On our recent “glamping” trip at Torreya State Park in the North Florida pan handle, my 14-year-old son and I had a fabulous time staying in a yurt in the campgrounds! See the glamping post about staying in a yurt if you don’t know what a yurt is. Sleeping in a yurt was the basis for the whole trip, however it was only to serve as home base while we searched for outdoor adventure in North Florida.I actually went to college my freshmen year in Tallahassee, but I never ventured any further to explore the pan handle and that was prior to me getting in touch with my explorer persona. Once I began to research family friendly outdoor adventure in North Florida (within an hour’s drive of Torreya) I realized that this region of the state is an outdoor enthusiast gold mine! We only had time to tackle a few activities, but now I have a pinterest board full of florida pan handle future trip itineraries.
FLORIDA CAVERNS STATE PARK
Our first adventure stop was a day at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. 67 feet down in the earth are the only air-filled caverns in Florida. This is one of those natrual wonders that every Florida resident should see at least once in their lives. Once you make the descent into the caverns it feels like you’re transported into Mars. It’s a whole new world. It certainly didn’t feel like Florida. This is a welcome break from the heat and humidity, however it can be a tricky walk with unlevel paths, slippery spots, and areas where you need to bend and squeeze. Divas, leave the cute sandals in the car and pull out the Nike Free Runs!
It’s a cool 64 to 67 degrees year round inside the caverns. It’s truly a marvel to walk between the various rooms of stalactites and stalagmites. What a great opportunity to bring the science my son has learned about in school to life. Even though he’s a teenager, it still passed the “cool test”. There were quite a few younger children on the tour as well and they were fascinated. Over the years many of the formations and rooms have names, like the wedding room and the South America room. My personal favorite formation was the one that resembled the Hogwarts Castle!
When you exit you can take a hike or explore the museum to learn more about the history of the park or hike along the scenic trails. There is an abundance of picnic tables near the back of the park and places to fish. There is also a freshwater spring called the Blue Hole. I laugh when I say that name because, well…it’s blue but it’s not clear. My son took one look at the water up close and said there’s no way he was getting in. The water had an eerie blue-green tint to it and quite a bit of algae, although it did make for a really neat shot in the pictures. I’m not sure what caused the poor quality, but I hope it’s not a permanent issue because it really was a very serene spot.
FALLING WATERS STATE PARK
Our next adventure stop was in Chipley, FL, about 40 minutes from Marianna at Falling Waters State Park. The ranger let us know that they hadn’t had a hard rain so there probably wouldn’t be much to see at the falls. We hiked down to the waterfall boardwalk to find a bone dry hole in the earth which descended into a pit of tree limbs and leaves and a dark abyss. It’s not often you get to see the dry bottom of a waterfall so it was still neat to see it.
We started our ascent back out to explore the sink hole path. The sky darkened in a matter of seconds and we could hear the rain coming from deeper into the forest right toward us. My son and I ran for it! It was an all out sprint to make it to the car before the rain caught up with us and before my iPad was ruined. I checked the radar and it was clear that we were in the middle of a big storm. I had no desire to drive in that kind of weather so we decided to just take a car nap. Aren’t those the best?? After the rain eased up we headed over to the beach on the lake. Walking deeper into the forest I really did forget that this was Florida. It was splendid and so green after the rain. We noticed a babbling stream moving fairly quickly, and then I had an epiphany. What if this is the stream that feeds the waterfall?! What if we return and it’s no longer dry?! It’s flowing in that direction so it just might be.
We ran back to the waterfall boardwalk and I could hear it before I saw it. Rounding the corner sweating and panting, there it was. It was a pretty heavy flow cascading down the sheer rock face and then plunging into the pit and disappearing into a cavern. I knew that I was seeing and listening to a waterfall, but my brain could not reconcile that this was Florida. I was in entranced by the sound of the rushing water and the cool spray on my face. This was what I like to call a God moment. We just stood there and watched the falling waters (pun intended). As an added bonus there is a boardwalk built atop a string of sink holes all over 100 feet deep. Talk about trust?! It was a little unsettling to walk on this boardwalk and look down into these deep dark holes of nothingness. It’s definitely a must-do on a trip to this park.
JACKSON BLUE SPRING RECREATION AREA
Our final north Florida outdoor adventure stop was the following day in Marianna, FL at Jackson Blue Spring Recreation area. The park is centered around the fresh water head springs which bubbles up from a cave 22 feet deep. It’s a gorgeous park with tubes, a diving board, and kayak launch. The water was so pristine and full of life. We saw crawfish, bass, turtles, and an abundance of other small fish. It’s a great park for little ones because there is plenty of shallow sandy bottoms where the kids can safely play. For the more adventurous, jumping from the diving board directly over the spring head is a must. My son jumped more times than I can count. I stood on the diving board. I looked down at the abyss and I admit….I chickened out. (**hangs head in shame**) I’m always saying go for it and try something new. I’ve jumped from much higher and into deeper water but the blue hole intimidated me for some reason. Now I have to return one day to redeem myself, but my son jumped about 20 times!
This trip reminded me of why Florida is such a natural treasure. I planned this trip solely based on the desire to stay in the yurt in Torreya State Park. Sometimes focusing on a unique aspect of the trip, like an out of the box lodging, will lend itself to discovering fun things to do that you wouldn’t have otherwise found. I settled on these 3 activities for this trip, but honestly in my research I came across many other great outdoor adventure options for the North Florida region. Remember, there’s more to Florida than pristine beaches.
Tips to plan your own outdoorsy adventure:
1. Florida State Parks website is a great resource for finding unique places to stay. If you find somewhere in a cool looking location or with a unique feature, be open to traveling a short distance in order to find activities. Trip advisor is a great resource for ideas.
2. Don’t discount the little guys. Torreya State Park isn’t one of the most widely known, nor is it the biggest. However it offered something unique that you won’t find in any other parks due to its high elevation on top of a bluff. Just because you haven’t heard of it before doesn’t mean it won’t be any good.
3. If you are traveling with a teen, include them in your planning. I planned the majority of our itinerary, but I allowed my son to give his input on activities he wanted to do. This keeps the peace and allows them to feel like they had their voices heard. You know how teens can be; they are much less likely to complain about an activity or declare it as “lame” if they picked it out. His one request was to visit a spring. As long as we did that he didn’t care what else happened on the trip.
4. Plan a trip to Falling Waters when there’s been some steady rain so that you will actually see a nice flow of water.
“It’s only the great outdoors….what are you afraid of?”
–Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™