Welaka State Forest is located along the east bank of the beautiful and historic St. Johns River. The Florida Forest Service maintains the integrity of the forest's natural systems while allowing limited outdoor recreation use and environmental education, especially in the areas of forestry, botany, soils and wildlife ecology. In 1935, under the Federal Resettlement Administration, the United States government started the Welaka Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Project. The Welaka property was later transferred to the University of Florida as a Florida Conservation Reserve for the study of forestry and wildlife. Projects started in the 1940s are still being managed today. Welaka State Forest was acquired for management by the Florida Florida Forest Service in 1992 through a transfer of lease from the University of Florida.
Welaka State Forest is located in northeastern Florida, approximately 17 miles south of Palatka, off of U.S. Highway 17. The forest is on State Road 309, 1 mile south of the town of Welaka.
Functioning ecosystems include wetlands, flatwoods, hammocks, sandhills and bayheads. Mud Spring empties 13,750 gallons per hour of clear spring water into a half-mile spring run that flows into the St. John's River. A large variety of trees and plant life flourish along the river swamps.
There are three kinds of flatwoods that grow at Welaka State Forest. You can find an abundance of longleaf pines, slash pines and pond pines. Hammocks (shady places) can be found in wet, moderately wet, and dry areas throughout the forest. Sandhills are open habitats dominated by longleaf pines and wiregrass.
A series of foot trails offers the public an opportunity to walk and observe wildlife. Mud Spring Trail leads the visitor on a 2-mile self-guided looped walk to Mud Spring Picnic Area. John's Landing Trail meanders along old road beds to the St. Johns River. Welaka State Forest contains two hiking trails that are included in the Florida Forest Service's Trailwalker Hiking Program.
The Sandhill Horse Trail was established for equestrian use as well as hiking. All horses must have proof of current negative Coggins test results when on state lands. Welaka State Forest also manages a 72-horse stable, training arenas and a show horse arena, which are all available for rental. Pets are not allowed in the horse facility area or dorms.
Parking for Mud Spring Nature Trail is located on the west side of State Road 309. Access to the Sandhill Horse Trail is from the road that passes the Welaka Training Facility on the east side of State Road 309. Parking is located beyond the training facility.
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.