Discover the beauty of Welaka State Forest on a 5 mile footpath that winds along ecotones and hugs the bluffs of the St. Johns River to showcase the natural wonders that botanist William Bartram documented in 1774. Blazed in light blue, this new loop parallels the John’s Landing Trail but offers a more immersive walk in the woods and an extended ramble along the river.
Trailhead: 29.4688, -81.6603
Length: 5 mile loop
Fees: $2 per person for day use
Open: Sunrise to sunset
There are two campsites along this loop, Orange Point and John’s Landing. Primitive camping is available at both of these scenic sites and costs $10 per site for a maximum of 5 people. Group camping can also be arranged. Contact the forest to reserve in advance of your visit.
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. After you pass this trailhead, the John’s Landing trailhead is a little more than a mile down the road on the right, at the fire tower. Use this trailhead to find the Bartram Loop.
From the fire tower clearing, start at the Forest Education Trail kiosk for a short walk on a gentle interpretive path that meets Eagle Nest Row at the John’s Landing Trail kiosk. Turn left and immediately look for a double blue blaze on the right, with an orange arrow pointing towards it. This is where the William Bartram St. Johns River Loop begins. Its route roughly parallels that of the original John’s Landing Trail, but with a big bonus: it’s not on broad forest roads.
The trail starts out by tunneling into the ecotone between wet flatwoods sweeping uphill to the left, and bayhead swamps down to the right. Although pine needles carpet the footpath, there are erosional features from an earlier narrow road that gather and funnel water. You’ll find yourself walking around puddles after a rain, or even wading down the middle of the trail.
For a brief segment at 0.6 mile, the trail joins the John’s Landing Trail to skirt a bayhead swamp. It leaves Longleaf Lane at an orange arrow for another ramble in the woods down a corridor through the pines.
Winding through a small bayhead, the trail pops out after 1.4 miles at a signed trail junction where Longleaf Lane and Deer Run form a corner on the John’s Landing Trail. Turn right to follow the blue blazes down to Orange Point. This is the first of the two primitive campsites along the hike. Sitting atop a small bluff on the St. Johns River, it’s a beauty spot with a picnic bench and nice views.
Look for the blue blazes beneath a bower of arching live oaks and follow them into the dense bluff forest. This is where the Bartram Loop is at its finest, keeping close to the shoreline of the St. Johns River while it zigzags through palm hammocks. When you reach a junction with an unmarked trail, keep right.
Emerging into a clearing after 2.5 miles, the trail leads you to the second campsite at John’s Landing. It’s much larger than the previous campsite and is frequented by both groups and paddlers, since there is an easy place to bring canoes ashore. A bench offers a view of the cove at John’s Landing.
Follow the blue and orange blazes out to Deer Run and cross it to continue along the loop, sharing the route with the John’s Landing Trail. Watch for a divergence of blazing, where the Bartram Loop slips into the forest to the right. As before, it returns to the main route again as you reach Indian Pond Run.
Take Indian Pond Run past the ponds, returning to the orange blazes of the John’s Landing Trail. Continue along them to close the loop and return to the kiosk at Eagle Nest Row. Take the Forest Education Trail back to the trailhead to complete the hike.