Falling Waters State Park: Sinkhole Trail, Falling Water Falls, Wiregrass Trail, and Terrace Trail, Chipley, Florida
When you think Florida, wetlands and beaches come to mind. Perhaps springs, prairies, and ranches come to mind as well. However, would waterfalls come to mind? Probably not. Falling Waters State Park protects one of Florida's truly most unique features - a waterfall that lands into a sinkhole, where the stream disappears into the Florida Aquifer. The park's hiking trails showcase a couple other interesting features as well, including a set of sinkholes near the king of them all, a longleaf pine forest, a small lake, and a capped oil well location. This hike occurred on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016. My plan was to hike the Sinkhole Trail, visit Falling Water Falls, and then to hike the Wiregrass Trail and the Terrace Trail out and back.
R/T Length of Trail: 1.6 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:20
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 200 Feet
Pros: Lots of unique features on this trail
Cons: Some of the trails have been paved
Points of Interest: Falling Water Falls - 10+ stars during high water (best seen after significant rainfall; the waterfall can dry up); Sinkholes on Sinkhole Trail; the capped oil well; Falling Waters Lake
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Summer
Fees: There is an entrance fee of $5 per vehicle (2-8 people). The fee is $4 for a 1 person vehicle, and there is a $2 fee for pedestrians, bicyclists, and extra passengers.
Beginning Point: Falling Waters Trailhead
Directions: From Chipley, FL: Follow County Road 77A (Falling Waters Road) South for 2.4 miles. Then, turn left onto State Park Road, and follow it for .06 miles to the entrance to Falling Waters State Park. Pay the entrance fee, and continue straight for another 0.5 miles to the large parking area for Falling Water Falls.
A map and some other information regarding this hike can be viewed here.
This short but fascinating hike has several different starting points, but I chose to start where most people do: at the Falling Waters Trailhead. Take the concrete pathway, with a sign pointing to the falls, west down a rather steep-sided (for Florida at least) valley. At 0.1 miles, reach the first intersection. Here a dirt path that connects to the Wiregrass Trail heads right. Turn left to continue following the Sinkholes Trail/Waterfall Trail. The fence to the right of the concrete walkway prevents people from entering the sinkhole area not from a designated area. At 0.15 miles, reach another junction. Here, the Sinkholes Trail turns left, while the Waterfall Trail turns right. Turn left onto the Sinkholes Trail first. This is a small boardwalk loop that circles a set of sinkholes. Unfortunately, on this day, the left side of the loop was closed for repairs - check with the park for information on when it will be reopened. As you take the right side of the loop, take a look at the succession of sinkholes to your left, as well as one to your right. At 0.25 miles, reach the far side of the loop. This was where the closure began, so I returned the way I came along the boardwalk to the Waterfall Trail at 0.35 miles. Take the Waterfall Trail, and shortly reach another junction. To the left is the Wiregrass Trail and the upper observation area for Falling Water Falls. Continue straight to the lower observation area, descending down a staircase into the sinkhole. A you descend into the sinkhole, more and more of the at-first-glance-small waterfall comes into view. Reach an observation area in the sinkhole, where, during times of high water, you can truly appreciate how high this waterfall is. The base of the waterfall is visible far below at the bottom of the sinkhole. The stream then disappears into an underground cave system. Falling Water Falls is truly one of the best and most unique waterfalls I have ever seen, and who knew it would be in Florida, one of the flattest states in the eastern US? Now, you do need to know that this waterfall may amount to nothing notable in the dry season or during dry periods. To experience this waterfall at its best, visit after significant rainfall.
The trail system doesn't end at Falling Water Falls, although it certainly is the crown jewel of the park's small trail system. From the lower observation area, return to the Wiregrass Trail, and take the Wiregrass Trail, another boardwalk, across the rim of the sinkhole to a second observation area. From here, you can see how the creek forms the waterfall, and you can see the top of the waterfall. However, it is hard to tell how the waterfall is truly beautiful from here. Continue straight on the Wiregrass Trail, leaving the valley and following the rim of the longleaf pine forest that thrives on these hills. At 0.45 miles, reach a junction. Here, a boardwalk continues to the right back to the very first junction. The old route of the Wiregrass Trail turns left. However, a new stretch of boardwalk has been built straight. Just ahead, the site of an oil well, now capped, is to the right of the trail. All that is visible is the top of the former shaft. The boardwalk continues straight and eventually rejoins the old trail at the longleaf pine forest. Right after this, at 0.6 miles, reach the dam of the park's small lake. Turn right and follow a concrete walkway across the dam. You will pass an observation deck for the lake to your left. At 0.65 miles, reach the beach area. The Lake Trailhead is to the right. This is the end of the Wiregrass Trail. To extend the hike a bit more, continue straight onto the Terrace Trail that starts (unmarked) past the restrooms. The Terrace Trail starts out by crossing a footbridge over a small stream, more of a marsh at this point, that flows into the lake. After this, a moderate ascent follows up one of Florida's higher hills, all covered by longleaf pine forest. From this rail you can see how big the longleaf pine forest is and as you ascend higher, the lake will become visible once again in the valley below. At 0.95 miles, top out at nearly 300 feet at the terminus of the Terrace Trail at the park's campground. From here, retrace your steps back to the capped oil well shaft. here, take the boardwalk to the left. You will descend to and cross the stream that makes Falling Water Falls - the falls will be within hearing distance below, but it is fenced. At 1.5 miles, return to the Sinkholes Trail. Turn left, and finish the hike at the Falling Waters Trailhead at 1.6 miles.
Hike out and back to the Sinkholes and to Falling Water Falls - 0.6 Miles
Skip the Terrace Trail and do the rest of the hike - 1 Mile
The area around Chipley really doesn't have any other outdoor attractions, but consider heading east to Marianna to check out Florida Caverns State Park.
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