Tate's Hell State Forest is one continuous tract of land comprising over 202,437 acres. Conquering this wet and seemingly unproductive area for timber production was the focus of the timber industry from the 1950s to early 1990s.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the hydrology was substantially altered in an attempt to establish extensive tracts of pine plantations and to enhance the production of pine timber. These alterations involved the construction of roads and associated ditches, followed by the planting of large, dense stands of slash pine that were fertilized with phosphorus and nitrogen. The network of roads has increased public access to the area, making it a popular location for local residents to hunt and fish. To protect the Apalachicola Bay from severe freshwater runoff, the state began purchasing the majority of the property with Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program funds in 1994 and has continued to purchase additional lands.
Tate's Hell State Forest is located in Franklin County, between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers. The forest extends into the southeast corner of Liberty County, south of the Apalachicola National Forest and 1.5 miles northwest of the town of Carrabelle. Access Tate's Hell State Forest from U.S. Hwy. 98, County Rd. 67 or State Hwy. 65.
The natural resources found on Tate's Hell State Forest are very diverse due to the unique and various natural community types. At one time Tate's Hell State Forest supported at least 12 major community types, which included wet flatwoods, wet prairie, seepage slope, baygall, floodplain forest, floodplain swamp, basin swamp, upland hardwood forest, sandhill, pine ridges, dense titi thickets and scrub. Currently, the forest contains approximately 107,300 acres of hydric communities such as wet prairie (contains a vast diversity of plant species), wet flatwoods, strand swamp, bottomland forest, baygall and floodplain swamp. Past management practices have disrupted the function of the natural ecosystems on Tate's Hell State Forest. The restoration of these ecosystems is a primary objective of the Florida Forest Service.
Many species of wildlife make their home on the forest, including such rare species as the bald eagle, Florida black bear, gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker. Rare plant species include thick-leaved water-willow (Justicia crassifolia), white birds-in-a-nest (Macbridea alba), Florida bear grass (Nolina atopocarpa), Chapman's butterwort (Pinguicula planifolia), and small-flowered meadow beauty (Rhexia parviflora).
The predominant hydrologic feature within the forest is Tate's Hell Swamp, which drains toward the Apalachicola River and Bay. The river and bay are designated as Outstanding Florida Waters, and are the highest priority water bodies under the Northwest Florida Water Management District's SWIM Program. The Apalachicola River is designated for recreation and propagation and maintenance of a healthy, well-balanced population of fish and wildlife.
Tate's Hell State Forest is home to several stands of dwarf cypress, also known as "miniature" or "hat-rack" cypress. Although some of the trees are over 150 years old, none are taller than about 15 feet. The Ralph G. Kendrick Boardwalk offers an observation tower overlooking one of the areas where these dwarf cypress trees grow most prolifically.
Apalachicola Bay is a State Aquatic Preserve with designated uses such as shellfish propagation and harvesting. Tate's Hell Swamp plays an important role in the function of the marshes in the upper bays south of the forest that serve as nursery areas for Apalachicola Bay. The Tate's Hell Swamp tributaries to East Bay include Cash Creek, High Bluff Creek, Rake Creek, Whiskey George Creek, Juniper Creek and Doyle Creek. The New, Ochlockonee and Crooked rivers are the major rivers that adjoin the state forest. Numerous other creeks flow through the forest, including such named creeks as Alligator, Bear, Cow, Deep, Fish, Gully Branch, Graham, Sunday Rollaway, Pine Log, Roberts, Sanborn, Sandbank, Trout, Womack, and two Juniper creeks. There are no lakes; however, several ponds have formed in old pits, and numerous natural shallow ponds occur throughout the forest.
The Legend of TATE'S HELL...
A tale that has been told for many years recounts how Tate's Hell Swamp got its name. Local legend has it that a farmer by the name of Cebe Tate, armed with only a shotgun and accompanied by his hunting dogs, journeyed into the swamp in search of a panther that was killing his livestock. Although there are several versions of this story, the most common describes Tate as being lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drinking from the murky waters to curb his thirst. Finally he came to a clearing near Carrabelle, living only long enough to murmur the words, "My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell." Cebe Tate's adventure took place in 1875 and ever since, the area has been known as Tate's Hell, the legendary and forbidden swamp.
- Tate's Hell State Forest is in Region B, Segment 5 of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.
- Tate's Hell State Forest is included in the Big Bend Scenic Byway.
Tate's Hell State Forest offers a variety of recreation activities for the outdoor enthusiast. There are 35 miles of rivers, streams and creeks available for canoeing, boating and fishing. A concrete boat launch site is located at Cash Creek, with additional launch sites available at locations throughout the forest. Fishing requires a valid license and is regulated under the direction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Picnicking at one of the many day-use areas is a popular activity on the forest.
Primitive campsites are dispersed throughout the forest. Most sites are on the river banks with canoe/kayak/small boat access and fishing. Find current camping fees. A special-use permit is required for all campsites except the Womack Creek Camping Area. Womack Creek is first come, first serve, with fees deposited in an iron ranger. All stays are restricted to 14 consecutive days in any 30-day period. Camping special-use permits and reservations are available at the Carrabelle Office and the Tallahassee Field Office.
The entire state forest is a Wildlife Management Area and is open to regulated hunting under the direction of the FWC. During general gun and muzzle loading gun hunting season, a State Forest Use Permit is required for primitive camping and is available at the Florida Forest Service office in Carrabelle for a fee. Special permits that allow hunt camps for the duration of the hunting season are also available for a fee. Visit myfwc.com/hunting for information.
In keeping with its mission to protect and manage Florida's forest resources, the Florida Forest Service has developed rules that apply to all state forest visitors. Find out more about state forest fees and rules.
* State Forest Use Permit Required