Go with the Flow: Florida Waterfalls
By Lauren Tjaden
Of course there are waterfalls in Florida!
They may not be the tallest, but the Sunshine State puts its own, utterly unique and glorious twist on waterfalls, from hidden gems that reveal their splendor beside remote hiking trails to famed favorites that are must-sees.
Explore a path that leads to aptly-named Disappearing Creek in White Springs to see a waterfall plunge into a sinkhole; try to spot a rainbow in the mist of Falling Water Falls in Lake City; and experience the stunningly-gorgeous Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon, where you can swim in spring water and soak up the majesty of not one, but three cascading falls.
Here's where to learn where you can discover these and other waterfalls in Florida:
Falling Waters Falls
Falling Waters State Park,1130 State Park Road, Chipley FL 32428; phone (850) 638-6130
Nestled in a peaceful forest, hidden among towering trees and a mysterious array of sinkholes, you’ll find Falling Waters Falls. The 74-foot waterfall is Florida’s tallest, an awe-inspiring wonder that’s one of the most important natural features in the Sunshine State.
Fed by spring water and rains, the falls are sometimes a mere trickle and at other times a furious torrent, but they always promise a blockbuster spectacle, tumbling over rocks into a 100-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide, tube-shaped sinkhole with sheer limestone walls that fade into a cave at the bottom.
You can experience the falls from two viewing platforms, both accessible from the park’s Wire Grass boardwalk trail.
The lower platform is situated under the rim of the sinkhole, where you’re so close to the action you can feel the mist from the cascades—and sometimes see a rainbow in it. The upper platform is higher and drier, with a perfect vantage point for photos.
Though the floor of the sinkhole appears unyielding, you can see water doesn’t collect there, but instead, flows into a veiled cave system below the earth, its destination undiscovered.
The waterfall is more than worth the trip of a few miles off of I-10, and you should consider making a day of it at the park. Your gang can hike the trails, check out the butterfly garden, take a dip in the lake or enjoy a picnic.
For a special experience, stay the night in the park’s serene campground, with the melody of the wind in the pines to lull you to sleep.
Chipley is located in Northwest Florida, almost due north of Panama City Beach and close to I-10 in Florida’s Panhandle.
Want to see more? Check out this video: Falling Waters State Park
Morikami Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach, FL 33446; Phone: 561-495-0233
Morikami invites you to ‘lay aside the chaos of a troubled world’ with a trip to their gardens, and it’s designed to help you do exactly that. Meander through fragrant pine forests and handsome bamboo groves and let the exquisite landscaping, silent lake and cascading waterfalls work their magic on your spirit.
Make sure to visit the Morikami Museum while you’re there, complete with exhibitions, collections and a tea house.
You can find Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, a charming village nestled on the Southeast coast of Florida.
Big Shoals Rapids on the Big Shoals Trail
Big Shoals State Park, Little Shoals Entrance: 11330 S.E. County Road 135; Big Shoals Entrance: 18738 Southeast 94th St., White Springs FL 32096; phone: 386-397-4331
Who knew? You can find radical, foaming rapids with a Class III Whitewater classification in the Sunshine State-- and the limestone bluffs that rise a colossal 80 feet above the banks of the Suwannee River deliver a sweeping view of them.
You can’t get to the Big Shoals rapids in your car, but a hike of about a mile will reward you with the unforgettable sight of furious water screaming through gaps in the limestone ridges and bubbling into root-beer-hued spray that saturates the air.
If you’re an experienced kayaker or canoeist you can attempt to pilot the shoals and get a closer look at the raging water, but if you’re a novice, don’t even think about it. Portaging around the shoals is possible.
The park features more than 28 miles of forested trails available for hiking, biking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing, and the fishing is excellent.
You’ll find Big Shoals a little north of Lake City and Live Oak in North Central Florida, situated roughly between Jacksonville and Tallahassee.
For more information about the trail, the rapids, and how to access them, check out https://floridahikes.com/bigshoals .
Rainbow Springs State Park, 19158 S.W. 81st Place Road, Dunnellon FL 34432; phone: 352-465-8555
Three impressive, manmade waterfalls highlight Rainbow Springs State Park, as a result of its past life as a cheesy tourist attraction when it was marketed as a jungle oasis complete with exotic animals. Though Florida State bought the park in the 1990’s and now manages the facility, the waterfalls remain, fully functional, lush with vegetation and a treat for the eyes.
Numerous trails offer wonderful views of the falls.
This getaway delivers amenities that include swimming in the sapphire-blue, clear waters of the spring as well as tubing, snorkeling, kayaking, rentals, campgrounds, a concession and a restaurant. It’s wildly popular, so make sure to arrive before it fills for the day.
Dunnellon is located toward Florida’s Gulf coast in North Central Florida, west and a little south of Ocala, and north of Inverness.
Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, 4732 Millhopper Road, Gainesville FL 32653; phone: 352-955-2008
In North Florida, a sandy landscape thick with pine forests, you’ll find this unlikely National Natural Landmark. Unusual, fascinating and historic, its centerpiece is a bowl-shaped sinkhole that dips 120-feet down into a miniature rain forest, an oddity that’s drawn visitors since the 1880’s.
Although Florida’s terrain is pockmarked with sinkholes, Devil’s Millhopper stands apart because it exposes over 100-feet of rock layers that are older the further you go.
A 132-step boardwalk invites you into this strange and striking environment.
As you approach the sinkhole, the temperature will plummet, making it comfortable even in the heat of summer. A multitude of small streams and tumbling waterfalls flow down the sheer slopes of the limestone crater, sometimes slipping into crevices and vanishing like a bit of magic. Lush greenery and wildlife thrive in this ecosystem; listen for the quivering song of the tiny Fox Sparrow, try to spot delicate Golden Banded Skipper butterflies, and admire – but don’t touch-- the gray treefrog.
The park offers a visitor center, interpretative exhibit and restrooms.
Devil’s Millhopper is located in Gainesville, a North Central Florida city.
Camp Branch Conservation Area, Live Oak, FL 32060
Rugged, hugging the sheer sides of a ravine, the Disappearing Creek Loop off the Florida Trail along the Suwannee River isn’t for the faint-hearted or fumble-footed. But the valiant souls that heed the three-mile trail’s siren call of high adventure will be rewarded with views of Camp Branch rippling through white-water and tumbling into a cavernous sinkhole.
The area boasts dramatic caves, sinkholes and rocks, thanks to limestone erosion, assuring a spectacular experience.
Camping is allowed close to the Loop’s connection with the Florida Trail.
Live Oak is located roughly midway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville in North Central Florida.
For detailed directions and more information, check out floridahikes.com/disappearingcreek .
Steinhatchee Falls, Steinhatchee, FL 32359
Serene, idyllic and historic, Steinhatchee Falls holds the distinction of being Florida’s widest waterfall. Only a few feet from top to bottom, the falls have many different moods, dictated by the amount of water gushing over the rocks.
The flat limestone shelf on the top of the falls once served as a crossing point for Timucuan Indians, Spanish Explorers, Seminole Indians and Civil War troops, and a close look will reveal age-old wagon ruts carved into the rocks on both sides of the river.
Take a dip in the shallow waters, but keep an eye on the kids and exercise caution when swimming, because the water can be turbulent and murky, and the bottom is stony.
You can employ the boat ramp to launch a kayak or canoe for a paddle down the scenic river, or rent a kayak from the folks at River Haven Marina in Steinhatchee.
Discover this hidden gem on Florida’s Central West coast in peaceful Taylor County, in the curve that of the state that leads to Northwest Florida.
For more information on the falls and how to find them, check out floridahikes.com/steinhatchee-falls .
953 Northwest Falling Creek Road, Lake City, FL 32055; phone (386) 719-7545
Magnificent, serene and easily accessible down a short boardwalk trail, this cascade boasts root-beer-colored water tumbling more than ten-feet over a deep slab of limestone, gushing under Falling Creek Road through a gaping ravine before vanishing underground.
While at the park, you can try to spot wildlife on a stroll down the trail that borders the creek’s rapids, let the kids burn off steam at the playground, check out a historic building, and enjoy a picnic at one of the park’s tables.
You’ll find this family-favorite just north of Lake City in Central North Florida, roughly midway between Tallahassee and Gainesville, with a quick jog off of I-10.
Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 South Tamiami Trail
Osprey, FL 34229; phone: 941-483-5956
Biking! Birding! Paddling! Snorkeling! Swimming! Fishing! Tours! Camping! 15 miles of trails!
Surrounded by metropolitan sprawl, Oscar Scherer is a spectacular, natural oasis featuring all of these outdoor adventures in addition to a waterfall -- an unexpected pleasure in South Florida.
Take an easy, quarter-mile hike down a wheelchair-friendly path curving around spring-fed Lake Osprey to see the falls, flowing from an ancient artesian spring and splashing down the hillside through a tangle of dried sulfur and foliage into the lake.
Different forks of the trail offer different views. The accessible path circles around the gurgling spring; the less-accessible path, which traverses the bridge, hugs the lake instead.
You’ll find the park between Sarasota and Venice on the Florida’s Southwest coast.
For more information about the trail and directions about how to access the waterfall, check out floridahikes.com/oscar-scherer-lake-osprey.
2010 Abrams Rd, Eustis, FL 32726; phone: (352) 324-6141
Hidden Waters Preserve, a 90-acre property beloved by birders and fitness enthusiasts, exists thanks to the Eichelberger Sink, an immense sinkhole that central Florida’s Lake County Water Authority manages.
To see the Preserve’s waterfalls-- and get a vivid lesson about how flowing water carves the earth—you’ll need to descend into the sinkhole along a trail. The loop is only about a mile, but the slopes are extreme, so expect a workout.
When you hear the sound of rushing water and notice the vast slash in the ground through the trees on your right, you’ll know you’re getting close to the action. As the path starts to sharply drop through a maze of ferns and Elephant Ears, several overlooks paralleling the stream promise exciting views as the water plunges over the roots of trees, sometimes a mere trickle and at other times a frothy, raging torrent.
You’ll find Eustis, an enclave that prides itself on being 'America's Hometown' and an arts and culture destination, in Central Florida; it’s less than an hour north and a bit west of Orlando.
For detailed trail directions and more information, check out floridahikes.com/hiddenwaters.
Torreya State Park, 2576 N.W. Torreya Park Road, Bristol FL 32321; phone: 850-643-2674
Towering plateaus, yawning ravines and precipitous bluffs overlooking the Apalachicola River make Torreya State Park one of Florida's most picturesque places, and with its extreme geography, it’s hardly surprising that it’s home to a dazzling waterfall.
Weeping Ridge Trail, that leads to the waterfall, is only a mile round-trip but be forewarned; it’s rugged, steep, and can be slippery. You’ll find your payoff at the end of the trail, where the 25-foot-tall waterfall tumbles off the ridge.
Named for an exceptionally uncommon species of Torreya tree found only on the bluffs bordering the Apalachicola River, the park was established by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. Nature lovers can find a smorgasbord of outdoor activities at Torreya, including camping, hiking, picnicking, boating, fishing and birding; history buffs will appreciate the daily tours of the 1840’s plantation home, the Gregory House.
The park is located about an hour west of Tallahassee in Florida’s Panhandle.
For more information about the trail, the waterfall, and how to access them, check out floridahikes.com/weeping-ridge-trail .