Little River is open again to cave divers. And, while the cave has not changed, everything else about the site has.
Little River has been the focus of a months-long effort by the state of Florida and Suwannee County to improve the quality of the park and its facilities. There are now Porta Potties, new stairs and decks, a paved parking area, concrete walkways and many other amenities that will make visiting Little River a more pleasant experience than ever.
Little River is located on the banks of the Suwannee River, just upstream of Branford. When river levels are low, spring water will run 100 yards down the run, forming a "little river" of clear water that contrasts sharply with the tannic water of the river. Getting there is easy. Just take US-129 three miles north from Branford and follow the signs.
A feature unique to Little River is that, to reach the point at which the cave levels off to a largely constant depth, you must descend a corkscrew-shaped tunnel. You begin by going straight in and down at a 45-degree angle, then level off at around 60 feet to go around the corkscrew — and then descend again down a steeply sloping tunnel.
Depending on water levels, depths in most of the cave average around 90 to 100 feet. This increases the likelihood of decompression, even with Nitrox.
Little River consists primarily of one main tunnel, with a few offshoots and bypasses. On the way to the "split," divers have the option of bypassing the main line by way of the Mud Tunnel (although most of the mud has long since been swept away by diver traffic). At 900 feet, however, the main line actually divides, giving divers a choice of continuing on by way of the Serpentine or Merry-Go-Round Tunnels. The tunnels re-join at the start of the large Florida Room.
Just past the end of the Florida Room, divers can take offshoot tunnels to the “New” and “Old” Deep Sections, where depths can approach 120 feet or more. In the same neighborhood is the start of the Small Creek Tributary, a low, silty tunnel that has been explored out to beyond 4,500 feet (this is a very advanced cave dive).
Continuing on the main line, divers reach the Dome Room, where the cave bottom goes up and over a substantial sand breakdown pile. At this point the nature of the cave changes dramatically. Instead of large, rocky passageways, swept clean by current and diver traffic, the cave becomes low and wide, with a thick layer of mud and silt covering the floor. If you have scootered to the Doom Room, park your DPV and take it no further.
By swimming carefully, and avoiding silt outs, you can continue on to the Well Casing. This is exactly what it sounds like — a point at which a local farmer sunk a well to take advantage of the crystal clear water flowing below his property. The cave continues on past the Well Casing; however, the flow is diminished and the cave only becomes smaller and siltier.
Little River is a breathtaking example of the best of phreatic cave formation. The walls tend to be smooth and sculpted by the millennial flow of water, with interesting formations in every shape imaginable. The flow is generally high, but gives you the opportunity to drift out leisurely, while enjoying the tremendous view.
A detailed road map showing how to get all of north-central Florida’s most popular cave diving sites is available for download in Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF). 2 pages; 1,002K