Hurricane Michael knocked out 31 state parks last year, but they have been coming back with the help of volunteers and teams of park-service personnel clearing debris and restoring structures damaged by the storm.
Florida Caverns State Park, near Marianna, Florida, is the last to re-open, although the campground remains closed until further notice.
The Chipola River below Florida Caverns State Park from Yancey Bridge to Peacock Bridge is now free of fallen trees for 20 miles, thanks to funding provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
This spring-fed river flows past high bluffs and even a cave with few signs of humanity.
The Chipola River Paddling Trail Guide provides everything you need to know for planning your trip. Due to some tight turns and swift currents, the river is recommended for intermediate and experienced paddlers. The Merritt’s Mill Pond and Ocheesee Pond paddling trails also make for easy day paddles.
Some fallen trees are still present in the Chipola River below Jackson County, but paddlers are able to navigate around them.
The final push to reopen Florida Caverns State Park came in June as DEP personnel converged on the park with volunteers to form bucket brigades to haul load after load of mud out of Florida’s only public cave system, while others cleaned the museum and spread gravel on trails.
Florida Caverns, one of the state’s original state parks, was created in the 1930’s by the Depression-area Civilian Conservation Corps, who enlarged the cave passageways by hand so visitors could stand upright during the guided tours. Visitors can still see the chisel marks made by the corps. CCC crews also built the park’s visitor’s center.
Visitors who wish to explore the caverns will need flashlights because the cave’s electricity has not been restored, according to park manager Jacob Strickland, who adds that the caves’ lighting is being upgraded. Meantime, loaner flashlights will be provided for those who sign up for a tour, or you can buy a commemorative flashlight in the park’s gift shop.
Signs still mark areas of the park that are still being restored but will not interfere with your visit to the caverns. Besides the campground, areas of the park that remain closed are the multi-use trails for bicyclists, hikers and equestrians, and some picnic areas.
For the latest updates, visit the park’s web site at floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/florida-caverns-state-park.
Source: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
3345 Caverns Rd.
Marianna FL 32446
Hours: 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Cave tours are not available on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Park admission: $5 per vehicle.
Cave tours (additional):
- Ages 13 and older: $10.75 per person
- Ages 3 to 12: $5 per child
- Ages 2 and younger: No fee
- Groups of 20 or more may make reservations no less than three weeks in advance. For more information contact the Gift Shop Monday – Friday at 850-526-2650.
Florida Caverns State Park web site: floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/florida-caverns-state-park
Friends of Florida Caverns: friendsofthefloridacaverns.com
Cave Tours: Go to floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/florida-caverns-state-park/cave-tours
Downloads: Park brochure and map (PDF).