Santa Fe Canal

Santa Fe Canal

Santa Fe Canal Entrance
Santa Fe Canal Entrance from Lake Alto


The Santa Fe Canal in Alachua County, connects Lake Alto, East of Waldo with Little Lake Santa Fe, north of Earlton. Both lakes comprise the headwaters for the Santa Fe River.  Due to a lack of decent roads after the Civil War, the canal was dug to connect Waldo with Melrose. This was to make transportation between these two towns faster as well as easier. On March 9, 1881 the canal was completed between Lake Alto and Lake Santa Fe. This allowed steamboat access to the surrounding farms to purchase produce. The canal also provided an easier access to the railroad line in Waldo.

The FS Lewis was the first steamboat through the canal and was short lived due to a fire in the boiler room. It was followed by a tugboat style ship the Alert. This boat, shipped from Jacksonville, was considered the most popular boat to cruise the waterway during the canal’s use.

The City of Melrose was the last ship to cruise the Santa Fe Canal. By the mid-1920’s with much improved roads in Alachua County, the canal was no longer utilized.

Canal Details ~ Paddle Notes ~ Flora ~ Fauna

Canal Details:

Location IconLocation: Santa Fe Canal runs between Lake Alto, just East of Waldo at, 29° 46′ 11.4″ N, and Little Santa Fe Lake, north of Earlton at 82° 07′ 24.3″ W.

Kayak Launch IconLaunch points: The Kayak launch is located at Lake Alto Park, 17800 NE 134th Pl, Waldo, FL 32694, open 24 hours, (352) 374-5245. This is a nice park, with a good boat launch.


Distance IconPaddle Distance: The one-way paddle, from the launch to Little Santa Fe Lake is 2.5 miles, making this a 5 mile round trip run.


Duration IconDifficulty: Moderate to difficult depending on the water level and downed trees.  There were several trees across the canal on this trip which took some agility to squeeze under.


Duration IconAverage Paddle Time: Normally we average a little over 2.5 miles per hour and on a river with a good flow more than 3.  The canal presents several obstacles, at least on this trip and with maneuvering the fallen trees we average about 1.75 miles per hour.


Width Depth iconWidth and Depth: The canal averages 30′ – 35′ wide and about 5′ deep.


Current tidal IconCurrent – Tidal: Current is minimal, at best below 0.5 mph


Side Paddle IconSide Paddles: No notable side paddles on this canal.


icon-restroomsRest Areas: There are few areas to stop along the way to go to nature’s call. The best places being in the last half where the banks are steeper and provide a somewhat minimal opportunity to exit your kayak. Best to use the restroom facilities at the launch.

Paddle Notes:

A journey into the past…

Santa Fe Canal Paddle Map
Santa Fe Canal Paddle Map
Santa Fe Canal - James
James on the Santa Fe Canal

Having the opportunity to paddle the Santa Fe Canal is a treat and a journey back in time. The canal is not wide and it was hard to imagine steamboats and tugboats using this canal as a major commerce route.

The entrance is just a little over a half mile south from the launch at Alto Park. The canopy is sparse in this section. Maiden cane lines the shoreline on each side and within a half mile, around the location of the bridge over HWY 1471,  the Duck Weed predominates the surface.

Easily the first half of the canal contains many of the fallen trees, submerged trees and overhangs that have to be maneuvered.  Some were more difficult than others but all were handled without much incident.

Oaks over Santa Fe Canal
Oaks over Santa Fe Canal

The canal passes through the large Santa Fe Swamp and was obvious, looking along the north side of the canal, we were paddling through swamp.

By mid-point the canal becomes more observable with steeper banks exposing roots from gorgeous Oaks and Cypress. The

canopy is cooling and refreshing. As if looking to the light at the end of a tunnel, Santa Fe Canal enters Little Santa Fe Lake. Lined with Cypress trees this was the perfect spot to tie the kayaks and take a break.

Enjoy this short clip of today’s paddle on Santa Fe Canal


Santa Fe Canal enters Little Lake Santa Fe
Santa Fe Canal enters Little Lake Santa Fe

After a nice break we headed back through the canal, into Lake Alto and our launch site. Santa Fe Canal is not what you call an outstanding Florida waterway, but it is one to do just for the trip into the history of this area. This paddle ends another chapter of Florida Paddle Notes


Oaks over Santa Fe Canal
Oaks over Santa Fe Canal

There is quite a diverse population in the tree canopy, with many large trees – Bald CypressTaxodium distichum, Swamp Bay – Persea palustris  and Live OaksQuercus virginiana among others.

The water was predominantly bordered in Maiden CanePanicum hemitomon and Duck WeedLemnoideae spp.




Wildlife: On today’s paddle I was only able to see a couple of Egrets and Herons

Egret and Heron on Santa Fe Canal
Egret and Heron on Santa Fe Canal