On the northern edge of Gainesville, the Devils Millhopper Nature Trail showcases all angles of the primary geologic feature in Devils Millhopper Geologic State Park.
You’ll walk around the a 500-foot-wide, 120-foot-deep sinkhole, circling it up top before descending into its depths along a 132-step series of stairs and landings to the bottom of this National Natural Landmark.
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Length: 0.9 mile loop / 1.6 mile round-trip
Trailhead: 29.705809, -82.394255
Address: 4732 Millhopper Rd, Gainesville
Fees: $2 cyclist or pedestrian, $4 per vehicle
Restroom: at the interpretive center
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to 5 PM. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Leashed pets are welcome, but are not permitted on the staircase into the sinkhole.
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.
From Interstate 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.
UPDATE 7/18/2020: This loop remains broken because of damage to the bridge. You must walk out and back on the trail in either direction to the bridge, now making this a 1.6-mile hike (previously 0.9-mile loop). Also, the stairs may be closed due to cleanliness concerns.
From the parking area, follow the paved path past the ranger station and around the interpretive center.
Here, accessible exhibits provide interpretation of the geology and cultural history of the Devils Millhopper, including a short film in an open-air theater.
Past the interpretive center, the paved trail becomes a hard-packed sand path under the hickory and loblolly pine.
When you reach the T intersection, turn right, so the plunge down the sinkhole is the last part of the hike.
If the water table is high, you’ll hear the sound of running water, a good indicator that you’ll see waterfalls later in this walk.
The hardwood forest is heavy on oaks and hickories, so when the leaves are on the trees, you can’t see the sinkhole for the forest.
But you can certainly feel its presence, off to the left, where fencing discourages drawing close to the edge.
After a quarter mile, the trail winds past a communications tower and into a scrub forest, where silk bay and rusty lyonia are among the larger shrubs in the understory.
There are frequent benches along this topside nature trail, so it’s not a challenge for folks with limited mobility.
A half mile in, you reach a bridge over a ravine that wouldn’t look out of place in the Great Smoky Mountains. It arches over a creek steeply downhill towards the sinkhole.
This is the current turn-around point as the bridge was damaged by Hurricane Irma and it’s unknown when the park can afford to replace it. Retrace the way you came.
Returning back to the point where you first met the fence along the edge of the sinkhole, keep going past the exit, following the fence.
If the leaves aren’t too dense you can catch a glimpse or two down into the sinkhole.
At 1 mile, a stone marker notes Devil’s Millhopper as a Registered Natural Landmark. The new staircase down into the sinkhole starts just behind it with a boardwalk.
The boardwalk parallels the creek flowing into the ravine. The creek tumbles down a series of rock outcrops. Look closely at plants on the ledges.
Some of the more unusual species found down here are wakerobin, a variety of trillium that blooms in late winter, and needle palms, which are more frequently found along humid spring runs.
As you drop deeper into the sinkhole, the landings afford better panoramas of the inside of this unique world. Listen for the sound of water.
Look towards the sound to see the various tall cascades that pour out of the water table when water is plentiful. They tumble down the rocky sides of the sinkhole behind the lush plants and trees.
The final landing is a broad observation deck overlooking the bottom of the sinkhole. At the time we revisited – the day this new staircase opened – the sink was full of water.
It’s not always this way, but heavy rains this season can make it so. Walk to the end of the observation deck to see the waterfall coming down the near side of the sinkhole wall.
Depending on the time of year and the leaves in the way, you can sometimes see the waterfalls along the far wall of the sinkhole as well.
There’s no other way to go but up! Start your way back up the staircase.
At the top, turn right for a quick walk over to the bridge over the ravine. It’s blocked off from this end as well.
Turn around and follow the fenceline back to the walkway to the exit path to the interpretive center, reaching the parking area after 1.6 miles.
Learn more about Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
See our photos of Devils Millhopper
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