The St. Johns River Paddling Trail
The St. Johns River is Florida’s longest river stretching 310 miles from the St. Johns Marsh near Vero Beach to the inlet at Mayport near Jacksonville. It is Florida’s only American Heritage River.
In Putnam County, the St. Johns runs 60 miles from the northern-most boundary near Bostwick to its southern most boundaries including Drayton Island in Lake George near Georgetown. There is one traffic bridge spanning the river in Palatka. The river is over 2.5 miles wide north of Palatka and less than 1,000 feet wide at several points south of the Buffalo Bluff railroad trestle. There are seven tributaries feeding the river within the county’s boundaries including Florida’s oldest river -- the 130-mile long Ocklawaha River and the end of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.
Early well-know travelers of this section of the river were John and William Bartram, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ulysses S. Grant, Harriet Beecher Stowe along with hoards of French, British and Spanish settlers. For centuries Florida’s original inhabitants paddled Putnam County’s river. There are scores of Native American historic sites along the river including the Mr. Royal Indian Mound site near Fruitland explored by John Bartram. Palatka and this section of the river was the main tourism destination in Florida during the second half of the 19th century having over 1,000 hotel rooms and many riverboats with paddleboats in tow. The most popular trip was a three-day cruise on the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers from Palatka to Silver Springs and back.
Towns and communities along the river include: Palatka, East Palatka, San Mateo, Satsuma, Bostwick, Federal Point, Buffalo Bluff, Stokes Landing, Welaka, Georgetown, Pomona Park, Crescent City, Browns Landing, Shell Harbor, Hermits Cove, Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, Drayton Island, Fruitland, Mt. Royal.
Wild hogs, whitetail deer, Virginia opossums, river otters, raccoons, grey squirrels, wild cats, Florida black bear, manatees.
Water moccasins, rattle snakes, water snakes, gopher frogs, salamanders and alligators.
Swallow-tailed kites, sand hill cranes, osprey, bald eagles, brown pelicans, sea gulls, kingfishers, humming birds, wild turkey and many species of wading birds.
There are many public and private landings along the St. Johns River in Putnam County including Palatka, East Palatka, Crescent City and Welaka. There are nine (9) public landings directly on the river and a total of twenty (20) public landings on attached waterways within the county. There are many other private, fish camp, and marina landings available.
Paddling the St. Johns River:
Because of the width of the St. Johns River, it is recommended that paddlers keep to the beautiful shorelines. There are marked channels on the river and caution should be used when crossing the channels. Wind can be an issue in the wider sections of the river so checking the weather is as essential as it is in any outdoor activity in Florida. List of landings with GPS coordinates will be available on the county’s website and in brochures.