Managed in cooperation with the
Florida Forest Service

photo of Matanzas
David Moynahan

Just eight miles south of St. Augustine in St. Johns County, the Matanzas Wildlife Management Area (WMA) occupies 4,699 acres within the Matanzas State Forest. The forest protects two miles of estuarine marsh along the Intracoastal Waterway (Matanzas River) - the last remaining undisturbed salt marsh within the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. The forest and WMA are part of the Matanzas Marsh, a 16,000-acre continuous conservation corridor. The marsh was designated as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society and is vital to the protection of water quality and wildlife habitat in the Matanzas River. The area has a rich cultural history and the state forest is a recent addition to the Great Florida Birding Trail.

The majority of the uplands are pine plantation, managed for commercial timbering prior to state purchase in 2003. Other habitats include bay and cypress swamps, hardwood hammock and salt marsh. The Florida Forest Service manages the area using a combination of timber harvesting, invasive species eradication and reforestation. Regular controlled burns improve conditions for vegetation and wildlife. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission administers hunting related activities. Wildlife is abundant and includes gopher tortoises, otters, nesting bald eagles, a large wood stork colony, breeding painted buntings and large aggregations of wading and shorebirds foraging in the freshwater and estuarine wetlands.

Recreational opportunities include hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, bicycling, canoeing and kayaking, wildlife viewing and picnicking. Camping is allowed by permit only from the Florida Forest Service (904-797-5073). The network of unpaved roads is ideal for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. Temporary road closures protect sensitive species. A foot trail winds north along the Matanzas River on the eastern edge of the property, passing through a patch of hardwoods. From September through March, high-quality quota hunts take place on limited days. They include seasons for archery, muzzleloading gun, family hunt, general gun, general gun-hog and spring turkey. The small game season in January does not require a quota permit. Quota permits are required for migratory bird seasons if hunting occurs during any quota period. Fishing and frogging are allowed year-round. Check the list below for regulations and more detailed information about hunting seasons. The forest is open for public use year-round, from sunrise to sunset. Free day use permits are required. Guided tours are available with advance notice. During nonhunting seasons, the entrance gate is locked and visitors must call ahead for a permit and entrance gate combination.

For more information: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (352) 732-1225, and the Florida Forest Service (386) 446-6786, Florida Forest Service.

Rules Regarding Dogs

  • For purposes other than hunting, dogs are allowed, but must be kept under physical restraint at all times.
  • Hunting dogs may be taken onto the WMA after 8 a.m. the day before the opening of a season and shall be removed by 6 p.m. one day after the end of the season. Hunting with dogs other than bird dogs or retrievers is prohibited. Dogs on leashes may be used for trailing game.
  • Dogs are prohibited in areas posted as "Closed to Public Access" by FWC administrative codes. No person shall allow any dog to pursue or molest any wildlife during any period in which the taking of wildlife by the use of dogs is prohibited.

FWC Facts:
American kestrels nest in cavities that they do not excavate. Instead, they depend on woodpeckers and natural processes to create holes in trees.

Learn More at AskFWC