Waldo Blueways Paddle Guide: Lake Alto and Lake Santa Fe

lake alto lake santa fe paddle guide

Explore the Santa Fe Canal and Lake Santa Fe

city of waldo logo

Get to know Waldo!
Located northeast of Gainesville, Waldo is a great place to explore natural wonders with a canoe or kayak and paddle along Waldo’s canal trail connecting Lake Alto and Little Lake Santa Fe.

Visitors to Waldo enjoy treasure hunting at the Waldo Farmer’s and Flea Market, grabbing a bite at the Classic Cafe, taking photos at the red caboose and attending events at Waldo City Square and the Waldo Motorcross Park.

kayak on water

Download our Lake Alto and Lake Santa Fe Paddle Guide [pdf]

Paddle the scenic canal connecting Lake Alto and Little Lake Santa Fe.
Please note that the passability of the canal may vary with changing water levels and may not be suitable for all sizes of watercraft.

Local Boat Ramps:

  1. Waldo Canal Boat Ramp
    14736 NE 152nd St., Waldo
  2. Lake Alto Boat Ramp
    17800 NE 134th Pl., Waldo
  3. Little Lake Santa Fe Boat Ramp
    3786 SE CR 21b, Keystone Heights
  4. Santa Fe Lake Park Boat Ramp
    24500 FL-26, Melrose
  5. Melrose Boat Ramp
    6116 Trout St., Melrose
map of Lake Alto, Little Lake Santa Fe and Lake Santa Fe with locations of boat ramps and roads

Trip Options:

Lake Alto Park to Little Lake Santa Fe
2.5 miles one-way / 5 miles round-trip
2-3 hours paddle time

Waldo Canal Park to Little Lake Santa Fe
Add 2 miles each way for 9 miles round trip
4-5 hours paddle time

Lake Santa Fe Shoreline at Melrose
Explore the southern boundaries of Lake Santa Fe.
This is a prime area for osprey and bald eagle sightings.

Melrose Boat Ramp to Santa Fe Boat Ramp Along Lake Santa Fe Shoreline
2 miles one-way | 4 miles round trip
2 hours paddle time
Boat rentals available at DJ’s Kayak Rentals

people on paddleboards on lake

Discover Melrose! Find supplies and live music at local landmark Chiappinni’s, dine at the Blue Water Bay restaurant, and discover local artists and exhibits at the Melrose Bay Gallery and Bellamy Road Gallery.

Learn More About Waldo’s Historic Waterways

black and white photo of two people in boat

In the 1870’s, Waldo was advertised as a winter playground to tourists escaping from freezing northern temperatures. Downtown Waldo’s train depot provided direct access from the railway for visitors to enjoy plays on stage at the newly constructed Opera House, lunches served on the porch of the Waldo Hotel, along with baseball games, fishing, and sunset cruises on Lake Alto. The downtown bandstand, a gift from a sea captain who found Waldo a delightful place, was always busy with music and lively entertainment. Luxurious flower and vegetable gardens, orange groves, and abundant pear and peach trees flourished in and around Waldo, thanks to Florida’s mild climate and burgeoning commercial agricultural trade.

FS Lewis steamboat illustration

On March 9, 1881 the canal connecting Lake Alto and Lake Santa Fe was completed. Steamboats traversed the waterway, transporting goods from the outlying farms to the train depot in downtown Waldo. From there, commercial crops, including oranges, flowering plants and lumber made the trip on the rail line to markets in the north. The first steamboat made its maiden voyage on the canal in April 1881, carrying a happy group of people from Waldo on a round trip to Melrose. Constructed in Waldo, the steamboat was captained by S.C. Barker and was of the same design as the Mississippi River paddle wheelers. The canal was 30 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and when the water was low, or when soil washed down the canal banks, traffic was blocked until it could be cleared. The Big Freeze in the 1890’s destroyed the groves of citrus, and along with it, much of the area’s agricultural trade. At this time, tourist cruises became the main source of revenue for steamboats on the canal.

postcard with person in fishing boat on lake

Images courtesy State Archives of Florida and Matheson History Museum

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