For our last stay in Florida, we went north. All the way north into the panhandle and then west until we were right near the Alabama border at Florida Caverns State Park. A few years ago we spent about a month exploring the fantastic beaches of the panhandle. It was late in the year and while the water was positively freezing and the air temperatures the opposite of ideal beach weather, the sparkling white sand and emerald green water were nothing short of magical. The practically empty beaches at that time of year were also nice. So when we decided to revisit the panhandle we immediately thought about going back to the beach. Except we didn’t think about it until far too late and all those lovely state beaches were booked full of families on spring break.
So we moved on to plan B. Florida Caverns State Park and Falling Waters State Park were among the top picks. Both sounded nice, but the choice was made for us when Falling Waters only had a handful of sites available for one or two nights at a time. Florida Caverns didn’t have much more (apparently lots of kids have the week after Easter off school) but we managed to snag one of the last sites available for the whole week.
The campground at Florida Caverns is on the small side with only 20 or so sites. Even though it was nearly full every night, the generous spacing between sites made it feel much larger. We were pleasantly surprised upon arrival to discover that in addition to the usual water and electric hook-ups that FL state parks offer, there was a sewer hook up as well. How fancy! And for twenty bucks a night quite a deal.
The main attraction of the park are the caverns. We’ve visited a number of caves around the country and honestly didn’t expect much from these. Which made the hour long tour we took through a winding series of caverns filled with interesting formations even better. While not nearly as awe inspiring as Carlsbad Caverns, or as jaw-droppingly beautiful as the Caverns of Sonora, Florida Caverns can certainly hold it’s own among some of the more popular underground attractions that we’ve visited.
They offer guided tours throughout the day for $8/person. We choose the special 4:00 flashlight tour. When we visited the Mammoth Caves we did a lantern tour and thought it added something a little extra to the experience. It was just us and a family of four on the tour and since it was the last one of the day the ranger told us we could spend as much time as we wanted down there. I only took a few photos because a cave lit only by flashlight is not the best environment for photography.
The other popular attraction in the park is the blue hole.
This aquamarine spring fed pool is estimated to be around 26 feet deep and filled with chilly water that maintains a year-round temperature of 64 degrees. I read somewhere that according to local legend the name blue hole comes from the fact that the spring is a “hole filled with water so cold it will turn you blue!” Or it could just be referring the color of the water. Regardless, it was too cold for us to swim in. But judging by a number of suits and towels we saw hanging around the campground, we were one of the few not to try it.
Over the course of the week, we rode our bikes around the park and hiked all the short trails. None were especially impressive, but the Bluff Trail did offer some views of the swampy river below.
Speaking of the river, we went for a surprisingly cool upstream paddle in the Chipola River. The ranger told us that if we paddled for about 45 minutes we would come upon a branch on the right that led to a crystal clear spring. After paddling the murky water for far less than 45 minutes we reached the turn-off. While the spring was not yet in sight, the clear water indicated that it was near.
A cabbage type plant covered the bottom of the river and gave it an emerald green glow.
We reached the spring and marveled at the blue water below. While still very chilly, this clear spring was actually much more appealing for swimming than the murky water over at the blue hole. That doesn’t mean we went in though…
The paddle back downstream was easy as we were able to ride the current the whole way.
And with that, we wrap up our time at Florida Caverns State Park and our winter in Florida. After four and half months we are excited to be heading north!
You all certainly ended on a high note!! I’m sure you guys have seen more spectacular but it looks pretty nice to me. I know what you mean by the beaches along that coastal area. Just beautiful….clean and white and if you hit them at the right time, not too crowded.
We definitely had some great adventures in FL and this was a good ending. And yes, those beaches in the Panhandle are some of the best around!
Ooh, thanks for the heads-up, I’m hoping to visit the area next winter and finding a state park with FHU is not easy.
Re: gators — I’m worried about them. How do you know which areas are safe to swim? I’d love to do a cannonball into that blue water — but worry about being chomped. Also worried about my little dog when we visit the state, need to look at a map of the gator range.
All public parks with alligators have signs, and if you are in an area of Florida with fresh water nearby there will be gators. That said, they aren’t necessarily out to get you and they are generally considered not aggressive unless it’s mating season or you encounter mamas with babies. I would be careful with your little dog though. I’ve read stories about gators seeing small dogs riding on kayaks and thinking they are food!
I am a resident of Jackson County, FL, where FL Caverns State Park is located. All public parks with WATER areas are required to tell you tell are alligators.
I, myself, do not walk quietly at water’s edge, or let my young boys. I would not let my dog either. As for swimming, you should only swim in designated areas. And, NEVER swim alone. It is best to swim with a lot of other swimmers around and, you should be on the inside of the crowd.
Thanks for chiming in with this info. We never felt overly threatened in our hard-sided kayaks, but swimming in water with alligators is a whole different story!
So beautiful!! Riding the current is such a great shot – it looks magical :-)
That kayaking adventure did have a magical feel to it!