Blue Hole Spring
Summary of Features
- Scale - 2nd magnitude
- Scenery - good at spring; outstanding in surrounding state park
- How Pristine? - nicely developed swim area
- Swimming - good to very good
- Protection - excellent
- Wildlife - fair-good at spring; excellent in surrounding park
- Crowds - crowded on warm weekends
- Access - excellent
- Facilities - very good
- Safety - very good
- Scuba - no
- Cost - $5 per car
Address: 3345 Caverns Road, Marianna, FL 32446, 850-482-1228. Located in Florida Caverns State Park 2.6 miles north of Marianna (www.floridastateparks.org/park/Florida-Caverns). From the center of town on U.S. 90, turn right onto Jefferson Street and proceed to the State Park entrance. Within the park, the spring is at the end of the paved road (about 2.5 miles) on the left and clearly sign-posted.
The spring lies in a varied geologic area of hills, hardwood forest, floodplain, exposed limestone, caverns, springs, and the Chipola River, which sinks and rises within the park. Perhaps partially fed by the Chipola River, Blue Hole has two pools. The large pool has been made into a swimming area and is 100-140 feet by about 200 feet. The spring lies in the upstream end of the pool and is semicircular. According to Rosenau et al. (1977, p. 178), its depth is up to 26 feet. Fallen trees and milky blue water obscure the vent and water depth; the pool is populated with fish and turtles.
The lower end of the pool serves as a swim area and is about 150 feet in diameter with a beach on one side, a low dive platform on the other, and an arched wooden footbridge over the run which exits to the SE. There are bathrooms and picnic and playground facilities. The upper and lower ends of the pool combine to form a rough figure-8 shape. To the NW of the spring pool, beyond the smaller footbridge, is a small pool that has no surface flow and is filled with logs and limbs. It looks like a sinkhole and is likely connected to the large pool a few feet away. At the downstream bridge, the pool narrows to about 30 feet wide and forms a canopied run that flows into Carter's Mill Branch, which in turn flows into the Chipola about 1.2 miles to the SE. Trails behind the spring follow the run. Fish, otters, and snakes may be seen in the run.
Because the water in the spring is not quite clear, it may be that the flow is a combination of filtered water and water from the Chipola River, which flows underground nearby.
- The park rents canoes at reasonable rates, but they must be returned before the park closes. Check with the rangers for times and costs.
- Cavern tours ($5 per person) are popular and should be reserved in advance on summer weekends.
- There are several miles of horse trails in the park; you must provide your own mount.
- A state golf course adjoins the park; it is the only one of its kind in the state system.
- There are no lifeguards at Blue Hole Spring, but the water is not deep.
- The park also offers camping and hiking.
- The park has one of the best trails in Florida (River Floodplain Trail), skirting caverns and the floodplain forest to reveal tunnels, caves, dramatic (for Florida) ledges and outcrops, and rare virgin forest with immense beech, magnolia, and other trees--including more than one state champion tree. The trail is accessed from the back end of the parking lot for the park museum/cave tour entrance.
- Development, in the form of the golf course and upscale homes, brackets the park.
- There is rich evidence of Indian habitation in and around the caverns; the park museum has good displays and a video on the park and its history.
- The park was developed during the 1930s as a CCC project, with men enlarging the passages through the main cavern.
- The CCC effort ceased when the U.S. entered WWII. The swim and picnic area at Blue Hole was developed in the late 1960s.
Personal ImpressionsHaving done everything but golfing and horseback riding at the park, JF attests that it is one of the best overall recreation sites in north Florida. Although hemmed in by development, the park has a very undeveloped character and the river is very primitive and pristine.
- Bosel (or Bozell) Springs group
- Merritt’s Mill Pond Springs (Blue, Shangri-La, Twin Caves, Indian Washtub, Gator)
- Sandbag Spring
- Spring Lake Springs (Black, Double, Gadsen [or Gadsden], Millpond, Springboard)
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Three Rivers State Park
- Falling Water State Park
- Torreya State Park
- Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve
An Essay on Florida Caverns State Park
Three miles north of Marianna, Florida Caverns State Park offers more outdoor recreational opportunities than any other place I know of in Florida. What other spot do you know that has hiking, biking, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking on rapids, boating, fishing, birdwatching, golfing, spring hunting, and, of course, spelunking.
It is the caverns that give the state park its name. Created during the Depression as a CCC project, the 1,300-acre park is honeycombed with caves large and small. This un-Florida-like geological feature is the result of Florida’s limestone base bumping the tail end of the uplift that becomes the Appalachians. And while the caves here do not match Mammoth Cave or Carlsbad Caverns, they nonetheless have an impressive array of stalagmites, stalactites, columns, flowstones, and other formations created over thousands of years by the steady drip of water.
One large cave may be visited on guided tours. The tour takes about 25 minutes, and the cavern is a constant temperature of 59 degrees. Native Americans once used the caves for shelter and storage, and their history is told in the park’s informative museum. The rest of the caves are off limits or even gated to protect fragile formations and colonies of endangered gray bats. These shy insect-eating creatures are easily disturbed, but warmly welcomed by campers for the tons of mosquitoes they eat.
Bats and insects are not the only residents in the park, which is a safe haven for alligators, deer, and beaver as well as home for a rich variety of birds, fish, and other wildlife. Some have claimed sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the area, although such are not confirmed and most believe this largest of all woodpeckers is now extinct. But if the ivory-billed survived anywhere, it might be in these rich floodplains. Gigantic beech, magnolia, sweet gum, and oak trees shade the lowland areas, and the understory flowers all year long with everything from columbine, native azalea, and sage to leafcups, bottlebrush, and the lovely January-blooming atamasco lily.
The river floodplain trail is the best way to see the many faces of the area. In 30 minutes, you will go through natural tunnels, climb boulders, see virgin forest and some of the largest trees in the state, and be able to peek into several caves. The horse trails may also be hiked and loop along spring runs and through deep forest. Riders must provide their own horses.
The Chipola River bisects the park from north to south and is joined within it by two spring runs. In the middle of the park, the river dips below ground for more than 1,000 yards before reappearing. A century ago, a channel was cut across the natural bridge so logs could be floated downstream. The ditch is narrow, fast, obstructed, and not recommended for the inexperienced paddler. Fed by rainwater and springs, the Chipola can be very clear and is an easy paddle upstream or down. Alligators bask in the few sunny spots, discouraging river swimming.
Even so, there is a great spring group about a mile upstream of the boat ramp. Called Bozell, the main spring has a clear shallow run from the east and leads to a lovely spring pool that strongly invites a dip, even a skinny dip when no one is around. Three more springs line the banks just below and above Bozell, and the park is a popular pull-out for overnight and weekend canoers.
The official swimming area is yet another spring called Blue Hole. The spring forms three pools, one of which has a nice beach and dive platform. The water in the main spring is a deep, milky blue and its 68 degrees are very refreshing on a hot summer day.
The Florida Caverns Golf Course is adjacent to the park and is a separate concession. Park fees are $5 per car, and there are additional, if reasonable, charges for cavern tours ($5), canoe rentals, camping, horseback riding, and golfing. The cavern tours are very popular, so call ahead if you plan a weekend visit. Development is increasing around the park, but once inside you can explore the glories of natural Florida in greater variety than just about anywhere.