Southern Gateway | Umatilla

photo by Charles Barron, courtesy of State Archives of Florida

Umatilla, Gateway to the Ocala National Forest and Gateway to the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway, is located in northern Lake County on SR 19. Umatilla is known as a “Sportman’s Town” and offers many outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, camping and hiking. There are forty fish-rich lakes within two miles of the city limits and several hundred more within a half hour’s drive.

One of the nicest natural springs along the byway is at nearby Alexander Springs Recreation Area. Canoe rentals are available at the Springs for cruising along Alexander River. Umatilla also has close access to the Florida Trail, an unpaved hiking trail that winds its way through the Ocala National Forest.


  • Annual Florida Black Bear Festival
  • Florida Trail Gateway Community
  • Umatilla Municipal Airport

Umatilla’s first “family” settlers were Nathan J. and Rebecca Trowell who came here in 1854. Nathan raised cattle, planted Sea Island cotton and rice, built a grist mill and cotton gin and opened a general store. Raising cattle became the first industry in Umatilla and was an important supply of cattle for troops during the Seminole, Civil and Spanish-American wars. Today, fifth generation descendants of Nathan still live on a portion of his land.

When the railroads came to Florida, Nathan Trowell campaigned for a stop on the new train coming south from Jacksonville. The line to Umatilla was the second rail line in Florida.
The Umatilla area was hit hard by two devastating freezes in late 1894 and early 1895 that virtually destroyed every grove and crop. Many of the surrounding settlements disappeared as families moved out.

Those who stayed and rebuilt the citrus industry were rewarded years later when the groves recovered so well that the countryside through Umatilla was nicknamed ‘the velvet highway’. Following WWII the citrus industry prospered and Umatilla was at its heart. Harsh winter freezes in the 1980s hit the Citrus industry hard again, but many citrus farmers continue to thrive in Umatilla.
Another very historic industry in Umatilla is the beekeeping industry, whose roots run very deep and has seen a rebirth in recent times.

The name of the town was taken from an Oregon town of the same name, an Indian name meaning “laughing waters.” The area was incorporated on November 8, 1904.

Umatilla Chamber of Commerce
23 S Central Ave, Umatilla, FL 32784
(352) 669-3511

Links: Florida Black Bear Festival, Florida Trail Gateway Community, City of Umatilla, Sunsational Citrus