Did you ever want to try spelunking? Experience timeless caverns in Florida, and then go camping at Florida Caverns State Park. We initially stopped here for the night on our road trip to Louisiana. But it is an experience worth repeating.
Timeless Caverns in Florida
Located in Northern Florida in Marianna, Florida Caverns State Park sits on 1300 acres bordering both sides of the Chipola River. Guided cave tours provide unlimited opportunities for viewing cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. In addition, guides will educate you about other formations namely draperies, flow stone, soda straws, columns, and rim stone pools. Certainly, its unbelievable that some of these features are 38 million years old. This is the only place in Florida where you can tour underground dry caverns. Tours are available Thursdays through Mondays with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
What is the Difference Between a Cave and a Cavern?
A cave is a generic term for any space in the ground which does not receive direct sunlight. Whereas a cavern is a specific type of cave. To clarify, a cavern is specifically formed in soluble rock and grows formations such as stalagmites and stalactites. Further examples of types of caves include ice caves formed from meltwater eroding ice through a glacier, sea caves caused by waves eroding rock, lava caves, and rock shelters formed by erosion of weaker rocks leaving harder rock on top.
Stalactites Vs. Stalagmites: What’s the Difference?
- Stalactites- Similar to icicles, they are formations hanging from the roof of a cave formed from dripping calcium salts.
- Stalagmites- These are columns rising from the floor of the cave formed from dripping calcium salts from above.
- Draperies- thin translucent formations made from calcium deposits on the underside of a sloping ceiling to look like drapes
- Flow stone- Sheet like deposits of calcium created when water flows along a wall or floor of a cave
- Soda Straws- these are formed when water seeps slowly through cracks in a cave ceiling causing thin hollow calcium tubes.
- Columns- this is the term for the joining of a stalactite and stalagmite into one vertical structure
- Rim stone Pools- This structure is created when calcite builds up in cave pools to look like steps.
Tips: Make sure to wear comfortable hiking shoes. The footing is uneven and can be slippery. This 45 minute tour is considered moderately strenuous so make sure you are in good health and physically fit. The temperature outdoors may be in the 90’s, but the average temperature in the caves is 65 degrees. Therefore dress accordingly.
Things to do After Touring the Caverns in Florida
After touring the caverns, stop in at the Visitor Center to learn more about the history and geology of this cave system. Upstairs, you can browse maps, exhibits, and historic artifacts. You can also watch a video tour of the caverns. Downstairs you will find information about other park facilities.
This park has something for everyone. In spring and summer enjoy the radiant blooms of the wildflowers. Or you can go fishing, picnicking, or rent a canoe. There is even a nine hole golf course next to the entrance to the park.
If you enjoy hiking, you have a choice between two trails. First, the Visitor Center Trail takes you through tall hardwoods and limestone bluffs. This is a short trail above the river floodplain. For a more extensive hike try the Upper Chipola trails. This provides 6 miles of woodlands along the Chipola River. Although the park doesn’t rent horses, you can ride your own along these trails. The park does have stables if you plan to stay the night. These trails are also open to bicyclists.
Sleeping Under the Stars
38 campsites are available to choose from at Florida Caverns State Park. 32 are located near the Blue Hole camping area which include electricity, water, sewer hookups, picnic table, in ground grill and a fire ring. The equestrian camping area has 3 RV sites that have the above amenities minus the sewer hook ups. 3 additional tent sites are also located in the equestrian area but do not have electricity or sewer. Restrooms with showers are available at both sites. If you want to take a dip, you can swim in the 35′ deep Blue Hole area.
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Caverns in Florida: A Brief History
Thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps we have the ability to tour these caverns today. In 1938 under a program started by FDR to provide work during the depression, workers spent 4 years working these caves. They used chisels and picks to carve the passageways large enough to walk through. For $1 a day they enhanced ridges to make the ground less treacherous. Some were assigned to map the caves and string electric lights making the caverns fit for tourists.
Tips: Make sure to leave yourself enough time to set up camp before dark. Also bring your own firewood. We didn’t. Therefore we had to buy some at the park. It was wet and just caused a bunch of smoke. Also, the ground here gets muddy during the rainy season so check the weather or come prepared for mud. We also brought grill mats that we purchased on line so we wouldn’t have to cook our meal on a dirty grill.
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