Get Outside: Leon Sinks Geological Area

The Leon Sinks Geological Area lies in a small corner of the eastern border of the Apalachicola National Forest—the largest in Florida. Boasting about five miles of well-kept trails year-round and just 10 miles south of downtown Tallahassee, Leon Sinks is the perfect spot for a day hike.DSC_0209At the Sinks, you’ll experience a geologic landscape that is unique to the karst topography on northern Florida. This area of the state lies on top of formation of porous limestone that formed over millions of years from compressed remains of ancient coral reefs and other organisms.

As rainwater seeps underground it slowly dissolves the limestone, forming vast networks of connected caverns underground (home to the Floridan Aquifer). When the tops of these caverns that lie near the surface collapse, we get sinkholes! You’ll see at least eighteen of these at Leon Sinks–eight wet and ten dry–along with a natural bridge and a disappearing river.DSC_0206This network of sinks is part of a larger system that feeds into Wakulla Springs. The connection between the Wakulla Springs caves and the Leon Sinks system was documented In 2007 by members of the Woodville Karst Plain Project. This effort established the Wakulla-Leon Sinks Cave System as the longest underwater cave in the United States, and the sixth largest in the world, with 31.99 miles of surveyed passages.

On the 2.5-mile Sinkhole Trail, you’ll see nine dry sinks (Gopher Hole, Cone, Dry, Palmetto, Back, Far, Tiny, Big Eight, and one unnamed) and seven wet sinks (Hammock, Big Dismal, Magnolia, Black, Lost Stream, Duckweed, and Fisher Creek Rise).

On the 1.7-mile Gum Swamp Trail, you’ll pass the wet Fisher Creek Sink, as well as Bear Scratch Swamp, South Swamp, and Shadows Swamp.  Both trails share a 0.5-mile stretch called Crossover Trail that connects the two to form loops.

Big Dismal Sink is definitely the most spectacular feature here. You can climb the hill around it and peer into a crater that drops over eighty feet to the base of the sink. You’ll hear the constant sound of dripping water here, caused by water filtering through the limestone and hitting the surface of the sink. DSC_0178The cypress and gum swamps also offer great views, but the boardwalks that lead to a few vantage points are currently closed.

The site is very accessible, even in poor conditions, and the entrance fee (currently $3, but may rise to $5 soon) is well worth it. Make sure to keep an eye out for snakes sunning themselves on the trail; they seem to be pretty bold and may not get out of your way. And don’t forget to make some noise as you hike. You don’t want to sneak up on any bears.