NOTE: Due to extensive damage during Hurricane Michael in October 2018, the trail system no longer looks like the above video. Consider this a historic record of a time when ancient trees stood tall. The boulders and caves and cliffs, of course, are still in place.
One of the best parts of Florida Caverns State Park is its Caverns Trail System, an interconnected group of nature trails that surround the big show cave. Most folks don’t step off that paved path and into the forest, but for those who do, a landscape like no other awaits.
The trail system includes seven short hiking trails on limestone bluffs above the floodplain of the Chipola River. If you’re heading to the park to hike, start with the Floodplain Trail at the far corner of the parking area. If you’re doing the cave tour first (highly recommended), it’s harder to do the outer loop without backtracking on yourself. One of the delights of this trail system is Tunnel Cave, the only place in Florida where a hiking trail intentionally goes through a cave.
Length: 1.5 mile outer loop
Type: Loops with cross-trails
Fees / Permits: State park entrance fee
Bug factor: Moderate
There are restrooms at the interpretive center where the cave tour starts. Don’t miss the tour! It’s an extra fee above state park admission but well worth the 45-minute walk through underground wonders in the only public show cave in Florida.
From Interstate 10 exit 142, follow SR 71 north to US 90. Continue west on US 90 to downtown Marianna, where a large sign points you to make a right on SR 166, Florida Caverns Road. Follow it north, crossing the Chipola River and passing Citizens Lodge Park before you reach the park entrance on the left, just after the Florida Caverns Golf Course (not a part of the state park). Once inside the park, take a left at the fork to drive down to the parking area at the show cave.
The trail system starts at the far end of the parking area for the caverns. Look for the Floodplain Trail Sign.
The Floodplain Trail is flat and straight, running through the floodplain of the Chipola River. If the water is high, the floodplain will flood and it’s best not to hike the trails below the cave. If you have time to do nothing but the Floodplain Trail, do, since it leads to Florida’s weirdest little trail, right through Tunnel Cave.
You won’t have to crawl, but you will have to stoop pretty darn low to get through it, and as the name suggests, you can see light at the end of the tunnel. A flashlight isn’t necessary, and without it, it’s a little spooky. For those who are troubled by dark, tight spaces, the Short Cut Trail lets you cheat by going around the cave.
BLUFFS HIKING TRAIL
Once through Tunnel Cave, you start the Bluffs Hiking Trail. This is the most rugged of all the hikes in the part, passing several cave entrances and clinging to the rocky, crevice-filled limestone karst bluffs above the Chipola River floodplain. It’s a real scramble to do this hike, and you need to watch your footing. The forest is lush and green, with a high canopy and plenty of needle palm edging the trail. In early spring, columbine and trillium bloom all along the footpath. A cross trail leads back to the parking lot, and this trail also connects with the paved path. But don’t stop there!
The Magnolia-Beech Trail is the one footpath encountered by most folks exiting the cave tour. It winds through its namesake forest, crossing small creeks on bridges and passing a few sinkholes before looping around to the back of the visitor center.