Thirty-three first magnitude springs rise to the surface in Florida, bubbling up from the Floridan Aquifer. But none are larger or deeper than the Wakulla Springs, where humans and animals have gathered from prehistory to the present day.
Prehistoric humans were hanging out at Wakulla Springs at least 12,000 years ago, as evidenced by the Clovis spear points discovered at the site. Long-extinct animals used to frequent the area, too, and since the 1850s archaeologists have found the fossilized remains of mastodons, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, and more.
Modern humans, meanwhile, come to Wakulla Springs for a whole list of reasons. At about 185 feet below the surface of the water, the spring is one of the deepest in the world. And with waters at a near-constant 69 degrees, it provides a refreshing escape from the sweltering heat of northern Florida. Designated swimming spots are dotted around the spring, while a 22-foot-high dive tower provides deep plunges into the spring water.
Nature lovers and wildlife photographers also flock to Wakulla for its wide range of animal life. Alligators, Suwannee cooter turtles, deer and manatees (in winter) are often spotted in or around the water. It’s a prime birdwatching spot, too, with anhinga snakebirds, ospreys, gallinules, wood ducks, great egrets, blue herons, cormorants, and pied-billed grebes nesting and feeding near the spring.
The main spring is located with the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, established in 1986. The 6,800-acre park is crisscrossed by nature trails and horse trails. Snorkeling is also popular, but by far the most extreme activity is cave diving, with experienced divers exploring the 80 or so sinkholes that form part of the wider spring system.
Thanks to its abundance of wildlife, aquatic environment and prehistoric feel, Wakulla Springs has appeared in a number of films. A few of the early Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies were filmed here from 1938 onwards. Other notable movies with scenes shot at Wakulla include Revenge of the Creature (the sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon), Night Moves (starring Gene Hackman) and Airport ‘77.
Know Before You Go
The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Daily guided riverboat tours ($8 per adult) provide visitors with a good way to spot wildlife. Glass-bottom boat tours used to be common, although are less frequent these days as the water isn’t as clear as it once was.