Spending a week in Palatka to explore the Bartram National Recreation Trail on a Bartram Adventure Tour gave us a new appreciation for this city on the St. Johns River.
Having embraced their historic significance through the visits of naturalists John and William Bartram in the late 1700s, Palatka has improved its waterfront and added interpretation from these early explorers of Florida.
Restoration of its riverfront now includes a ribbon of green leading south from the Memorial Bridge that US 17 and SR 100 use to cross the St. Johns River, with a riverwalk connecting a kayak launch, fishing pier, Bartram-themed playground, and the marina.
Multiple long bike paths meet here, and the Florida Trail passes through public lands only three miles west of the city, so both hikers and cyclists consider this a trail town, an important stop for rest and resupply.
Add in nearby state parks, state forests, water management areas, and the Ocala National Forest, and the sheer volume of public lands around Palatka make this a great base camp for outdoor recreation.
The Bartram Trail in Putnam County
A National Recreation Trail, the Bartram Trail in Putnam County is made up of interpretive sites based on the writings of John and William Bartram.
Father and son naturalists from Philadelphia, they came to Florida to collect botanical specimens and reconnaissance on this new land under British rule, as John Bartram was the designated Royal Botanist for King George III when the duo made an expedition starting in 1765.
John’s Journal recounts following the St. Johns River up to its assumed source, 215 miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean. In 1774, William Bartram returned to the river and retraced the route under the patronage of Dr. John Fothergill, who paid handsomely for botanical specimens. His Travels, more well known than his father’s published work, defined many Florida creatures and flowers for the first time, including the gopher tortoise and Ixea caelestina, now called Bartram’s Ixia.
In 2018, we participated in a week-long guided tour led by local Bartram experts, and learned more than we ever knew before about the Bartram’s influence on the world’s earliest perceptions of Florida. When tours are again available, we highly recommend taking one. The local Bartram Committee also puts on an annual Bartram Frolic, loosely based on the “Indian Frolic” William Bartram describes at Palatka in the fall of 1774.
Trails and Parks Around Palatka
Best Trails Around Palatka
These are our top picks for hiking and biking in the Palatka area
Home of ancient cypress trees and the remains of a 1700s rice plantation, Rice Creek Conservation Area has a fascinating loop trail along the statewide Florida Trail
With a corridor spanning nearly 50 miles through North Florida, the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail provides paved trail for riders and an unpaved corridor used by the Florida Trail
Connecting two of North Florida’s most historic cities, the Palatka to St. Augustine Trail follows the route of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway through rural farming communities
Important Public Lands Around Palatka
You’ll find multiple recreational opportunities on these public lands near Palatka
Recent Additions and Updates
Our most recently updated public lands and trails in the Palatka area
Where to Stay in Palatka
In the South Historic District, The Bartram Inn is a favorite for its quick access to Ravine Gardens and to the riverwalk, across the bridge and over to the Palatka-St. Augustine Trail. It’s run by a friend of ours who is an avid cyclist. There is also a Hampton Inn overlooking Riverfront Park. Both allow you to easily walk into downtown for meals.
We’ve also made use of the Sleep Inn and Holiday Inn off SR 100 on the west side of town, closer to the Florida Trail, Ocala National Forest, and the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail.
Rodman Campground is the nearest woodsy place to pull your RV into, but there are also some quiet fish camps with cabins along the St. Johns River in Welaka.