Devil’s Millhopper is not just a hole in the ground.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is located north-west of Gainesville, in Alachua County. One of Florida’s largest “dry” sinkholes, it’s been a popular state park since 1974.
120 feet (37 m) deep and over 500 feet (152 m) in diameter, the sinkhole has twelve springs feeding the small pond at the bottom. The pond empties out through crevices in the ground, which is why the sinkhole hasn’t filled up to become a lake.
Like all sinkholes in Florida, the Devil’s Millhopper was formed when the limestone bedrock was eroded by surface water. As a consequence, the walls of the sinkhole provide a long geological record.
There are three distinct environments in the park. On the surface, surrounding the sinkhole, there are higher areas of sandy soil and pine tree forest that are considered Florida scrub land. There are also broad areas of hammock with oaks being the predominant large tree. The lowest areas are swamp and are wet throughout the year.
The sinkhole itself is a different micro-climate environment altogether in that in summer it can be 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the surrounding surface. In the winter is has milder temperatures.
236 steps follow a wooden path with many turns to the bottom where there’s an observation platform. Visitors are not generally allowed to walk on the bottom itself to protect the delicate land. The long staircase is a popular place for locals to exercise, descending and ascending, but it’s plenty wide to handle the regular traffic.
There is also an approximately half mile (0.8 km) trail that circles the sinkhole as well as a small visitors center.
The descent to the bottom is one of the most wonderful journeys in Florida, albeit a rather short one. Vegetation grows out of the wall of the sinkhole, so you’re always surrounded by greenery. You can see down towards the bottom as you walk and keep track of your progress as well as that of the other visitors. Pay no mind to the speed walkers – they’re capable of moving around you. At the base you’re in another world. It’s probably a different temperature than the surface and it’s mostly quiet with a little bit of water movement sounds. There are places to sit to absorb the highly unusual scene.
The year the park opened, Devil’s Millhopper was designated a National Natural Landmark and is in the National Register of Historic Places as of 2017, because the area was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The limestone entrance way is evidence of their work.
Devil’s Millhopper is certainly one of the more colorful names for a Florida State Park – it comes from the sinkhole’s appearance to the hopper of a gristmill (basically a large container for the ground flour). It’s unknown as to the original reason for the full name, but one possibility is that the large number of animal bones found at the bottom of the sinkhole suggests that the animals were on their way to meet up with the Devil.