November 2002: Wakulla Springs State Park


Wakulla, Florida

Legend has it that when Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon claimed to have discovered the "fountain of youth" in 1513 it was Wakulla Springs he was sampling. One of the world's largest and deepest freshwater springs, the bowl of the main spring covers approximately three acres. The water temperature remains a relatively constant 70 degrees year-round. A record peak flow from the spring on April 11, 1973 was measured at 14,325 gallons per second - equal to 1.2 billion gallons per day!

So crystal clear are the waters that objects 185 feet down on the bottom can still be clearly seen. In 1850, a woman reported seeing bones of an ancient mastodon at the bottom of the Springs and scientists have since discovered the remains of at least nine Ice Age mammals.  The source of Wakulla Springs remains a mystery. An extensive underwater cave system has been explored to a depth of over 300 feet and mapped for more than a mile without revealing the tap of the great flow.

Today the spring is the centerpiece of 2,860-acre Wakulla Springs State Park.

Your dog won't be able to experience the mystical Wakulla waters - dogs are not allowed beyond a chain link fence lines the shore. The fence was actually erected by landowner Edward Ball more than fifty years ago to keep boaters away from the springs. He was sued for fencing a navigable waterway but he won and the fence survives, as does the opulent Ball Mansion. Still, there is plenty of interest for the canine hiker in Wakulla Springs State Park. Two trails - the Short Trail and Long Trail - combine for a total of about three miles through pine and hardwood forests, cypress wetlands and other indigineous Florida plants. The trails are wide and soft and, like most of Florida, universally flat. Around you are a wide variety of Florida wildlife including bobcat, alligator, deer and wild turkey. More hiking is available along the natural suface service roads. 

Hollywood came to Wakulla Springs early with several of the early Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller being filmed here. Most famously the South American jungle was recreated at Wakulla Springs State Park for the B-movie classic Creature From The Black Lagoon. All three "Creature" movies would be filmed here and horror buffs will no doubt recognize the terrain.

St. Andrews State Park (Panama City Beach). The Wakulla River empties towards the Gulf of Mexico and you will no doubt be heading that way as well. Save for Apalachicola, there are few beaches Gulf beaches that welcome your dog and St. Andrews, once named America's best beach, is no exception. But ignore the sugary white sands of the Gulf and head for the mostly ignored Grand Lagoon side of the park where you and the dog can enjoy a narrow strip of sand and leisurely swimming in the shallow, gentle waters. The Grand lagoon is reached by the Heron Pond Trail, a rolling exploration of the scrubby dunes. Closer to the crowds, just on the other side of the famous dunes in fact, is the Gator Lake Trail, a surprisingly quiet half-mile trail through a sandy waste area on the edge of the pond.

Wakulla Springs is 14 miles south of Tallahassee at the junction of SRs 61 and 267.