Florida Caverns State Park has long been a favorite destination for outdoor recreation along the Chipola River. But did you know its underground limestone caves and caverns are steeped in history, dating back centuries?
The caves also serve as a hidden haven for fascinating rock formations and creepy critters, such as blind cave crayfish, cave salamanders and three species of cave-roosting bats.
Florida’s Only State Park With Caves
Located in Marianna, Florida Caverns State Park spans 1,449 acres and attracts approximately 130,000 visitors annually. It’s the only state park in Florida where visitors can take a guided tour through a large cave system flanked by spectacular stalactites, stalagmites, columns and flowstone.
The tour takes visitors through a dozen cave rooms to explore its history, early uses and fascinating geological formations.
“The limestone formations in which the cave passages are developed were deposited in shallow, warm seas that existed more than 30 million years ago,” says Jacob Strickland, park manager. “The cave formations, called speleothems, formed over many thousands of years by the same process that created the cave passages for which Florida Caverns State Park is famous.”
In addition to marveling at the park’s geological wonders, visitors enjoy discovering little-known facts about the park’s rich cultural history. For instance, the park protects Native American cultural sites along the Chipola River. It also contains a unique natural land bridge used by Andrew Jackson’s invading forces during the First Seminole War in 1818.
Inspired by the New Deal
Though Florida Caverns State Park officially opened to the public in 1942, its development began several years before. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was established in 1933 to provide jobs to men during the Great Depression, and consequently, members of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Projects Administration began working on the tour cave and structures to develop the park.
“Florida Caverns State Park is one of nine elements of the New Deal-inspired Florida state park system, and it is one of the physical expressions of early 20th-century recreation planning,” Strickland says. “Until the 1930s, the state of Florida sponsored, owned or operated parks as monuments or memorial facilities. The components of this early first system of state parks were the physical expression of the idea that Floridians, increasingly members of an urban population, needed and indeed possessed a right to communion with nature.”
To this day, the remnants of a historic federal fish hatchery constructed in the 1930s and 1940s can still be seen on the park grounds, serving as an example of early 20th-century recreation planning.
Above-Ground Fun, Too
Nowadays, visitors frequent the park for camping, boating, cycling, fishing, geo-seeking, golf, hiking, horseback riding, paddling, nature study and wildlife watching.
“Cave-inhabiting animals, including bats, mice, cave crickets, salamanders, cave spiders and the occasional snake or frog, are our most commonly spotted wildlife,” Strickland says. “Throughout the park, you will also find deer, turkey, red-tailed hawks and the native Sherman’s Fox Squirrel.”
Because the Sherman’s Fox Squirrel has lost much of its habitat to development and deforestation, the squirrels now enjoy extra protection throughout Florida, with laws that prohibit hunting or capturing them.
“They are a particularly large species, weighing between 1 and 3 pounds, and they have a unique coloration – the head is black and the nose and ears are white,” Strickland explains.
Be sure to stop in the park’s gift shop and museum to buy souvenirs and watch videos providing important information about the park. Please note that following the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors should expect limited hours, capacities and amenities. Camping availability may be restricted, and communal spaces such as playgrounds and pavilions may be closed to public use. Cash transactions for park admission are limited to exact change. Please contact the park before visiting to verify hours and amenities available.
Plan Your Florida Caverns Visit
Florida Caverns State Park
3345 Caverns Rd., Marianna
Due to COVID-19, please contact the park before visiting to verify if the visitor center and cave tours are open.