North Florida is well known for its wonderful natural environment, but some of the area’s most impressive natural wonders are actually below the ground! Just below the surface, North Florida is crisscrossed with a remarkable array of caves, caverns, and tunnel networks. Many of these are part of the natural aquifer system that feeds the cool, refreshing natural springs that are one of North Florida’s most delightful attractions.
North Florida’s underwater caverns offer some of the most exciting cave diving opportunities in the United States. The water is a perfect temperature year-round, and crystal clear, making this a fantastic adventure for scuba divers and snorkelers. There are several ‘dry’ caves as well, such as Florida Caverns State Park, for visitors who prefer spelunking or just exploring on foot.
These are the top 10 caves in North Florida.
1. Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park
Named after the famous explorer, diver, photographer, and cinematographer Wes Skiles, Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park is home to one of the largest underwater cavern systems in the world. Visitors can snorkel in Orange Grove Sink and Peacock Springs, while more experienced divers can explore over 30,000 feet of underwater tunnels.
2. Falling Waters State Park
The main draw of Falling Waters State Park is the majestic cascade that gives the park its name, the highest waterfall in Florida. But the water has to go somewhere, and the State Park is full of fern-covered sinkholes leading to an unexplored world below the earth. The most significant of these is the 20ft wide, 100ft deep Falling Waters Sink, where you can watch the 70ft cascade disappear into the cave system below.
3. Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Ichetucknee Springs State Park, just outside of Fort White and only two and a half hours from Tampa, is one of the best natural springs in Columbia County, Florida. There is so much to do in this marvelous State Park, from tubing and paddling to hiking trails, horseback riding, and birdwatching. Ichetucknee Springs boasts the magnificent Blue Hole Spring, which is the stunning entrance to a network of underwater caves 40ft below the surface. Certified divers can explore these atmospheric tunnels at their leisure, but make sure you bring a cart for your gear as the trail to the spring is around half a mile long!
4. Madison Blue Spring
Although it is a little out of the way, Madison Blue Spring is worth the little extra effort for cave diving enthusiasts. The crystal-clear, first-magnitude spring was voted Best Swimming Hole in the US by USA Today and offers a wonderful experience for swimmers and divers alike. The cave has some fascinating and unique geological formations and offers a gateway to a much larger, more advanced system of underwater caverns for the most experienced cave divers to explore.
5. Florida Caverns State Park
Florida Caverns State Park is located in the Florida panhandle, near Marianna. It is the only ‘dry’ cave to offer guided cave tours in the state, so it is a must-visit for non-divers who also want to explore the magical world beneath their feet. From the drip of water falling from stalactites to the otherworldly landscape of stalagmites, flowstones, and draperies, this is a visual experience not to be missed. Guided tours of the caves last around 45 minutes, while above ground you can hike, fish, ride, and even get in a quick 9 holes of golf on the golf course!
6. Blue Grotto
Blue Grotto is a large sinkhole full of cool, clear water just outside of Williston, two hours north of Tampa. The sinkhole itself offers remarkable open water diving up to 100 feet, and certified cave divers can go further, exploring the untouched beauty of the Blue Grotto Cave with an experienced local guide. The site offers a unique diving experience and is fully equipped with guidelines, a submerged air bell, and underwater lighting.
7. Ginnie Springs
Ginnie Springs is located in High Springs, Florida, and is an absolutely classic North Florida spring. Ginnie Springs has everything you could possibly want for an amazing day out, from picnic tables and hiking trails to boating and canoeing. Most importantly, it has the clearest water in the state (you can see right to the bottom from the shore, with a beautiful stained glass effect), which makes it a popular choice for snorkelers and scuba divers. Divers of all levels can explore the Devil’s Spring System (not to be confused with the Devil’s Den) while more experienced visitors can enter the Ginnie Ballroom, a stunning underwater cavern.
8. Devil’s Den
Devil’s Den Cave was formed when the roof of an underground river collapsed, exposing it to the open air. The fresh spring water is a constant 72 degrees year-round, so during the colder winter months, steam rises through the ‘window’ creating an effect that appears to be a gateway to Hell, hence the name! The cave is not open to regular swimmers, but certified cave divers can explore the tunnel system accompanied by a guide.
9. Wakulla Springs
Wakulla Springs is one of the largest, deepest natural freshwater springs on the planet, and is a favorite attraction for visitors to the area. The spring connects underground to the Leon Sinks Cave System, making it one of the longest underwater tunnel networks in the world too! Diving this system is a fascinating experience, with remarkable karst topography, and rare crustaceans swimming through disappearing streams.
10. Manatee Springs
Manatee Springs’ 800-foot boardwalk and majestic spring river is a special place. In the cooler months, manatees swim up the river to shelter in the warm waters of the spring, making it an amazing spot to get up close to these curious creatures. The springs also offer some wonderful caves and open water diving, in the Main Spring, the Catfish Hotel, and the Friedman Sink. Diving here can be challenging, as visibility varies and currents can be strong, but it is a great option when conditions make other caves unsuitable.
North Florida is full of amazing caves and cavern systems, for diving or just exploring with a guide. The underwater caverns of North Florida offer yet another way to discover the extraordinary natural beauty of this beautiful corner of the world.