This town is known for its sprawling cave park and gorgeous blue spring waters.
Marianna is a quaint inland college town in the Florida panhandle. While it isn’t well known by many outdoor enthusiasts, Marianna is a gateway to a few natural wonders, including Florida Caverns State Park—the sunshine state’s only underground cave you can explore via tour. They also have the Blue Spring-fed crystalline kayaking destination of Merritts Mill Pond, where you can catch a glimpse of marine life floating right under your boat. Camping destinations are both lush and serene, with nature at your fingertips. Whether you’re a Florida native or just looking for something different, this town will surprise you.
There’s a lot more to Florida than beaches, and this state park proves it. Right in Marianna, Florida Caverns State Park offers day tours, where visitors can descend below the earth’s surface, see rare geologic formations up close, and learn about the cave’s history while possibly encountering creatures such as bats, mice, salamanders and more. Tickets for tours must be purchased in person, so be sure to plan ahead and go early.
Those familiar with Florida know that its natural springs are its best-kept secret. Florida has a massive natural spring network throughout the state, and Merritts Mill Pond is one place where those springs flow to the surface for us to enjoy. Like other springs in the state, this pond offers clear views to the bottom, making it a haven for diving, paddling, fishing and swimming. There are a few points where you can access Merritts Mill Pond, but the closest to Marianna is Jackson Blue Springs Recreation Area, about 10 minutes from town. Keep in mind that this is a seasonal access point, which opens in May and closes on Labor Day.
This is a great area to visit if you’re looking to explore and adventure in Florida’s wild spaces. Nestled along the Chipola River, Hinson Conservation and Recreation Area has plenty of options to paddle and look for wildlife, especially birds and fish (and maybe the occasional alligator). You can also hike along the water for a serene stroll that likely won’t include many other people. Check out Alamo Cave to see a natural bridge and enjoy even more underground action.
This part of Florida is nice anytime of year, but keep in mind that things will be hotter, and more crowded, in the summertime. Another reason to think about visiting in the cooler months, instead of summer or on spring break, is that it’ll increase your chances of seeing manatees: they’re most active in Florida’s springs from December to April. Lastly, consider spring break a factor when booking your cave tickets, as they do sell out during the busier months.