Sometimes, names deceive. At Mud Spring, mud isn’t what you’ll see in the gently rounded basin that cradles an underwater garden in its crystalline waters. This glassy natural pool is the payoff halfway around a gentle hike that is one of the highlights of Welaka State Forest.
Trailhead: 29.4688, -81.6603
Length: 1.7 mile loop
Fees: $2 per person for day use
Open: Sunrise to sunset
Land Manager: Florida Forest Service, PO Box 174, Welaka FL 32193-0174
From Palatka, follow US 17 south to Satsuma. Turn right onto CR 309 and follow the brown signs through Satsuma and Palatka. Look for the Mud Spring trailhead on the right, across from the visitor center and park headquarters.
Follow mint green blazes into the pine flatwoods. When you reach the first trail junction, turn right. Little plank bridges carry you over the drainages of bayheads scattered throughout the longleaf and pond pines. Tall and gnarled sand live oaks stand in small groves.
At 0.3 mile, you meet the junction of the return loop. Continue straight, passing the “Spring” sign. Blueberries and bracken ferns crowd the understory. After you cross a bridge, you come to a trail junction. Bear left. At the next intersection, a sign says “Eagle Nest Row.” It’s one of the network of named forest roads in Welaka State Forest. Continue straight across, following the mint green blazes into a mixed hardwood forest full of oaks and southern magnolia.
Dropping down past towering saw palmettos, the trail crosses two short boardwalks through a floodplain forest of hickory, red maple, and cabbage palms. After 0.7 mile, you emerge in a clearing with a picnic pavilion off to the left. Mud Spring lies directly ahead. Turn right to walk around it.
No larger than a swimming pool, this breathtaking spring pumps out as much as 1.4 million gallons of water each day. It flows under the trail out to Mud Spring Run, which is only a half mile long, to reach the St. Johns River. A boardwalk leads out to the edge of the run.
From the grassy shore, the water seems perfectly clear. Peer into its depths to see strands of strapleaf sagittaria and curving streamers of coontail. Within its virtual forest, striped bass and sheepshead dart. Mind the edges of the spring, as that’s where you’re most likely to spy a water moccasin.
As you leave Mud Spring, pass by the picnic pavilion and the sign for Bobcat Crossing, the forest road that leads down to the clearing with the spring. Eventually, the trail joins Bobcat Crossing and follows it up to Eagle Nest Row. Soon after you cross this intersection at 1.1 miles, watch for the mint green blazes to guide you left at a junction. Looping around, the trail leads you into drier habitats until you’ve entered a straightaway through a scrub forest.
Reaching a T intersection with the incoming trail, you complete the loop at 1.4 miles. Turn right to continue uphill to exit.