North Central Florida Cave Maps
North-central Florida is the world’s leading cave diving destination when it comes to diver traffic. Most of the world’s cave divers learned here, and return regularly. This section provides an overview of the region’s most popular underwater caves. If you learn to cave dive in Florida, you will undoubtedly visit many of these during your training.
There are, of course, more underwater caves in Florida than just what is listed here. These sites, however, are not only the most popular, they are arguably the most suitable for new cave divers. Most of the systems listed are located in the Suwannee River Valley. Jackson Blue is in the Florida Panhandle — and well worth the drive. The links appearing below will take you directly to information on the site which interests you. Or, you can use the links for each page to go through the sites one at a time.
|A detailed road map showing how to get all of north-central Florida’s most popular cave diving sites is available for download in Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF). 2 pages; 1,002K
The Telford Spring system is unique among north-central Florida cave diving sites in that, although it is a single cave system, it has three separate entrances within close proximity to one another.
- The system starts at the Telford Spring basin, located on the very edge of the Suwannee River, just a short distance downstream from the SR51 bridge.
- Two hundred seventy five feet upstream, the cave passes underneath Telford Sink, a largely in-line sinkhole. (Entry and exit here is almost impossible.)
- Four hundred fifty feet upstream, the cave passes the very edge of Terrapin Sink, an offset sinkhole whose steep, slippery banks make entering and exiting here difficult and potentially hazardous. Nevertheless, some cave divers choose to enter at this point to gain an additional 450 feet of penetration.
A gold line runs several thousand feet back into the system before changing to white. There are gaps at Telford and Terrapin Sinks.
The system is relatively shallow, hitting a maximum depth of 70 feet. The last several hundred feet downstream are increasingly shallow, culminating at the 15-foot-deep Telford Spring entrance. These factors combine to virtually eliminate and need for decompression.
The cave layout is one primary conduit, with only a few offshooting passageways. Cave configuration changes dramatically every few hundred feet, ranging from largely square phreatic passageways to low, wide bedding planes and tall vertical fractures. The Telford Spring entrance is unique in that is actually located immediately underneath a small natural bridge.
Visibility seldom eclipses 40 to 50 feet. The cave’s close proximity to the Suwannee River means this system will be among the first to flood and first to clear.
Michael Poucher has created a detailed map of the first several thousand feet of this system. Inquire about it a Cave Excursions or Dive Outpost.
Cave access is through private land with a long-standing public right of easement. People come from throughout the region to enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities — including a few unsavory characters. Make certain your vehicle is locked and keep valuables out of sight. If possible, dive at a time when there are several others present, to discourage scumbags from pilfering a lone, unattended vehicle.
Little River is open again to cave divers. And, while the cave has not changed, everything else about the site has.
Little River has been the focus of a months-long effort by the state of Florida and Suwannee County to improve the quality of the park and its facilities. There are now Porta Potties, new stairs and decks, a paved parking area, concrete walkways and many other amenities that will make visiting Little River a more pleasant experience than ever.
Little River is located on the banks of the Suwannee River, just upstream of Branford. When river levels are low, spring water will run 100 yards down the run, forming a "little river" of clear water that contrasts sharply with the tannic water of the river. Getting there is easy. Just take US-129 three miles north from Branford and follow the signs.
A feature unique to Little River is that, to reach the point at which the cave levels off to a largely constant depth, you must descend a corkscrew-shaped tunnel. You begin by going straight in and down at a 45-degree angle, then level off at around 60 feet to go around the corkscrew — and then descend again down a steeply sloping tunnel.
Depending on water levels, depths in most of the cave average around 90 to 100 feet. This increases the likelihood of decompression, even with Nitrox.
Little River consists primarily of one main tunnel, with a few offshoots and bypasses. On the way to the "split," divers have the option of bypassing the main line by way of the Mud Tunnel (although most of the mud has long since been swept away by diver traffic). At 900 feet, however, the main line actually divides, giving divers a choice of continuing on by way of the Serpentine or Merry-Go-Round Tunnels. The tunnels re-join at the start of the large Florida Room.
Just past the end of the Florida Room, divers can take offshoot tunnels to the “New” and “Old” Deep Sections, where depths can approach 120 feet or more. In the same neighborhood is the start of the Small Creek Tributary, a low, silty tunnel that has been explored out to beyond 4,500 feet (this is a very advanced cave dive).
Continuing on the main line, divers reach the Dome Room, where the cave bottom goes up and over a substantial sand breakdown pile. At this point the nature of the cave changes dramatically. Instead of large, rocky passageways, swept clean by current and diver traffic, the cave becomes low and wide, with a thick layer of mud and silt covering the floor. If you have scootered to the Doom Room, park your DPV and take it no further. By swimming carefully, and avoiding silt outs, you can continue on to the Well Casing. This is exactly what it sounds like — a point at which a local farmer sunk a well to take advantage of the crystal clear water flowing below his property. The cave continues on past the Well Casing; however, the flow is diminished and the cave only becomes smaller and siltier. Little River is a breathtaking example of the best of phreatic cave formation. The walls tend to be smooth and sculpted by the millennial flow of water, with interesting formations in every shape imaginable. The flow is generally high, but gives you the opportunity to drift out leisurely, while enjoying the tremendous view.
Just slightly over an hour west of Tallahassee is a cave system Bill (Hogarth) Main is reported to have called, “The prettiest I’ve ever seen.” Odds are, however, you’ve never been there.
Due to factors such as distance (three hour’s drive from the sites most Florida cave divers are familiar with), logistics (the fill stations most cave divers are familiar with are equally distant), and procedures (who likes to check in and check out with Big Brother, just to go diving?), the few cave divers who visit Jackson Blue do so only when everything else is flooded. The irony is, by avoiding Jackson Blue at other times, they are depriving themselves of one of the state’s best cave dives.
Jackson Blue is located just outside the town of Marianna, Florida. Upon arriving in Marianna, your first stop will be the Sheriff’s office. If this is your first visit, the Dispatcher will have you complete a form while he/she makes a photocopy of your driver’s licence and C-card. This is a process you only need complete once; your information will be on file from this point on.
The dispatcher will also have you log in and post your expected departure time. He or she will also collect your diving fee. The dispatcher will give you a key to Jackson Blue, unless they are all checked out. If no keys remain, the Dispatcher will ask you to get one from divers who are already on site, but leaving ahead of you. When you are done diving, you will have to go back to the Sheriff’s office to check out. If you are responsible for a key, turn it in at this time.
Once at the site, the permanent line is easy to find and starts a little over 100 feet inside. When exiting during daylight hours, you will see the entrance long before you reach the end of the line.
Jackson Blue is among the most beautifully decorated of all Florida caves. There are fossils everywhere. You can, for example, see intact sea biscuit shells embedded in the limestone. Given how old the limestone is, seeing these intact shells is nothing short of a miracle.
The first few hundred feet of cave are relatively shallow (40-50 foot range). Then the main line drops through a very pronounced fracture to the 90-foot range. The main line goes back several thousand feet. Along the way, you will see a number of offshoot lines for further exploration. (There is more than enough to keep you busy here for several dives.)
Be sure to check out the deeper area that will be on your left as you enter and on the right as you exit, between the fracture and the entrance. There are a number of interesting things down here. Finally, be sure to take some time to play around in the general vicinity of the entrance before leaving the cave. Some of the neatest things to see can be found in just the first 200 feet.
Jackson Blue is not the area’s only cave. In Merritt’s Mill Pond you will find entrances to Hole-in-the-Wall and Twin Caves. Diving these, however, requires a boat.
Peacock/Orange Grove Cave System
The Peacock Springs State Park is the only Florida park dedicated almost exclusively to cave diving. The cave diving community has responded by providing money, time and effort to the continued improvement of park facilities. The park entrance is located two and a half miles east of the State Route 51 flashing light at Luraville on 180th Street (Peacock Springs Road).
The Peacock/Orange Grove cave system is a series of honeycombed passageways totalling several thousand feet. The property also is home to the Peacock III and Bonnet cave systems.
The most upstream point of the main cave system is Orange Grove Sink, located near the park entrance. Orange Grove is actually an offset sinkhole, whose passageway has minimal flow until it intersects with the Distance Tunnel, over 800 feet downstream.
Depending on water levels and other conditions, water will actually flow out of Orange Grove, pass over a short land bridge, then re-enter the ground at Cisteen Sink. This generally takes place only during flood conditions, when the system is undiveable.
The Orange Grove basin is generally very clear in wintertime (except for when it floods); however, during warmer months, there can be an algae bloom down to 70 feet. Below the cave system entrance is a large cavern, with depths to 100 feet. From here, another passage leads downward to “Lower Orange Grove,” a very advanced cave with lots of silt and depths to 180 feet.
Heading downstream, there is a short gap in the main line at Challenge Sink (so named because it is a real challenge getting in and out here; ropes are required). Continuing downstream. Divers can either swim all the way to Olsen Sink. or take the system’s other gold line down the Peanut tunnel to the main entrance at Peacock I Spring. Olsen is designated as an emergency exit; entries were once allowed here but were later deemed to dangerous due to the sink’s steep, slippery banks.
Downstream of Olsen, the main line continues over 1,600 feet to the Peacock I Spring entrance, with a short gap at Pot Hole sink (another “emergency only” exit). The Peacock system is unique in that it has not one, but two gold lines, beginning upstream at the Peanut restriction, and paralleling one another all the way to the Peacock I Spring entrance.
The lower portion of the system is crisscrossed with numerous tunnels. Divers can begin upstream of Olsen on a loop that will take them to Cisteen sink, then allow them to return to the main line, via the Nicholson Tunnel, just upstream of Pot Hole sink.
An offshoot tunnel from the Cisteen loop takes divers to “The Crypt.” This is a sudden plunge to depths approaching 100 feet. The map suggests this connects to Lower Orange Grove. Famed cave explorer Woody Jasper tried to connect the two for a while, then quit, deciding that continuing to live was better. In other words, stay out.
Another popular dive is to enter the system at Waterhole III (so named because a railroad spur used to bring steam locomotives here to take on water), and traverse to the main entrance via the Peanut line. The two entrances are less than 200 feet apart, yet traversing the two is an 1,100 foot swim.
A short distance from Peacock I are Peacock II and III. Peacock II is no longer open to the surface; however, you can get to what was once the cavern via a series of tunnels from Peacock I. The Peacock III cave system has no diveable connection to the Peacock/Orange Grove system. It is very silty and relatively shallow — except for a dramatic drop to depths of 200 feet at Hendley’s Castle.
The Bonnet Spring system is accessible through a separate park entrance (see the ranger for the gate combination). At last report, however, this low, shallow, silty system was closed, due to the presence of a large gator in the basin.
Depths throughout the various Peacock systems are relatively shallow, seldom going below 70 feet. Exceptions are Lower Orange Grove, The Crypt, Hendley’s Castle and the tunnel to Peacock II, which reaches a depth of 80 feet. These shallow depths, combined with the easy availability of Nitrox at nearby dive centers, means that you can pretty much leave your deco gas at home when diving Peacock.
The Manatee Spring cave system is not among the most popular cave diving sites in north-central Florida. Strong currents tend to make penetrating difficult and reduce visibility. Nevertheless, it can be an interesting dive when you are looking for something different — or when flooding makes other sites inaccessible. In fact, Manatee is at its best when conditions are at their worst elsewhere. When the Suwannee River is up, the flow in Manatee diminishes and visibility actually improves.
The cave is located in Manatee Spring State Park, six miles west of Chiefland on County Road 320. Admission fees and certification requirements are the same as those at Peacock; however, there is a limit on the number of cave diving teams allowed in the system at one time. Arrive early on weekends or you may be shut out.
Unlike other systems, you do not enter the cave at its main entrance. The opening is simply too restricted and the flow too high. Instead, you get in at Catfish Hotel, a slightly offset sinkhole that gives you a huge window into the side of the cave. A deck and stairs make entering the water easier (but take a look below the duck weed before you leap).
From Catfish Hotel, you turn right and head upstream along the main line. How far you get depends on factors such as flow, your breathing rate and how much gas you are carrying. When conditions are favorable, you may pass below Sue and Friedman’s Sinks.
Depths throughout the cave vary widely, from 35 feet down to 90 feet. There is considerable up and down; don’t dive when you are having problems with equalizing or vertigo. The deepest depths are just upstream of Catfish, so remember that you will be getting deeper as you approach the exit (it may affect your deco).
Among the best ways to get to know Manatee is to dive under supervision of an experienced guide — someone who knows both the cave and your abilities and gas consumption. Armed with this information, a guide can set up traverse dives, such as Freidman’s to Catfish, or Catfish to the main spring entrance. In times of highest flow, by far the easiest way to dive the cave is to go downstream with the flow, while relaxing and enjoying the ride.
Strictly speaking, Cow Spring is not a spring at all, but rather an in-line sinkhole which provides diver access to an underground river that surfaces for the last time at nearby Running Spring. Cow Spring is owned by the NSS-CDS, and is open only to CDS members and their guests. Visitors must first sign waivers at Bill Rennaker’s Cave Excursions, then get the current combination to the gate. No open water divers are allowed.
Cow Spring makes an excellent cavern dive, with numerous openings, and lots of dramatic lighting effects. From the main cavern, cave divers can travel downstream for approximately 600 feet in either of two directions. These two downstream legs are assumed to connect to the two primary resurgences at Running Springs. Explorers such as Woody Jasper and Sheck Exley have all tried to make the connection; no one has succeeded — or is likely to.
At one time, the upstream side of the cave was accessible only via sidemount. Then, in 1994, two open water divers accidentally discovered an upstream entrance that made this breathtaking tunnel accessible to divers wearing back-mounted tanks. The down side of this discovery is that the upstream leg now shows damage to stratified clay banks and other delicate formations caused by the influx of less-than-careful divers.
The upstream leg of the cave consists largely of one tunnel — although there are a few offshoots that generally go only a short distance or loop back to the main line. Eight hundred feet into the cave, depths drop from the 70- to 80-foot range to 100 feet or more, depending on water levels. This means the likelihood of deco. Fortunately, you start offgassing as soon as you reach the shallower water near the cave entrance, and can spend some of your deco time exploring the beautiful caverns.
Because of strong currents, a stretch of passageway from approximately 400 to 800 feet has what Woody Jasper calls the “poor man’s scooter.” This is a piece of polypropelene line that parallels the main line, and is intended to give divers something to pull on. It saves time, energy and a considerable amount of breathing gas.
Students in training are prohibited from diving anything but the downstream side. To help protect the clay banks and other fragile formations, scooters are also prohibited.
Devil's Eye Cave System
The Devil’s Eye cave system is among the most popular and frequently dived caves in the world. With over 30,000 feet of mapped passageway, divers can spend a lifetime of active cave diving and still not see all of it. There are still portions of the cave that have yet to be adequately explored and mapped.
Devil’s Eye is part of the Ginnie Springs resort complex, and provides visiting divers with unusual amenities, such as access to warm showers before and after the dive. Its location on the Santa Fe river means that, even after the Suwannee River caves have flooded, it will remain diveable. In fact, Devil’s Eye generally becomes undiveable only once or twice every decade.
The system has two entrances, Devil’s Eye and Devil’s Ear, located in close proximity to one another. They quickly join each other under water in a large passageway known as the Gallery. Devil’s Ear generally provides faster and easier access; however, divers frequently use the Devil’s Eye entrance for training purposes or simply a change of pace.
Parallelling the Gallery are a series of interconnecting tunnels known as the Catacombs. These are the only popular passageways in the cave that are not lined. This is intentional, as instructors rely on these tunnels to give students extensive reel practice.
Because of the large degree of traffic the cave receives, and the fact Ginnie Springs’ “No Lights” rule helps keep untrained divers out of the cave, the main line at Devil’s Ear runs right to the entrance. This way, the only divers likely to be running reels into the cave are students in training. (Imagine the potential calamity if ten or more teams of cave divers all tried to run reels through the narrow, high-flow entrance at one time.)
At the end of the Gallery, the cave makes an abrupt right turn, and divers must pass through a wide restriction known as the Lips. Beyond the Lips is a large room, at the far side of which the line passes through the Key Hole, Here divers drop from 70 to 90 feet, and begin snaking through a short, winding section known as the Cornflakes.
At the far side of the Cornflakes, some 450 feet into the cave, divers emerge into the Junction Room. From here the cave begins branching off in several directions, providing the opportunity for numerous circuits and exploration of offshoot tunnels.
The furthest point of penetration in the cave is almost a mile from the entrance. Exploration in this region of the cave makes use of scooters almost mandatory. Fortunately, divers can make hundreds of dives in the downstream portion of the cave before they need DPVs to see new passageway. By then they will have gained sufficient experience to graduate to scooters and staging (Ginnie Springs requires 100 cave dives or DPV certification to use scooters in Devil’s Eye).
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