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The 7 Natural Wonders of Wakulla

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In the pre-interstate, pre-Disney era of Florida tourism, visitors flocked to our state to bask in the sun, partake in outdoor recreational pursuits, and visit the extremely popular tourist attractions that made a Florida vacation truly complete. Tampa Bay and the surrounding area where I grew up was home to quite a few of those colorful attractions. Many a day trip was taken by my family throughout the year in all seasons to visit these wonderful spots of great entertainment. I remember our trips on the glass bottom boats at Homosassa Springs, the Spongeorama at Tarpon Springs, Silver Springs and Six Gun Territory, the beautiful Southern belles at Cypress Gardens, the Aquatarium, Sunken Gardens, and my eternal favorite, the glamorous mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs.

These attractions that were Florida highlighted the natural beauty and wonders of our state – the crystal springs, the picturesque rivers, the colorful flora and diverse wildlife that were so very plentiful in a simpler, less spoiled time. Gone now are most of these attractions once the interstate came through driving people onto the beaten track straight to the vacation meccas of Orlando, Tampa and Miami. Thankfully, most of the natural wonders that supported these beloved attractions still exist, turned now into state parks or city-owned properties, but minus the gimmicks that promoters once thought were necessary to draw the crowds.

One of these places is Wakulla Springs. Formerly home to Tarzan, Henry the Pole Vaulting Fish and Old Joe, the 11-foot alligator, this site is now the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, perhaps the most widely recognized and agreed upon of the “7 Natural Wonders of Wakulla.”  A glass bottom or jungle boat cruise taken on the river and out over the springs clearly reveals the marvel of the longest and deepest known submerged freshwater cave system in the world. Wildlife abounds throughout the park and promises a pleasing show in any season.

Once one wanders away from Wakulla Springs, however, comes debate as to the other 6 wonders. With the remarkable feature of a county that can boast 73% pristine public lands and 85% wild natural coastline protected forever, Wakulla County is Florida’s last, best natural place. With such an abundance of choices, it is no wonder there is disagreement.

Should the list include the wonder of the Apalachicola National Forest, one of the largest contiguous blocks of public land located east of the Mississippi, where one can find many rare and endangered species of plants and animals, including the red-cockaded woodpecker and the flatlands salamander?

What about the unique wonderland of geological formations and sinkholes, our display of liquid emeralds and aquamarines surrounded by the lush verdant woods? But then, shall we also include Shepard Springs, the refreshing oasis that springs up unexpectedly along the Florida Trail, and the neighboring hallowed ground of the breathtaking Cathedral of Palms, one of the largest remaining virgin palm hammocks in Florida?

Of course, the list should include each of our rivers and their own separate identities – the St. Marks River, rich with history as it winds along the banks of the quaint St. Marks township; the Wakulla River where sleeping giants – our magical, manatee mermaids – sometimes lie, then awaken to amuse and delight with their gentle, playful antics; and the notable convergence of these two rivers joining together to create the perfect vantage point from which to watch Apalachee Bay as did our explorer forefathers from the safety of Fort San Marcos de Apalachee.

On the other side of the county with a riverside history all its own, flows the dark tannin Sopchoppy River, over time cutting deeper through the ground at the upper river and creating steep earthen banks which ooze with water and small streams seeping from the partially exposed aquifer. Sometimes when the fog nestles between the banks and hovers above the river just as it has for centuries, our wonderment seems primordially suspended in time. By day, the landings along the Ochlockonee River stay busy as boats of all kinds come and go carrying people here to fish the plentiful bay or simply enjoy the river. The soothing hum of distant motors is drowned out at times by happy voices and laughter carried across the water. At night, light from lanterns aboard flounder gigging boats peppers the darkness, and beneath the captivating bioluminescence, sharks are feeding – I know because I wrestled one for over an hour one summer night while I fished off the seawall at Bayside Marina. These river systems with their seagrass meadows, marshes and estuaries, and all the creeks and tributaries in between make up an enormous, impressive collective Wakulla wonder.

What about the wonder of the night at Wakulla Beach or Bottoms Road where the sky opens wide to a perfect stargazing canvas painted with hundreds of twinkling stars that span the spacious heavens which seem to have no end? On many nights across the quiet darkness shoots a falling star, but on some lucky nights, the heavens burst alive with the incredible fireworks of a meteor shower. What an idyllic end to your day of Wakulla wonders.

As the sky lightens into day in the diverse St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, magical moments of wonder lie in wait each and every day. Teeming with an astonishing number of birds and other wildlife, the Refuge truly belongs on our natural wonder list. From the miracle of monarch migration to the rare sight of magnificent whopping cranes on the wing of an ultralight to the showy cloud of circling feathers every evening just before dusk at Picnic Pond and Otter Lake, wonders will never cease in all corners of the Refuge.

So where do we stop? At Natural Bridge or the St. Marks River rapids, the Ochlockonee Shoals, the St. Marks lighthouse, the bicycle, hiking, paddling trail systems, the legendary Wakulla volcano buried somewhere deep in the Wakulla Swamp?

It will surely take more than a day to experience with wide-eyed wonder this myriad of spectacular sights. So come and stay a few days or longer to discover things you can’t find anywhere else. We may be slightly off the beaten track, but that is one of the qualities that contributes to our attraction. Wakulla County is your gateway to natural Florida wonders. May our astounding wonders never cease to amaze. 

What are your favorite Wakulla wonders? Beginning in January, you can post your picks. Visitors and residents alike are encouraged to think creatively and let your imagination wander when making your top 7 list. For details and to cast your vote, visit