Nestled among the wet marshlands and lush forestry of the north-central region of Florida is Alachua County. This county is different from its northern Florida neighbors, as it boasts both earthy terrain and urban city life. It’s home to some of the state’s most well-known parks and landmarks, such as Paynes Prairie and Kanapaha Gardens. And each school year, Alachua attracts more than 50,000 students who attend the University of Florida, the state’s oldest public land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant research university. Visitors can use this one-day trip guide to navigate the best of what Alachua’s swamplands have to offer:
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
Comprised of towering pines and moss-covered trails, Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is an awe-inspiring National Natural Landmark. The park’s main attraction is its bowl-shaped, 120-foot limestone sinkhole that was discovered in the 1800s.
To get to the sinkhole, visitors must travel downhill on a rustic wooden boardwalk. It’s a scenic hike through the park’s miniature rainforest, which is decorated with small, natural streams and lush vegetation. The bottom of the boardwalk is a popular spot for lunch, as it’s equipped with picnic tables and benches to enjoy the woodland scenery.
At the top of the of the sinkhole, visitors can embark on a half-mile hike around the brim of the basin, or visit the park’s Visitor’s Center. The center is full of information on the history of the sinkhole, which geologists believe formed between 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. Visitors are welcomed to engage in the center’s informative exhibits or audio-visual program.
A Park Ranger also gives tours of the park each Saturday morning at 10 a.m. On the tour, many park guests have recorded seeing various types of wildlife, including rabbits, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Group tours are available for larger parties, but require coordination with a Park Ranger. For more information on Devil’s Millhopper’s park hours, pricing and tours, please visit their website.
Poe Springs Park
Just over 20 miles northwest of Devil’s Millhopper is Poe Springs, a naturally formed, fresh-water basin. Poe Springs is located near the quaint town of High Springs, and its shallow waters are ideal for families with small children.
Poe Springs’s basin is nearly 25-feet deep, and pumps about 45 million gallons of fresh water each day. Visitors can access the springs via the Santa Fe River, a 75-mile long river connecting to the spring, or from a boardwalk, which is about 1,000 feet from a paved parking lot. Surrounding Poe Springs are 202 acres of thick woods populated with various wildlife and hiking trails. Visitors are encouraged to walk along the spring’s shoreline or hike the off-the-beaten paths through the area’s lush forestry.
Poe Springs also offers an assortment of activities, including swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking. It also maintains a well-kept park equipped with covered picnic pavilions, a playground and recreational volleyball courts, soccer and softball fields. For more information on Poe Springs Park, please visit the park’s website.
High Springs is an urban city in Alachua County, and classic, homey feel makes it the perfect place to stay when visiting. The city is home to charming bed and breakfasts, well-known hotel chains and a variety of restaurants and pubs. Near High Springs is the city of Gainesville, which boasts southern hospitality and the Florida Gators. For restaurant and hotels recommendations on High Springs and Gainesville, check out the Visit Gainesville website.