too annoying when we're outside
in the park next to the river.
OSPREY COVE CAMPGROUND
In the busy winter months snowbirds can usually stay only a max of
fourteen days at Pelican Roost RV Park. Longer-term visitors can stay at a
second RV park on base,
Osprey Cove, on the south side of the base.
We've ridden our bikes over to Osprey
Cove several times. The sites are fairly large but some look difficult
to back in a large 5th-wheel or travel trailer because they must go up
and over curbs, as in the photo above.
The sites are mostly shady and are close to
There are 50 full hookup sites that
cost $18/day. I don't believe there is a monthly rate.
This week Osprey Cove has been
completely full. One of our campground hosts said we'd have to reserve a
site beginning in October or November to secure a site there for several
months during the winter. (Some snowbirds don't go south until after
Thanksgiving or Christmas.)
CAMPGROUND ACTIVITIES & AMENITIES
Pelican Roost and Osprey Cove RV Parks share the same activity
calendar, including ice cream socials every Saturday night and a pancake
breakfast every other Saturday morning. Potluck suppers, holiday
parties, trips to restaurants in Jacksonville, arts and crafts sales,
and other activities are also planned each month for those who are interested.
Most of the socials are held in the large activity center at Pelican
Roost. While here we enjoyed a pancake breakfast and ice cream social:
The arts and crafts sale that day was very small. It featured a
couple RVers who make jewelry and wood products and a man who was
selling honey products from the bees he keeps at his home in Virginia.
Near this building is a separate laundry room with several washers
and dryers that are free for campers to use. Usually military
campgrounds have washers and dryers that are less expensive than those
off-base but we don't often run into FamCamps where the machines are
free. I know the cost is embedded in the campground fee but with as much
laundry as we do, it's very cost-effective for us.
We've seen lots of beautiful
herons and egrets between the river and campground.
A minor downside to camping at Mayport Naval Station is not having a
BX or commissary on base. They are located two or three miles south of
the main gate on Route AIA. I think this is the first time we've camped
at a military installation where the BX/NEX/PX and commissary are off-base.
There are many more positives to staying at this base than
negatives, however. The high occupancy rates at both campgrounds
in the winter are testament to their popularity with
Next entry: life's a beach at Mayport Naval Station
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2013 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil