Along three miles of frontage along the St. Marys River, which defines the border between Florida and Georgia in this part of the state, Bethea State Forest is west and south of the state line.
This state forest hugs the state border. It is a wet place, where cypress domes, basin swamps, and bottomland forest contribute their waters to the east-flowing St. Marys River.
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Headquarters: 30.515882, -82.235864
Address: 11656 SR 2, Sanderson
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Open sunrise to sunset for day use, 24 hours for registered campers. Leashed dogs welcome.
Seasonal hunting occurs. If you plan to hit the trails here, check ahead regards hunt dates. Hunting is managed by FWC under Osceola WMA regulations.
Heading west on Interstate 10, take exit 333 and follow signs for Glen St. Mary. You will pass through Glen St Mary in 1 mile. Remain on Glen Ave for 8.8 miles before turning right onto CR 127. After 10 miles, you will reach SR 2.
SR 2 provides access to several entrances into the forest. A popular destination is Maple Set Recreation Area along the St. Marys River headwaters, north of SR 2 off CR 127. Eddy Grade, otherwise known as CR 125, provides access to two camping areas, and an equestrian loop is north of CR 122 at Ellis Bay.
About the Forest
Established in 2002, Bethea State Forest is one of the lesser-visited forests in the Florida State Forest system because of its remote location and soggy nature.
Prior to acquisition by the state, the land was primarily managed for timber, turpentine, and cattle grazing, so you will encounter artifacts like catfaced pines and old barbed wire fences in the woods.
Active replacement of planted pines with young longleaf is ongoing, with more than 7,000 acres of pines replanted to restore the longleaf ecosystem.
Equestrians and off-road cyclists can take to the extensive forest road system, but expect soils to be soft and portions of the unimproved two-track roads to seasonally flood.
Paddlers can put in at Maple Set Recreation Area to explore the St. Marys River, which boasts ancient cypress trees along its banks.
Four tent sites are available at Maple Set Campground for $9, accommodating up to 8 campers each. These campsites must be reserved in advance through Reserve America.
There is a pitcher pump with non-potable water, but no bathroom facility. Portalets may be in place seasonally.
The forest also has two hunt camps located off Eddy Grade, south of SR 2. Inquire through the forest headquarters as to how to reserve space at a hunt camp.
There is currently only one established hiking trail in Bethea State Forest, the Maple Set Trail. On this 2.5 mile loop, enjoy scenic views of the tannic St. Marys River.
Maple Set Trail
Providing a peek into an ecologically important area along the eastern edge of Bethea State Forest, the 2.5 mile Maple Set Trail showcases the beauty of the St. Marys River basin.
A 7.5 mile equestrian loop, the Taylor Horse Trail, circles Ellis Bay near the southeast corner of the forest. A trailhead for this loop accommodates horse trailers. The loop is west of CR 127 and north of CR 122.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Osceola National Forest
The smallest of Florida’s national forests, the Osceola National Forest carries the weight of history hidden in its dense stands of longleaf pine.
Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail
Following a historic railroad route that sparked the Battle of Olustee during the Civil War, the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail spans 14.6 miles from Jacksonville to Baldwin
Cary State Forest
Protecting more than 20 square miles of forest northwest of Jacksonville, Cary State Forest has over 20 miles of marked trails for hiking, biking, and equestrian use
Simmons State Forest
With more than 3600 acres along the St. Marys River, Simmons State Forest offers nearly 12 miles of hiking in a botanically significant basin on Florida’s border with Georgia.