Saturday, November 19, 2011

Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, FL

I visited this park to tour the caverns many years ago but have never camped here. They redid the campground late last year and now offer full hook-ups, which include the sewer connection. Fairly rare in a Florida state park!

This is the most beautiful campground I have ever been in. Now, that opinion might be influenced by the time of year in terms of the foliage. Another rare thing in Florida is fall color, but this park had it bursting out all over. Given that, the woodsy nature of the campground, and the fact that it was less than half full all contributed to this being a great park experience.

I had chosen site 8, which would have been fine, but since so many were available, I drove through the campground upon arrival and then changed my site to 18. Later, after walking the campground, I decided that my favorite site would be 24, or 16, both of which would offer only woods out the camper door (rather than another RV). I think that every one of these sites would be excellent for a tent--they are flat, and the ground is just dirt; no tent pads, but they aren't really necessary. Large bus-sized RVs would fit in the sites as well, though with less front-to-back room. Here is my site, #18:

Here is the view out the back of the site:

This is the campground road; this curve is right before #18, so my large off-door side window looked out on this road and woods.

Here is a view of the site across from me, to show you an empty site.

It rained the second day I was there. We are still basically having summer here, and the rain only added to the humidity. On that second day, every RV in the park, including mine, was running AC until late into the night. The hot (84 degrees) and humid (97%, and that's when it wasn't actually raining) weather took a little of the enjoyment out of this trip.

The next day was sunny. A bit warm for any hiking, but I did take the bike out. There is excellent riding in this park, since the campground is 3 miles from the entrance. My first stop was at the boat ramp on the Chipola River.

This sign is posted at the ramp.

This trail meanders along the river, looking very inviting:

And then back on the bike to continue riding the park road. I came to this large limestone just off the road.

Pivoting to the left from that, I spotted these little cave-like structures in the woods.

Then back on the bike to ride to the caverns. They do not offer tours on Tuesday or Wednesday, which I knew when I made my reservation (for which those were the two complete days). I had seen them already anyway. Nonetheless, I rode to the caverns area and wandered around the exhibits and information panels inside the visitor center. I locked my bike to a post and walked the half-mile paved trail to the cavern entrance.

It just looked so strange. Two things: first, it looked like the home of some evil troll in a scary children's book, and second, walking down the steps led to air that was significantly cooler than at ground level (I considered setting up my chair there to do some reading in comfort...). If you tour the caves, no matter how sultry it is in the park, take a jacket!

I got back on the bike and rode to the picnic and swimming area. Another great-looking trail leads off of an open, grassy area. I guess sometimes there is swimming allowed in the blue spring.

And then back to the campground. I spent a lot of time chatting on this trip with Helen, one of the park hosts.

Verizon wireless service went from non-existent to strong enough for texts. I was never able to take or make any calls, it dropped out immediately when I tried. I did not see a landline phone for use, but I didn't look for it, so there may have been one near the bath house (which, by the way, was very large and very clean, though the interior walls were always wet and dripping from the humidity, which was a somewhat strange effect). There is a Winn Dixie within an easy drive, as well as assorted sub and pizza restaurants. There is a Walmart and more a bit farther, at the interstate. There is a washer and dryer in the campground. For paddling, in addition to the Chipola, this is near Merritt Mill Pond, which is a very neat place to paddle. They rent canoes at the park, next to the boat ramp.

A note for any campers who tow trailers, particularly solo: I decided to get a Swift wireless camera system to assist with the hitching process. I found it to be nothing short of amazing. When I hitched the camper at home before leaving, I got the ball and receiver aligned perfectly the first time. At the campground I was coming in at an angle and was offset by a tad, so I pulled forward, corrected, and backed perfectly into position--without getting out of the car! If you have never used a camera and the method appeals to you, I highly recommend you try one of these!

I still have a lot of campgrounds to get to, but I have decided to put camping on hold until the temps drop below the AC-necessary level. Possibly going north would help with that if I go far enough, but I tend to stay within about a 3-hour drive. We'll see.


Sandra said...

this one is amazing and I would love it there, the wooded trails call to me but the door into the caverns makes me shudder, not cavern tours for me, but i like looking at the outside. i am thinking maybe they have to clear the gators out of the swimming pond before they open it. i am going to look this up to see where it is and where you were oh great traveler

Mama-Bug said...

I frequent this park quite often, it's only an hour from my home. Did you hike any of the trails? I love late spring just to photograph the wild flowers growing there. Not many places in Florida have trillium; they are always beautiful!

Naomi Bustos said...

I grew up frequenting this park swimming at the blue spring and exploring those caves. It was amazing and beautiful. Will never forget my childhood!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this review with photos. Very helpful. And thank you for the tips on your favorite campsite. SO hard to figure out online which are the more private campsites for tent camping! Great photos!