If I were to tell you
that the Florida Panhandle was home to two little-known state parks, one boasting the largest waterfall in the state, would you be intrigued? I know what you’re thinking, waterfalls in Florida? It’s true, and you can visit that waterfall as well as the largest air-filled cave system in Florida during the same day if you wanted! Falling Waters State Park and Florida Caverns State Park are within 30 minutes of each other, one located in Marianna, and the other in Chipley.
Falling Waters State Park
The falls in Falling Waters (creative name, right?) isn’t like many of the other waterfalls you might find. The water cascades over 70 feet into an enormous sinkhole, where it then flows off to an unknown final destination. The amount of water in the falls depends on what time of year you visit and how much rain there’s been, so the fall wasn’t incredibly strong when we visited.
There’s a neat pole/stand right next to the falls where you can place your phone and take photos of the entire surrounding area. You can then send these photos to conservationists, who then stitch them into a 360 degree view, so they can record how the falls change as time goes on. It’s a really neat idea, and I encourage you to try it when you visit!
Falling Waters is actually the site of the first oil well in Florida! Drilling started in 1919, but was stopped two years later when it wasn’t financially beneficial. After being declared a state park in the 60’s, and later archeological digs found Indian artifacts dating over 1,000 years old! Cool, right?
Entrance to the park is cheap, only costing $5 per vehicle to enter. Falling Waters is open from 8AM – sundown, but you can camp in the campgrounds (which includes water and electricity) for $18 + a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. Fishing and swimming in the lake are fun options, as well as visiting the park’s butterfly garden. We visited Falling Waters after playing with wolf puppies and were able to walk the nature hike and see the falls in under two hours, so you can easily make your visit as long or as short as you’d like!
Florida Caverns State Park
The second state park to visit in the Panhandle is Florida Caverns State Park. Florida Caverns is home to the only air-filled cave system open to the public. The tour itself lasts for about forty-five minutes and involves some relatively tight squeezes and low-ceilings. It wasn’t incredibly strenuous or dangerous (there were children on the tour with us), but be sure to wear the appropriate attire.
Access to the park costs $5 per vehicle, and the cave tour is $8 per person ($5 for children between 5-12). The park has campgrounds available at $20 per night, and the grounds have access to water and electricity.
The cave tour is fascinating, and you get to see rock formations, pooling water, and stalactites that took over hundreds of years to form! Keep in mind that you can’t touch anything within the cave (except for one stalactite at the end of the tour), because the oils on our skin can damage the stone. It was incredible hearing about how the caves were found almost entirely by accident and how the workers had to excavate the mine only by torchlight!
There are several other nature trails to hike after completing the cave tour, and the surrounding forest/swamp impressed me almost as much as the caves did! There are several Indian sightseeing spots you can find throughout the nature hikes. You also have access to canoeing and kayaking, as well as horse trails and campfire circles!
What’d you think of these state parks?
I loved exploring them and plan on finding more hidden gems both within Florida and beyond. What cool state parks have you visited? Comment below and let me know!