On the northern edge of Gainesville, Devil’s Millhopper Geologic State Park showcases a geologic formation known to generations of residents and visitors. You’d think you were in the Amazon, or Hawaii, when you hear and see the tumbling cascades behind a screen of dense vegetation. But the ephemeral waterfalls that occur at Devil’s Millhopper are just one of the delights to be found in this small but intriguing state park.
With the staircase recently replaced, it now takes only 132 steps (formerly a steep 232) to walk to the bottom of this 500-foot-wide, 120-foot-deep sinkhole. Each landing reveals a new layer of forest, each crack and crevice a bounty of botanical wonders. No matter what time of year you visit, the creek tumbles down into the abyss through a succession of rock outcroppings, but the best time to visit is after a heavy rain, when tall waterfalls gush down the sides of the sinkhole. The nature trail rings the top of the sinkhole, leading you through habitats very different than what you’ll find below.
Address: 4732 Millhopper Rd, Gainesville
Fees: $2 cyclist or pedestrian, $4 per vehicle
Restroom: at the interpretive center
Open: Open 8 AM to 5 PM. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Leashed pets are welcome, but are not permitted on the staircase into the sinkhole.
From I-75, take Gainesville exit 390 and head east into Gainesville on SR 222 for 3.4 miles, passing Santa Fe Community College. Turn left at the traffic light for NW 43rd Street. Drive 1 mile to NW 53rd Ave (Millhopper Road) and turn left. The park is on the right within a quarter mile.
This yawning chasm has been a tourist attraction for nearly two centuries, a deep natural pit (500 feet across, 120 feet deep) where the water table – especially after a heavy rain – pours tall waterfalls down the slopes into a world unlike the one at the rim.
There is a visitor center with an orientation film and restrooms, plus picnic benches out at the parking area. Be cautious of poison ivy, which is prevalent along the sides of the footpath. Except in winter, mosquitoes are always intense here.
The Devils Millhopper Nature Trail circles the top of the sinkhole through a succession of habitats, including a surprising slice of scrub forest. It provides access to the staircase into the sinkhole.
Slipping into a ravine that looks like it was stolen from the Appalachian Mountains, the staircase guides you down 132 steps and landings into the depths of this karst feature, where the trickles and cascades of water from above vanish beneath a screen of needle palms and ferns into the earth. Peer closely to see unusual flora for this region – green dragon, cutleaf spleenwort, jack-in-the-pulpit, and lanceleaf wakerobin – sprouting along the rocky edges of the cool basin at the bottom of this sinkhole.
Devils Millhopper State Park debuted a new staircase into the sinkhole on June 5. It has 100 fewer steps and yet is less steep and broader than the prior version.