Swimming the “world’s shortest river” at Falmouth Spring

There are so many things to do on, along and near the Suwannee River, I could type until my fingers fall off.

There’s hiking trails,  fishing spots, and miles and miles or scenic kayaking.  But the most uniquely Florida experiences along the river are at the many springs which feed into the Suwannee on its journey from south Georgia to the Florida Gulf Coast.

There’s the wonderful Fanning and Hart springs, and the slightly less lovely Otter Springs.  And further north, there’s Falmouth Spring.

The boardwalk down to Falmouth Spring.

The boardwalk down to Falmouth Spring.

Falmouth is a first magnitude spring, pumping out over 65 million gallons of water a day.  Unlike Fanning, Hart and Otter springs, Falmouth doesn’t visibly connect with the Suwannee; instead, the spring run heads under ground before eventually meeting up with the mighty river.

The spring emerges along a quiet stretch of US 90, a few miles west of Live Oak.  Surrounded by 270 acres of forest, the spring is far less crowded than many of the other Suwannee springs and benefits from a lack of development at the spring itself (no cement embankments, for example).

The spring run, ending at the cave entrance.

The spring run, ending at the cave entrance.

The entire spring run is only a few hundred feet long – giving it a local reputation as the shortest river in the world.  That distinction, though quaint, is too simplistic.  It’s not a river at all.  It’s actually something called a “Karst fenster,” or “Karst window.”

A Karst window is a spring that emerges above ground, but then almost immediately disappears into a sinkhole.  Another way of thinking about it: It’s a window on an otherwise underground river or cave system.

At Falmouth, you can see both ends of the Karst window – the spring head and the cave into which it disappears – and you can swim right up to both.

The cave entrance at Falmouth Spring.

The cave entrance at Falmouth Spring.

The spring itself is about 40 feet deep in an area about 80 feet long and wide. The spring run, which is shallow enough to walk but deep enough to swim or float, runs for about 300 feet before heading into a small limestone cave opening.  For the willing, you can swim right up and look into the blackness of the cave system.

Like all other springs, the water keeps a constant 72 degrees.  In periods of low rainfall, the spring tends to accumulate a small amount of algae, but not enough to make snorkeling, diving or swimming unpleasant.

The spring is unquestionably the jewel of the park – but there is also a nice, shaded picnic area, and hiking, biking and horseback riding are all allowed along the administrative roads in the park (though Suwannee River State Park offers much better hiking, and it’s only a five-minute drive away).

Picnic area at Falmouth Spring.

Falmouth is one of the few Suwannee springs without an admission fee, so it makes for an excellent outing for families on a budget.  Parts of the spring run are shallow enough for kids to play, and adults will enjoy diving into the spring and exploring the limestone cave entrance.

Make sure to bring sunscreen and bug spray to keep mosquitoes away, particularly in the summertime.

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Comments

  1. Larry Boyd says:

    Looks like a nice place to visit but am wondering if swimming up to the cave a person could go inside the cave? Not a smart thing to do but would think some would.

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