Hiking the Florida Panhandle
Leon Sinks Geological Area
Directions to the trail:
Go south from Tallahassee on US 319. After Wildflower Rd on the right, look for a brown state park sign also on right. The entrance is just beyond the sign. A short paved road takes you to the parking area and trailhead.
Useage Fee is currently $3 (this may go to $5 soon). There is a pay box as you enter the parking lot.
Description of the trails:
There are three trails at Leon Sinks Geological Area: Gumswamp, Sinkhole and Crossover. The trails are well marked, with interpretive signs at some of the sinks. The first two can be hiked as one big loop, or individually by returning to the trailhead on Crossover trail. (See picture above.) The distances are as follows:
Add the length of each trail to get the total distance.
There are clean restrooms, picnic tables, a water fountain, and a display area at the trailhead. The display includes a kiosk with a color map that shows the trails, and a sealed case with a map of the Apalachicola National Forest.
Gopher Hole Sink
Gopher Hole Sink is accessed by a short side trail that takes you down to a water-filled cave in a hillside. On top of the hill is another cave that connects to the one below like a chimney.
You're not supposed to go up on top of the hill, but as you can see below, I did.
The swamps at Leon Sinks are mostly gum swamps with some cypress intermixed. They're small, but possess an eerie beauty. The most beautiful by far is Bear Scratch Swamp:
Shadows Swamp is shown in the wrong location on the map at the top of the page. It should be swapped with Center Swamp.
One of the most interesting sites is where Crossover trail connects with the other two trails on the far side of the loop. There, Fisher Creek flows under a natural bridge, rises on the other side and disappears back under ground at Lost Stream Sink.
Sinkhole trail goes by several dry sinkholes, and three wet ones: Hammock, Big Dismal and Black. Boardwalks at Hammock and Big Dismal provide impressive views of the sinkholes. (Links below are to larger images at my webshots page.)
The water at Hammock Sink changes colors. All the times I've been there it has been a beautiful turquoise blue, but after a rain, it turns black due to an infusion of tanin blackened water from an underground cavern. Big Dismal is always black. The sound of falling water can be heard from seeps that drain into it.
Due to the wet conditions a variety of fungi grow in the forest. I had no idea what the names of these formations would be, but they caught my eye. I consulted with a local mushroom enthusiast, William Petty, and he gave me probable identifications for two of them. Mr. Petty has a web site with some of his own photographs of mushrooms, that are quite striking: http://www.polaris.net/~annep/FloridaFungi/contents.html.