A karst window into the watery world of the Woodville Karst Plain, Cherokee Sink is a large, deep water-filled sinkhole in a less-traveled section of Wakulla Springs State Park. More than 250 wide at its broadest point, it is up to 77 feet deep, with rugged limestone bluffs and boulders along portions of the water’s edge. The Cherokee Sink Trail follows the forest road that locals used to access this former swimming hole, providing access to several viewpoints above and along the sink and a trip to a historic cemetery just beyond it.
Location: Wakulla Springs
Length: 2.4 miles
Fees / Permits: $4 per car day use fee
Good for: birding, spring blooms, geology, history
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: portalet at trailead
Take note of when the gate closes at the trailhead entrance and make sure you return to your car before then. There is a picnic table at the trailhead, another along the trail, and another near the sink itself. Pets are not permitted near the sink.
The park also has a much longer hike, the Wakulla Springs Trail, that starts just outside the Wakulla Lodge
From the junction of SR 267 (Bloxham Cutoff) and SR 61, located just west of the main entrance of Wakulla Springs State Park, drive south on SR 61 for 1.2 miles to the entrance to the trailhead on the right, across from the former Wakulla Springs entrance. Look for the split rail fence on the right. A small sign says “Nature Trail.” Continue down the single lane road to the parking area.
Start your hike at the kiosk that says “Cherokee Sink Trail.” It’s an easy walk, as it follows the a forest road that you used to be able to drive down to visit the sink. The trail is surrounded by a second or third generation laurel oak forest, made colorful in spring by a large number of Florida dogwoods in bloom along the path. You walk mostly in the shade. This is an upland area, primarily sandhill, with yaupon holly, bracken fern, and native bamboo in the understory and slash pines rising tall overhead. Pine needles mix into the sand underfoot.
After a quarter mile, there is a small clearing off to the left, a grassy area with a plum tree growing in it. The trail continues almost perfectly straight ahead with a little jog in the distance. You can hear creatures in the woods, perhaps white-tailed deer moving through the understory, and songbirds flitting from branch to branch. There’s a pull-off and another open area soon after as the habitat fully transitions to sandhills, the shade overhead replaced by shorter pine trees, turkey oaks and more laurel oaks. Wild plum blossoms sparkle throughout the spring greens of the forest.
At half a mile there is a picnic table and a garbage can on the left. Passing another pull-out on the right, the path continues around a bend. The shaggy bark of a rather large tree gives it away as bluff oak. More dogwood blooms are apparent through this part of the forest. The trail pops in and out of sun and shade as the trees around you get smaller in size. Around the next bend, you see a long, straight trail ahead of you dappled in sunlight. The sand gets much softer underfoot. You pass old pulloffs about every tenth of a mile, with more plums in bloom.
Coming to a fork in the sand road at 0.9 mile – where you might see deer tracks in the deeper sand to the left – the “Cherokee Sink” sign points you to the right into what used to be the parking area. Walk across the large parking pad and into the woods, where the path narrows. Reaching a T intersection, you see a picnic table, garbage cans, and a split rail fence beyond it. The fence kind of corrals you from going to the left, so follow it to the right. An old sign (if it is still there) says “no pets, coolers, drinks or smoking beyond this point”. This used to be the platform from which you could go swimming, and from it, you can see the observation deck on the far side.
Head down the steps for an approach to the water at this rocky rim of Cherokee Sink. There are several spots here along the lip of the sinkhole where you can scramble on the limestone boulders and get close to the water. The water is quite clear – and quite deep – at the near shore, but filled with algae. Farther out it becomes greenish and hard to peer into. You can see staircases and an observation deck on the far side, but no other access up the hill except the staircase you came down from. Head back up it and work your way around to the right.
Pass by the picnic bench again and make the first right onto a side trail close to the sink. It is a broad path covered in oak leaves and guides you around the south side of Cherokee Sink, reaching the stairs down to the observation deck. This deck gives the best panoramic view of the sink from up high, encompassing where you were down near the water and all the way around. The teal waters reflect the tall pines and dogwoods. Fish shimmer near the surface but you cannot see into the depths. This is a karst window, a viewport into the watery underground world of the Floridan Aquifer.
Climb back up the stairs and turn right. There are two paths up ahead. Take the one to the right which sticks closer to the sink itself. Another staircase leads down to your right for a different view of the sink, this time from its south side. Trail’s end is now at a historic site, the Causseaux Cemetery, established 1850. The family once homesteaded the surrounding property, including Wakulla Springs. The cemetery is believed to contain as many as twenty graves including that of Stephen Causseaux, who served as a Confederate soldier for Florida and died in 1915.
From the cemetery, turn around and follow the narrow path back the way you came, passing the two sets of stairs to observation platforms again. At the “T” intersection, turn right to head out into the old parking area, returning to the next trail junction at 1.3 miles. Turn left to begin the walk back out along the old Cherokee Sink road, passing the picnic table again around 1.9 miles. Notice the cluster of plum trees on the left: one blooms in pink, the other one in white, with yellow jasmine strung between them like Christmas lights. You return to the trailhead parking area and kiosk after 2.4 miles.
Thanks to Bryce Layman (litepacker.blogspot.com) for transcribing this hike!