Florida Caverns State Park
Caves! In Florida! Yes, Florida Caverns State Park has the only dry (air-filled) caverns that are open to the public and offer tours.
Now caves are really common in Florida, but the vast majority are water-filled. So it's unusual to have caverns that you don't need scuba gear to visit. If you're on vacation in the Panhandle, Florida Caverns State Park is a must-see.
Take Me To The Caves!
The cave tour at the Park takes roughly 45 minutes, and you can see all kinds of formations that you'd expect from a more northerly one. Stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and other eye candy. Just to let you know, it can get cool in the caves. Of course that feels sooooo good after the hot Florida sunshine.
If you're looking for something unusual, call for a Friday or Saturday night reservation on one of the lantern tours. The guide portrays a Civilian Conservation Corps worker from 1940 when the park was first being developed. Tours can be reserved by calling (850) 482-9599
Experience the Caverns
The regular cave tours are first-come-first-served, and are $8.00 per adult (as of April 2010). They run roughly on the hour -- 9 AM, 10AM, 11 AM, etc. When the park is busy, there can be a waiting list; however you can spend some time in the Visitor's Center to get acquainted with what you will see on the tour.
The tour officially starts when you go down into the caves. The steps are steep and they can be slippery so do be careful walking down. There aren't all that many steps though, so it doesn't last too long.
You'll feel it getting cooler or warmer as you walk down -- cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter, because the caves are between 64 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit year 'round.
The tour takes you into several "rooms", each with something new and different to experience. The actual route may vary somewhat, because of the water table. If the water table is high (like it was when I went), some detours will be in order -- one of the trails was under water.
Words to the Wise
The caverns are awesome to behold, no doubt about it, and I wish everyone could experience them firsthand. But if you are unsteady on your feet, if you can't bend over and still walk okay, or if you are claustrophobic, please don't endanger yourself or others by entering the caverns.
The trail is steep in some places, and the floor is slippery in spots. While you can stand up fine most of the time, there are places where you will have to bend down and walk several feet hunched way over.
The caves aren't really small, but by the time you get 20 people in some of the rooms, it can get kind of close. So keep this in mind before you plunk down your $6.00 for a tour ticket.
Also keep in mind that strollers and walkers are not permitted on the cavern tour.
So What Else Can You Do at Florida Caverns State Park?
You didn't think caves was all Florida Caverns State Park had to offer for your vacation, did you? Along with caves you can swim, canoe, fish, hike, camp and picnic!
Before I talk about the outdoors fun you can have, I want to warn you about the mosquitoes. There are lots. And lots. And they are hungry. Bug repellant is available for sale in the Visitor's Center, but it's the strong stuff with DEET. I did talk to a park ranger and he said that from about the middle of October through the beginning or so of April, there are few to no mosquitoes. However, spring and summer are full of the pesky bugs.
The hiking trails around the caves look to be great, but unfortunately I didn't get to experience them because of the mosquitoes. I'll have to come back in the early spring and walk them.
I don't think I would recommend the swimming and canoeing in the winter -- it really can get chilly in the panhandle (teens and twenties are not all that uncommon). For that matter, unless you are used to cold-weather camping (or have an RV), I don't think I'd camp either. Fishing, hiking and picnicking are all good in the winter, though, as well as taking the cave tour.
And you might not believe this but here goes -- there is a 9-hole golf course just outside the entrance to Florida Caverns. I don't know of any other Florida State Park where this excellent arrangement occurs!
Speaking of camping, the really great times in the Florida panhandle are the shoulder seasons -- March and April, then again in late September though November. Mosquitoes at a minimum, cool nights for getting cozy, fewer crowds. The days are usually in the 70's to sometimes low 80's. Of course the water will be warmer in September and October than in March and April, but it depends on what you like to do.
To find out more regarding the camping opportunities at Florida Caverns State Park click here.
Time and Place
Florida Caverns State Park is open year 'round. Cave tours are held Thursday through Monday, except for Thanksgiving an Christmas. The park opens at 8:00 and closes at sunset. Cave tours start at 9 AM and end at 4 PM.
The park is located 3 miles north of Marianna, off of U.S. 90 on S.R. 166. From I-10 take Marianna exit 136 or 142 north and follow signs to the park.
The park entrance fee is $5 per carload.
Tour prices are $8 for ages 13 and above, $5 for ages 12 to 2, and under 2 years are free. (But to be honest, I don't know that very young children should be in the caves, as parts are very steep and sometimes slippery.)
Florida Caverns State Park is located in the Florida Panhandle. The closest cities where you get more than a puddle-jumper approach are Pensacola and Tallahassee.
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