A short hike from the Withlacoochee Forest’s trail 22 trailhead is a unique natural geological feature; one that you don’t see every day in Florida. Caves!
Now, these aren’t the kind of caves with stalactites and stalagmites that most people might be familiar with; no, these are Florida Karst caves and, for the lack of a better description, could be described as large holes in the ground.
A Florida karst cave is created when acidic water has, over time, eroded the limestone bedrock creating a cavity or a sinkhole. Basically, the ground above collapses and exposes the underground erosion that has created crevices in the earth below.
The trailhead to Dames cave is not marked, but it is easy to find if you follow these simple directions. Withlacoochee Forest’s trailhead 22 is located in Lecanto, Florida, on Highway 491 (Lecanto Highway), exactly 4 miles north of Highway 98. (Lecanto is about an hour north of Tampa) If you are traveling north on Highway 491, trailhead 22 will be on your right-hand side. There are several concrete posts to indicate a parking area on the side of the road. There are no signs posted but directly across from trailhead 22 is a dirt farm road called lone court. Some GPS applications will try to take you to trail 18A; this is incorrect. You absolutely want trail 22 as from the trailhead of trail 22; Dames cave is only a 1/2 mile hike.
Trail 22 is in the Citrus Tract of the Withlacoochee Forest, and John and I hiked just under 5 miles on our visit. The area makes for a very cool hike, and if you are into hiking and nature, there is much to see.
In the rather lengthy video above (there was a lot to show), I mentioned 3 caves. We did indeed see 3 caves and possibly a fourth, but I believe the Vandal cave I mentioned might be a nickname for Dames Cave.
What made this hike so interesting was the geological formations that we would just happen to come upon along the trail. Some were small and barely noticeable, like exposed limestone areas, while others you couldn’t help but notice, like the Dames & Peace Caves.
There are many trails throughout this tract of the Withlacoochee forest, and John and I found it to be an area worth further exploration. Perhaps there are other areas where caves are forming or other interesting features in the landscape that we would have seen if we hiked further? I do know that we saw plenty of birds and evidence of other wildlife, which in itself makes for an enjoyable day of hiking.
There are slight elevation changes on the yellow trail that runs north and south of trail 22. The elevation changes make the yellow trail a moderate workout. For you hikers that have worked up your fitness level, the yellow trail will be a piece of cake. For others, like John and I, who are working on our abilities and fitness level, it will get you breathing a little hard.
This adventure on the Florida journey was awesome. John and I did climb down into Dames Cave, something that I thought I would never do. Now I did chicken out when it came to Peace Cave, as it was just a bit too intimidating for me to climb straight down into a hole in the ground, but we did see people coming out of it when we walked up. So it can be done, and people do it, just not this chicken on this day. Maybe next time?
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