It’s hard to imagine caves in Florida that are not submerged. Being the flattest state in the country and home to the highest percentage of wetlands of any state in the lower 48, it seems one wouldn’t have to dig very deep to hit groundwater. Yet air-filled caves do exist in North Florida…and they are spectacular.
The only cavern system in Florida open to the public is at Florida Caverns State Park, located in Marianna, Florida. Once inside, it feels as if you’re deep within a mountain. I’ve toured caves in Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee — this cave system rivals them all. For just $8 (at the time of my visit) you can take a 35-45 minute guided tour. That is, as long as the cave isn’t flooded, which happens from time to time.
Which brings up one very unique feature of this particular cave system. Caves that produce stalactites and stalagmites must have water seepage from above, and this cave is no exception. The difference is this: Florida rests on a leaky waterbed. You see, porous limestone is Florida’s bed. Running through this bed is the Floridan aquifer, perhaps the most productive aquifer on the planet. In the northern half of the state the limestone bed runs at or near the surface, which is why all major springs are in this part of the state. So when the aquifer is running high, this cave system floods through the floor! The water is actually forced upward through the limestone, like a basement that seeps when the water table is high.
The formations, nearly all actively growing, are also quite different than other caves I’ve seen. The combination of calcite (from limestone) and dolomite create glittery formations ranging from colorless to opaque to pure white. In some places the ceiling appears to be layered in thick sheets of raw diamonds. Where other minerals join the mix, like iron, the formations gain a wide range of colors.
Though the cave is a Florida Natural Wonder and the dominant feature of the park, there are plenty of other reasons to visit this park. The park is situated along the Chipola River and even has a spring that feeds the river. Hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, boating, biking and horseback riding (bring your own horse) are all available here. You can fill your belly and quench your thirst at their concessions and/or their restaurant…or pack a picnic. This is also home to Blue Hole Spring, a 2nd magnitude spring. Did I mention they even have a 9-hole golf course?
Park map courtesy of Florida Caverns State Park
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