Visiting Florida's state parks and beyond in our Roadtrek. This is how we saw it all. Hopefully, the posts will give you some useful information. Questions and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Week at Florida Caverns State Park

Another CCC built state park and a really nice park. The attraction here is the cavern, of course.  But, there are many miles of nice hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.  And, even a nice 9-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones.  The park has been designated a National Nature Landmark.

The campsites are all full hookup, shaded, level and most afford a lot of space between and privacy foliage.  Very neat and clean campground and facilities.  A couple of sites are right on a small creek.

The loop is paved with sites clearly marked and defined. Nice for an evening walk or take the short easy trail to Blue Hole that starts at the markers on the bottom right.  One can walk or bike this trail.  Watch out for tree roots, though.  Or, you can take the paved road.

 Blue Hole is the largest picnic area in the park.  In addition to the swimming hole, it has a large lawn area, amphitheater, covered pavilion, restroom/bath house, and it is the equestrian camping area with hook-ups and stables.  Here, also, is the start of a 3 mile multi-purpose trail: hiking, biking, equestrian.  This trail, in my opinion, is pretty much a workout trail.  Nothing exciting along the way, but a nice hike. Did I mention there is an occupied bat house at the amphitheater?

Blue Hole boardwalk. A variety of trees surround the area.  Among them the near-extinct Torreya.  Down the road the Torreya State Park is dedicated to bringing this species back.

Blue Hole from the boardwalk. 

Spring fed, presumably natural chemicals in the water create the blue hue. But in the direct sun it is more a vivid yellow-green.  Swimming in the hole means sharing with small gators, turtles and fish.

Our main reason for being here is the cavern. Tickets for the tour are first come, first served for that day only.  Get there early.   So, at 7:45 in the morning we take the two mile bike ride to the museum and cavern entrance.  There is about 6 miles of good hardtop for biking, by the way.  But, bring your 10-speed.  This is north Florida.  Uphill, downhill.

The cavern tour begins here at the Visitor Center which was built in 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).  It contains an interactive museum and small store.  No food or drink allowed in the cavern, though.

The cavern entrance.  You get a second chance to back out before the steel door is shut. We got the first tour of the day and an excellent guide; part-time ranger Kevin. The tour takes 45-60 minutes, is not real strenuous, but you have to be able to bend and walk low, not be claustrophobic, and able to walk on uneven, slippery ground. It's a nice, easy tour, actually.

Following are just a few photos taken in the cavern (don't call it a cave):


Each of the "rooms" has a name appropriate to the formations created.  When asked by the guide what this room is named some of the group got it.  He turned on the green light and the others then got it.  

There are strict rules about touchy feely in the cavern.  So, they have provided a sacrificial column so the curious can see what the stalagmites and stalactites feel like.  This is the one.  It was described as "slimy".
And, of course the question of how dark is it in the cavern without the lights.  Kevin provided the experience.

  You guessed it.

The park has several miles of trails to hike.  Some easy level hiking and some not so.  There are two areas of trails.  One in the cavern area, which has three trails and one near the campground area which also has three trails that are multi-purpose trails: hiking, biking, equestrian.

The beginning of the River Trail (Blue - 2 miles) and the Sink Hole Trail (Red - 1 mile).  Typical of the terrain of both from beginning to end.  Nice hiking.  But, like on all trails take along your bug spray.  One hiker we met likened the mosquitoes to humming birds.  They should put one of those bat houses here.  Maybe, two.

While the Sink Hole Trail takes you by sink holes (hmmm) filled with water and/or various foliage, the River Trail passes by the Chipola River (hmmm, again). Just after the river passes under the road to the museum it disappears underground and resurfaces 1/4 downstream.

Back to the Museum/Cavern area. There are three trails to hike. They are the Beech Magnolia Trail (1/4 mile), Shortcut Trail (500 feet), and the best trail, the Bluff Trail (3/4 mile).  All the trails are beautiful.

 This trail starts out a mild hike, but gets somewhat strenuous as you circle around the flood plain to the cavern exit. You can take the Shortcut trail but you miss an interesting part of the Bluff Trail.  

 Just as the trail turns right into the floodplain bluffs you have a decision to make.  Go through the 90' or so long tunnel cave or bypass it.

Choosing the tunnel you shuffle along in near darkness for a while, mostly stooped over to about 3'. The flash shows you what you may bump your head on.  At the exit you get to stand up again.

After you emerge from the tunnel you are on the flood plain bluffs.  We spotted two deer off in the distance.  It's still dry here. 

As you move along the bluff you encounter elevation changes and a rough path of roots and rocks.

Just beyond the boulder the trail drops abruptly to the left about 15'.  A good place to have a walking cane or helping hand.

Approaching the Chipola River Flood Plain. Smooth walking again for a while.

The trail meanders along the Chipola River Flood Plain.  After the heavy rains to the north of the park, the Chipola River floods this low flat swamp. The Tupelo Cypress, Ash, Black Walnut and other trees slow the flood waters and cause the soil which has eroded from lands upstream to be deposited here on the floor of the swamp. The floodplain swamp is nature's sponge, filter and flood control. 

Also, along this trail expect to see small caves, boulders, and a few permanently gated entrances to the cavern below the trail.  Just before this cave we saw three more deer.

 And finally, some of the flora and fauna we saw during our wanderings:

Blue Flag

The leaf of the Torreya tree.

There were two 3' or so gators in the swimming hole.  Maybe that's why there were no human swimmers.

Gator with dragonfly on eyelid. Hate it when that happens.

 Got an itch.

Southern Hognose on the Sink Hole Trail