Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Welaka State Forest is located along the east bank of the picturesque 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. In 1935, under the Federal Resettlement Administration, the United States government started the Welaka Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Project on a state of Florida fish hatchery site. The Welaka property was later transferred to the University of Florida as the “University of Florida Conservation Reserve, Welaka” for the study of forestry and wildlife. In 1992 the lease was transferred from the University of Florida to the Florida Forest Service to manage as a state forest.
Welaka State Forest is located in northeastern Florida, approximately 17 miles south of Palatka, off of U.S. Highway 17. The forest headquarters and training facilities are on the east side of County Road 309, about one mile south of the town of Welaka. The Mud Spring Trailhead is located just across the highway, and the equestrian facilities are located about ½ mile east of the forest headquarters. The John’s Landing Trail is located another mile south on the west side of County Road 309 at the firetower site.
Welaka State Forest has over 4 miles of river frontage long the east bank of Little Lake George on the St. Johns River; although most of it is swampy and inaccessible. With the Ocala National Forest on one side and Welaka State Forest on the other, this is one of the best preserved natural sections of the St. Johns River. Large cypress and pine trees provide numerous eagle nest sites on both sides of the river.
Natural communities on Welaka State Forest include river swamps, pine flatwoods, sandhills and flatwoods lakes. 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. The east side of the forest features sandhills, open pine savannas dominated by longleaf pines and wiregrass. This is where the largest population of gopher tortoises and all their burrow dependent associates are found. As you move toward the river, land becomes more level, turning into flatwoods and adjacent wetlands. The swampiest natural communities are adjacent to the St. Johns River.
Welaka State Forest contains two hiking trails that are included in the Florida Forest Service's Trailwalker Hiking Program. These foot trails offer the public an opportunity to quietly walk and observe wildlife. Mud Spring Trail starts at the trailhead directly across from the forest headquarters, and leads visitors on a 2-mile self-guided looped walk to Mud Spring. The John's Landing Trail allows visitors a longer 3 mile or 4.5 mile hike. It meanders along old road beds to the St. Johns River. A third hiking trail is the Environmental Education Trail which shares a trailhead with the John’s Landing Trail. It’s a short half-mile loop with interpretive signage along the route. Visitors may also be interested in driving the scenic Indian Pond Road which gives motorists an opportunity to observe a portion of the forest from the comfort of their vehicles. Welaka State Forest is part of the Bartram trail in Putnam County, which follows the route of William Bartram’s travels via waterway, hiking, biking and driving routes.
The eastern half of Welaka State Forest boasts18 miles of multi-use trails which are primarily used by equestrian riders. This includes the 6-mile long Sandhill Horse Trail which is part of the Florida Trailtrotter Program. Welaka State Forest also offers three 24-stall horse stables, training arenas, a show horse arena, a training room, dorm rooms, and kitchen facilities which are all available for rental.
All horses must have proof of current negative Coggins test results when on state lands. Leashed pets are allowed on the forest but not in any buildings, dorms, or offices.
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.