Summary of Features
- Scale - 1st magnitude
- Scenery - excellent
- How Pristine? - developed beach/recreation area on one side, structures above spring, beach area, dive/observation tower, dock area and boats; elevated nitrate levels and exotic plants in water
- Swimming - fine, excellent snorkeling
- Protection - excellent
- Wildlife - excellent
- Crowds - can be very heavy on warm weekends
- Access - excellent
- Facilities: excellent
- Safety - excellent
- Scuba - no
- Cost--$6 per car; boat rides extra ($8 for adults and $5 for children age 3-12)
Quick DirectionsAddress: 465 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs, FL 32327. One block east of intersection of State Roads 61 and 267 in Wakulla Springs State Park about 30 minutes' drive south of Tallahassee.
Full DirectionsFrom downtown Tallahassee, drive south on South Adams until it becomes Crawfordville Highway (US 319 South). Continue past Capital Circle until the road forks to the left and forms Wakulla Springs Road (State Road 61). Take this left fork. Continue on through portions of the Apalachicola National Forest until you come to State Road 267. Turn left for a few hundred feet and then right into the entrance of Wakulla Springs State Park.
Wakulla Spring is one of the world's deepest springs and one of Florida's largest individual springs in terms of average flow. In terms of flow from a single clear-water spring, perhaps only Silver Springs is larger. The spring forms the Wakulla River, which flows for three miles within the state park, a few miles further before joining the St. Marks River and ultimately (after 12 miles) into the Gulf of Mexico. The spring basin covers several acres and is framed by cypress, maples, palms, and other mature trees. Sally Ward Creek joins the Wakulla run on the north side and also includes the small flow from Indian Springs.
According to Rosenau et al. (1977, p. 418), Wakulla has the greatest recorded flow ever for a single spring (1,910 ft3/sec - or about 1.23 billion gallons - one day in 1974). Its flow has also been as low as 25 ft3/sec, giving Wakulla the distinction of also having the greatest range of recorded flow of any spring in the world.
A vast and extensively explored cave system feeds the spring. Underwater or from the air, the basin resembles a giant funnel or water-filled meteor impact. A two-level concrete dive tower is constructed over a ledge above the cave entrance. A roped-off area allows swimmers to jump off the platform and swim down or over to the edge of the ledge, which is about 22 feet deep. The ledge curves around part of the basin, framing the enormous funnel. The basin below the ledge is 125 feet deep, and it is a total of 285 feet down to the bottom and the entrances to the main conduits that feed the spring.
According to Chalette et al. (2003), the water flowing out of Wakulla Springs is mostly deep-aquifer water, as opposed to water that has recently fallen as rain and been absorbed in a surficial aquifer. During dry perionds, nearly 100% of the spring's flow originates from the Floridan Aquifer. During rainy periods, up to 20% of the flow originates from surface water or shallow aquifer water. Further testing shows that the "apparent" age of water discharged at Wakulla Springs is 39 years (p. 7).
Water clarity is variable, from very clear to dark to the hue of Mountin’ Dew. Park officials note that while there is not an accepted explanation for the times the water is murky, the trend has been a decrease over time in the number of days each year that the spring is clear. The water tends to be cloudy after heavy rain and is slow to clear. There is abundant wildlife in the spring and its run. There is also invasive exotic hydrilla in the spring. This invader, first observed in 1997, now covers much of the swim area unless it is treated with an herbicide. Algae is also growing more rapidly in the spring, the result (it is suspected) of higher levels of nitrate in the water (Hartnett, 2000). In April 2002, park official released 1,750 gallons of the herbicide endothall into the spring area. This treatment killed the hydrilla in the spring area and for a couple of miles downstream.
- The state park entrance road ends at a 27-room Spanish-style lodge/hotel built in 1937 by Edward Ball, the one-time grade-school dropout and later billionaire who owned a controlling interest in the St. Joseph Paper Company. This elegant structure looks out on the spring. Inside are accommodations, a gift shop, soda fountain, and restaurant. Meetings, conferences, and weddings are often held at the lodge. The painted ceilings were restored in 2002.
- The state park operates a large swim area, floating island, and tour boat rides. You can't swim out far over the cave entrance, but can see it (when the water is clear) from the swimming area dive platform. The glass-bottom boat circles by the edge of the swim boundary. The jungle cruise goes downriver and the circles back over the springhead. Seeing alligators on the jungle cruise is practically guaranteed.
- The Division of State Lands purchased an additional 4,000 acres adjacent to Wakulla Springs State Park to serve as a buffer. This land includes a major sinkhole that had been used (and sometimes abused) by the local population for many years.
- In terms of non-human usage, the river is a major winter habitat for waterfowl and a year-round haven for alligators of up to ten feet in length. One of the cypress trees in the upper run is estimated to be over 800 years old.
- Wakulla Spring attracts 200,000 visitors each year (Hartnett, 2000).
- The use of the endothall herbicide in April 2002 was temporarily effective in killing the hydrilla in the spring and upper run. Park officials chose this herbicide because it breaks down quickly in water and is not likely to accumulate in aquatic life. The herbicide also leaves native plants alive, although there were few left when the treatment was applied. Park officials, who received $70,000 from the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection to pay for the treatment, then re-planted native aquatic plants. After the application, it was discovered that large numbers of crawfish in the river had also been killed. The hydrilla grew back after a few months, and the herbicide application is now repeated a couple of times per year.
- According to the Tallahassee Democrat (Ritchie, June 17, 2002), a study by the Northwest Florida Water Management District suggests that a Tallahassee wastewater treatment plant and its spray field may be a primary source of nitrogen pollution that is causing rapid exotic aquatic plant growth and the crashing of apple snail populations at Wakulla Spring. Groundwater near/under the sprayfield flows directly toward the spring. There are also 5,600 septic tanks in the region around the spring, but the study suggested they provide only about 6% of the nitrogen.
- As with the more famous Silver Springs, Wakulla is a longstanding tourist attraction. Local residents in the 1870s placed panes of glass into rowboats and gave "glassbottom" boat tours of the basin and run.
- Several films have been shot at Wakulla Spring, including "Tarzan and the Leopard Woman," the two "Creature of the Black Lagoon" films, and underwater scenes from "Airport 1977."
- In the winter of 1998-99, the National Geographic Society sponsored a large-scale project to make three-dimensional electronic maps of the cave system, which has been explored to 18,000 feet by divers using propulsion vehicles and breathing mixed gases via a re-breather device. Further exploration was conducted in 2000.
- If you snorkel along the boundary rope from the dive platform to the right, you will likely see abundant aquatic life. Schools of large fish, mostly mullet, stay just out of reach, gar swim slowly by. In the shallower area to the right, near the boats, you can swim out to a wooden platform where people sun themselves on warm days. The water around the platform is more shallow and crowded.
- Signs warn that alligators are present in the park, and swimmers must stay in roped-off areas. Below the swim area but within the park, alligators are common, from 10-foot bulls sprawled on the banks to one-footers grinning on logs. Park staff keep alligators out of public areas.
- A large stuffed alligator named "Old Joe" is in a glass case in the lodge. Shot by a poacher in the 1960s, the gator had lived for many years near the swim area and had been a favorite of local sunbathers.
- In February of 1999, 72-year-old Nobel Prize-winning physicist, professor Henry W. Kendall of M.I.T., died while diving in the spring. He had been part of a group of volunteers who were mapping the caves. Kendall had gone diving alone and was found in water six feet deep. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, a faulty valve (he was breathing a mixtures of gases with a re-breather device) or heart attack caused him to black out.
- On the dock, inside one of the boats, visitors can watch a video on the natural history of the springs. During the last Ice Age, the whole spring was dry, and evidence of campfires has been found at the bottom of the spring.
- In the mid-late 1990s, a developer purchased land near the spring to develop as an RV park with a camp store and underground fuel tanks. After several years of controversy, the state purchased the land to prevent its development.
- In the past (but no longer) on the clearest days the glass-bottom boat guide dropped a penny into the water and tourists followed it with their eyes all the way to the bottom. In the shallower water to the side of the basin, the guide called upon Henry (or Henrietta) the jumping fish, who swam sideways across a horizontal pole on the bottom. The guide would not explain how he got the fish to do this.
- The riverbed and swimming area are infested with hydrilla, a rapidly growing aquatic plant that has taken the place of the native eelgrass. During the summer the plants nearly reached the surface in an area by the ledge about 20 feet deep. Volunteers periodically pull it up and haul it away from the main basin and swim/wading area.
- Manatees were observed in the springhead in 1999; it was the first time they had been seen there in memory. It is common to see manatees in the Wakulla River below the park boundaries in the summer.
- About 2.5 miles below the spring, access to the Wakulla River is blocked by a fence strung across the river. Plaintiffs sued and appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to have the entire river declared a navigable waterway and remove the fence. However, counsel for Ed Ball carried the day and the fence remains. Within the fenced area, concentrations of waterfowl, fish, and mature alligators are much higher than they are below the fence downriver.
- In his 1866 handbook on travel in the south, Edward H. Hall refers to Wakulla Spring as "an immense limestone basin,
- Another 19th Century chronicler, Charles Lanman, wrote in an 1856 book that Wakulla surpasses Orange and Silver Springs "in every particular" (p. 143), and goes on to say the following:
as yet unfathomed in the centre, with waters as transparent as crystal" (p. 89). He goes on to quote in full a poem about
the spring, which he does not fully cite but states was written by a "Southern poetess." JF could not find any other
reference to this smarmy poem or its author:
spring! thy crystal waters
Reflect the loveliness of Southern skies:
And oft methinks the dark-haired Indian daughters
Bend o'er they silvery depths with wondering eyes:
From forest glade the swarthy chief emerging,
Delighted paused, thy matchless charms to view:
Then to thy flower-gemmed border slowly verging,
I see him o'er thy placid bosom urging his light canoe!
With the bright
crimson of the Maple twining,
The fragrant Bay its peerless chaplet weaves:
And where Magnolias in their pride are shining,
They broad Palmetto spreads its fan-like leaves:
Far down the forest aisles where sunbeams quiver,
The fairest flowers their rainbow hues combine:
And pendant o'er the swiftly flowing river,
The shadows of the graceful Willow shiver in glad sunshine!
birds their gorgeous hues enwreathing,
Their amorous tunes to listening flowers repeat:
Which, in reply, their sweetest incense breathing,
Pour on the silent air their perfume sweet:
From tree to tree the golden jasmine creeping,
Hangs its light bells on every slender spray:
And in each fragrant chalice syling peeping,
the Humming-Bird it odorous store is reaping the livelong day! (p. 89)
An adequate idea of this mammoth spring could never be given by pen
or pencil; but when once seen, on a bright calm day, it must ever after be
a thing to dream about and love. It is the fountain-head of a river
. . . and is of sufficient volume to float a steamboat, if such an affair
had yet dared to penetrate this solemn wilderness. . . . It wells up in the
very heart of a dense cypress swamp, is nearly round in shape, measures some
four hundred feet in diameter, and is in depth about one hundred and fifty
feet, having at its bottom an immense horizontal chasm, with a dark portal,
from one side of which looms up a limestone cliff, the summit of which is
itself nearly fifty feet beneath the spectator, who gazes upon it from the
sides of a tiny boat. The water is so astonishlingly clear that even
a pin can be seen on the bottom in the deepest places, and of course every
animate and inanimate object which it contains is fully exposed to view.
The apparent color of the water from the shore is greenish, but as you look
prependicularly into it, it is colorless as air, and the sensation of floating
upon it is that of being suspended in a balloon; and the water is so refractive,
that when the sun shines brilliantly every object you see is enveloped in
the most fascinating prismatic hues.
. . . It abounds in fish, both large and small, among which I recognized the black bass, the sea-mullet, and red fish, the bream, the sucker, the chub, and the shiner; and it seems to me that I can now recall every individual to mind as a personal acquaintance. They at times made the surface of the water alive with their gambols; they swam about their beautiful home in schools and singly, some of them watching our boat with curious looks, and others perfectly indifferent to our presence or movements. . . . It was also very strange to witness the shadow which our little boat case upon the bottom, which seem to be refreshing to some of the fish that floated into it, but was not liked apparently by the alligators and huge tutrles that went crawling along the sub-marine highway. [G]igantic cypress trees, hoary with moss and heavily laden with vines which hang over the water, were the nests of innumerable water birds, such as the crane, the duck, and the bittern.
Were it not a desecration to do so in such a fairy-like place, fishing with a fly in Wakulla Fountain for black bass and bream, would be superb; and were it not for the developments of science, we might imagine that the mammoth bones which were found in the spring in 1850, were the remains of some primeval angler who had been killed for daring to disturb its beautiful inhabitants. . . . That the ancient Seminoles should have attached a legend to this brightest spot in their domain, was quite natural. Old men told it to their children at the twilight hour, under their broad palmetto trees. At night, they said in substance, may be seen around the shores and on the bottom of the fountain, tiny fairy creatures, sporting and bathing with noiseless glee; but at midnight, when the moon is at its full, there appears upon the water a gigantic warrior, sitting in a stone canoe with a copper paddle in his hand, from whose presence the fairies affrighted flee away, leaving, as the last object seen in the darkness of a cloud, the spectre warrior alone in his canoe, which seems anchored and immovable (pp. 143-145).
Wakulla is one of the best places there is to go swimming or just hang out. It is a very workable combination/juxtaposition of wildlife and development. The main threats to the area are high nitrate levels in the water, increasing development (a suspected cause of rising nitrate levels) and invasive exotic plants that impact the spring and its watershed. The National Geographic mapping project was one step to identify just where all the water is from and how to protect it.
- Indian Springs
- Kini Spring
- McBride Slough Spring
- Newport Spring
- Riversink Spring
- Sally Ward Spring
- Unnamed springs along the Wakulla River
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Leon County Sinks Park
- St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
- Apalachicola National Forest
- Econfina River State Park
- Wacissa Slave Canal
Contact InformationWakulla Springs State Park
465 Wakulla Park Drive
Wakulla Springs, FL 32327-0390