Off the Beaten Path from Panama City: Holmes County, Fla.
There’s a type of traveler who prefers to follow the road less traveled, to discover destinations that are largely undiscovered. That’s the type of traveler who, eventually, will find their way to Florida’s Holmes County.
Located in northwestern Florida and tagged to the Georgia border, Holmes County is remote. Only a few roads cover its 500 square miles and only about 20,000 residents live within its confines.
Yet you don’t need to be an adventurous traveler to appreciate Holmes County. You just need to be a curious one.
Here are five natural attractions, historic sites, and activities in Holmes County that remain true to their Florida roots…
There are dozens of demands on your time on any given day, but what makes a day different at this secluded state park is that it will unfold naturally.
Just off Highway 90 in a setting that captures the essence of Old Florida, that task is almost effortless. The focal point of this 443-acre park is a crystal-blue spring flowing at 14 million gallons per day. Unfurl a blanket and read a book under the speckled shade of a pine tree. Take a quiet walk on a nature trail. Slip into the brisk crystalline waters and recall a world minus deadlines and emails. At Ponce De Leon Springs State Park you’ll be reminded how delightful a day can be.
The reason why recreational divers from around the world have placed Holmes County on their itinerary is Vortex Spring. One of Florida’s leading dive sites, it is a destination that combines a bit of modern and prehistoric history.
Its modern history involves the internationally recognized “Diver Down” symbol: a red flag intersected by a diagonal white line. Denzel ‘Doc’ Dockery created the flag in 1956 and later created Florida’s largest dive center around rustic cabins, a well-stocked dive shop, and a spring flowing at 28 million gallons per day (twice that of nearby Ponce De Leon). The prehistoric part? While most divers take a leisurely plunge into the spring, adventurous divers glide into caves where sharks’ teeth -- some estimated at 17 million years old -- have been found.
3. Keith Cabin
When you find yourself in Florida’s most remote regions, it’s natural to wonder how pioneers persevered in a land where, from water to food to clothing, every necessity had to be transported, grown, or sewn.
Near County Roads 2 and 179, the log cabin home built in 1886 by William Thomas Keith will give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of a determined settler. Step inside the cabin and imagine Keith, his wife, their eight children, and Keith’s mother living in this unheated, uncooled shelter.
Decorated with a vintage bed, washbasin, table, metalware and other period furnishings, this is a well-preserved example of a settler’s life in pioneer Holmes County.
Holmes County is cowboy country, and its capital is the county seat of Bonifay. During the first weekend of each October, its population increases eightfold as rodeo fans arrive to watch three days of hard-charging, hard-riding, electrifying team roping, steer wrestling, bareback riding, tie-down roping, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, and bull riding.
It’s worth noting the year’s leading sporting event is also Bonifay’s leading social event, with a Rodeo Pageant, pancake breakfast, 5K Run, Rodeo Parade, and charity events.
From CR 2 in the community of New Hope, follow Highway 179A south until you spot a boat launch sign at Baker Landing Lane, a drivable dirt trail that draws in outdoor enthusiasts and serious sportsmen who know something awaits them at the end of the road. Their reward for following this remote route through the dense forest is reaching the banks of the army-green Choctawhatchee River. From here, anglers cast off for a day of fishing and serious sportsmen delve deeper into the backwoods in search of deer, turkey, and wild hogs.
For an old-fashioned outing that combines woods and waters, there’s no place like Holmes.
For more information, visit holmescountyonline.com.
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