This is an easy wooded hike that explores several interesting dry and wet sinkholes, with the spectacular views of the Hammock Sink and Big Dismal Sinks among the best. The minimal grades, good footing, various stairs, and plenty of benches make this a great afternoon hike that isn't too long or too taxing.
After depositing your entrance fee with the "Iron Ranger" you'll find plenty of amenities at the trailhead; ample parking, picnic benches, restrooms, water fountains, and an informative kiosk with relevant info and park history.
To begin, hike a short distance along the Sinkhole Entrance Trail
to reach the Sinkhole Trail
. Turn right to start a counter-clockwise loop that's just shy of three miles when combined with the Crossover Trail
(as mapped) or four miles with the Gum Swamp Trail
You'll soon pass by a series of dry sinks (sinkholes that have not sunk enough to reach the aquifer). Cone, Turner, Palmetto and Big Eight are a few of the roughly dozen dry Sinks on the trail. Some have spur paths that can be traversed down into them, others have steeper sidewalls, preventing visitors from venturing down. The ground rises and falls around these Sinks, and while quite easy, provides the most difficult part of the hike.
A half-mile in, you'll encounter the first wet sink. The views of the aquifer-fed Hammock Sink are excellent! From the boardwalk's position just a few feet above the water, the steep wall of rock across the pool towers above the deep blue water. Depending on the position and reflection of the sun, you may be able to see down into the sink as the ground slopes away toward the entrance of a cave hiding beneath the surface. Note that swimming is now allowed, no matter how inviting the water seems on a warm day.
Continuing a short distance up the trail brings visitors to area's largest sink, Big Dismal. The sheer sides of this deep sink drop 75-100 feet from the viewing balcony to the water below. Covering an area larger than a football field, this immense sink may strike a touch of fear into those who peer over the edge.
Further on down the trail, past Magnolia and Black Sinks, you'll come to the Lost Stream. This creek runs below the trail as it disappears into the ground, only to reappear a few yards away, having made a journey underneath a naturally formed bridge. This is one of the great examples of the karst, limestone bedrock that has been made porous by ground/rainwater, upon which much of North Florida is built.
Just a short distance from here is the west junction with the Crossover Trail
and Gum Swamp Trail
. Heading straight onto the Crossover Trail
will shorten the return distance back to the trailhead and there are a few more dry sinks before reaching the conveniently placed boardwalk that leads over Center Swamp. Here, Cypress trees cast eerie shadows in the late evening.
Past the boardwalk is another junction with the east end of the Gum Swamp Trail
and the Start of the Sinkhole Trail
. Look for the optional Gopher Hole Spur Trail
. A bit of scrambling up a seemingly out of place boulder reveals a "Gopher Hole" at the top from which the water in the sink below can be glimpsed. Once back on the main loop, make the short return trip back to the Sinkhole Entrance Trail
and return to the trailhead.