A geologic wonder south of Tallahassee, Leon Sinks Geological Area showcases karst in the Woodville Karst Plain.
Karst is a landscape that happens through deep erosion of a soft rock such as limestone.
It leads to unusual visual treats as water flows into, out of, and through the Swiss-cheese holes that occur within stone.
Florida’s aquifers are largely inside karst. Groundwater seeps into the spongy limestone bedrock and starts flowing from point to point.
The sinkholes of Leon Sinks are hydrologically connected to Wakulla Springs. Along this hike are pools of water in a variety of colors at the bottom of deep sinkholes.
Stare into a cave, watch water vanish in a losing stream, and see it pop up again in a river rise.
The trail system is rugged but fun and filled with botanical beauty, especially in early spring.
The trail system includes two loops. The blue-blazed Sinkhole Trail is 3.1 miles. Blazed lime green, the Gum Swamp Trail forks off it to graze along the edges of the swamps.
Both trails share a 0.7 mile cross-trail. This hike describes the full outer loop of 4.5 miles.
This is a fascinating place. Check out the interpretive information at the trailhead before you start your hike.
Understanding karst a little better before you begin climbing in and out of sinkholes will enhance your appreciation for the weird landscapes at Leon Sinks.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 4.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 30.309781, -84.346486
Fees: $5 per vehicle
Restroom: At the trailhead
Land manager: National Forests in Florida
Day use only. Leashed dogs welcome.
Gates open at 8 AM. They close at 6 PM in the winter months, 8 PM the rest of the year.
Insect repellent is a must for the Gum Swamp Trail.
From Tallahassee, drive south for 4 miles on US 319 from its junction with SR 61 in the city. The trail entrance is prominently on your right.
A short entrance trail leads from the trailhead near the restrooms to the main loop. Turn right to begin your traverse of the Sinkhole Trail.
This is an undulating landscape of sandhills largely topped with longleaf pine and wiregrass. Established in 1937, the Apalachicola National Forest protects a great deal of it.
Descend a flight of stairs into Dry Sink, a depression filled with dogwood and Southern magnolia. The first of many wooden posts displays the name of the sinkhole.
The trail climbs out and loops around to an overlook with a bench over deep Turner Sink.
Crossing an old two track, circle the left side of Cone Sink and pass Palmetto Sink, reaching Back Sink.
Slip down the side trail here to take a peek into the sink and see its two deep throat-like bowls at the bottom.
After 0.5 mile, pass Far Sink. Watch for a glimmer of aquamarine through the trees to the left. The trail opens up above Hammock Sink.
Erosion and storm damage have eliminated the boardwalk that once led into this breathtaking natural feature, but it’s still quite the sight from the bluffs.
Climb the trail from Hammock Sink to pass Tiny Sink a few moments later. Soon after is Big Dismal Sink, where an observation deck perches over the deep, steep drop.
At 130 feet deep, Big Dismal is the deepest sink in Woodville Karst Plain. It is a true karst window, a cylindrical viewport into the aquifer with no safe access to the water below.
Spontaneous waterfalls occur when groundwater seeps from above the clay cap of the forest soil and drips down through the ferns and other vegetation into this dark sink.
From the platform above, you can almost always hear water dripping and echoing far below.
Rising into longleaf pine sandhills, the trail passes through an area where wildflowers are especially showy in spring and fall, passing dry Field Sink.
Climbing into a shady upland forest at 1.2 miles, head straight for Big Eight Sink. Next is Magnolia Sink, trimmed along the edges with magnolias and weird rock formations.
A bench provides a rest stop near Black Sink. The trail pops into the sandhill habitat for a pleasant rolling stroll before reaching the shady forest again.
Just past a clearing with several benches is a T intersection. Take a left off the main trail at 2 miles for a drop into the ravine of Lost Stream Sink.
A lost stream is a stream that slowly vanishes into the earth due to the karst below. It ends up flowing underground.
There is no longer a crossing at the bottom of the ravine, so don’t bother to go farther than the views from the interpretive sign and the Duckweed Sink marker.
Rejoin the Sinkhole Trail for a walk through a beech-magnolia forest. A staircase leads downhill to the trail junction of the Crossover Trail and Gum Swamp Trail at 2.1 miles.
If climbing in and out of sinkholes has worn you out, good news: there aren’t any more along the trails. But this junction is geologically intriguing, since it’s atop a natural bridge.
At 2.3 miles, the Crossover Trail is the direct route straight ahead to the trailhead for a 3.1-mile hike.
It passes through the heart of Gum Swamp on a boardwalk, where the shapely trunks of the trees reflect against the dark water.
The outer loop of the Gum Swamp Trail skirts the edges of the swamps but has its own delights. Turn right to follow it.
Fisher Creek – the Lost Stream – rises as a spring at a base of large rocks and flows away past a rocky bluff, disappearing from view around a corner.
The Gum Swamp Trail offers less in the way of cool geology but is botanically intriguing. This is where we saw wild azalea blossoms like orbs suspended in air along the stems.
Pine cones cover the forest floor, and the footpath is on a nice layer of pine duff. Lime green blazes and arrows lead the way.
Beyond a two-track road the forest becomes denser with loblolly and longleaf pines towering overhead. Gum Swamp is visible in the distance through the trees to the left.
The trail reaches Bear Scratch Swamp and a bench overlooking the view. At South Swamp, look for a pine and water oak that have grown intertwined right near the sign.
The trail winds past Shadows Swamp, a good place to stand and listen for birds at 3.6 miles.
The Gum Swamp Trail meets back up with the Crossover Trail at 4 miles. Turn right to stay on the outer loop heading clockwise.
There is one last karst formation to visit, Gopher Hole. It’s at the end of a short side trail to the right and is a cavern shaped like a gigantic gopher tortoise burrow.
Watch drops of water fall from the cave ceiling and create ripples across the placid surface. Use a flashlight to peer deeper inside.
Returning up the Gopher Hole side trail, turn right. Within a few minutes, you close the loop in the sandhills at the entrance trail.
Turn right to exit to the parking area, completing your hike of 4.5 miles.
Learn more about the Apalachicola National Forest
Apalachicola National Forest
Noted for its botanical beauty, the Apalachicola National Forest is the largest National Forest in Florida, sweeping south and west of Tallahassee
A walk through Leon Sinks Geological Area
See our photos of Leon Sinks
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Wakulla Springs State Park
A 1930s resort turned nature park surrounding one of the world’s largest and deepest springs, Wakulla Springs State Park leads you back in time at Florida’s only state park lodge
Wakulla State Forest
Forest roads and multi-use trails form a loop in Wakulla State Forest, navigating a variety of natural environments including a small freshwater spring.