On cold winter mornings, steam rises eerily from an opening in the ground near Williston, in north-central Florida. Surrounded by tall oaks draped in Spanish moss and set among rolling horse pastures, it’s a strange place to imagine an underground cavern. Certainly, it gave early settles the heebie jeebies—that’s why they named the spot Devil’s Den. Today, the spring-fed cavern draws visitors from across the globe. With its stalactites, fossil beds and prehistoric rock formations set in crystal-clear spring water, the underground pool makes an exciting weekend destination.
WHERE TO PLAY
Devil’s Den Spring (5390 NE 180th Ave, Williston; 352.528.3344; devilsden.com) is privately owned, and it offers recreational snorkeling, diving and swimming within its clear, cold waters. Snorkeling and diving equipment are both available for rent on-site. So are wet- suits—the water stays a chilly 72 degrees year-round, and a wetsuit, even for casual swimmers, is a good idea. The cavern’s spring offers 120 feet of surface diameter and a maximum depth of 54 feet.
The prehistoric cave once housed fossils that dated to the Pleistocene era. They’re now on display at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. What remain are intriguing rock formations, stalactites and fossil beds, all unique places to explore underwater.
WHERE TO STAY
Devil’s Den Spring offers accommodations on its premises: four cabins available to rent, plus a large RV site with 32 hook-ups. For hardier travelers, there’s even tent camping available. The complex has a heated swimming pool, changing areas with showers and a bathroom, picnic tables and charcoal grills. But if this all feels a little too back-to-nature, the nearby Herlong Mansion (402 NE Cholokka Blvd., Micanopy; 352.466.3322; herlong.com) offers a more genteel place to rest. Originally built in 1845, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In ad- dition to a three-course breakfast, guests enjoy home-baked cookies and wine in the evenings.
WHERE TO EAT
This part of rural Florida is not known for its fine dining, so The Ivy House in Williston (106 NW Main St., Williston; 352.528.5410; ivyhousefl.com) is a rare gem. The restaurant, with a sister location in nearby Ocala, offers southern comfort food favorites in an upscale setting. Try the Florida lobster tail, fried to a delectable golden crisp, and the filet mignon. Don’t miss the homemade mac and cheese, and look for daily specials along the lines of roast pork loin, braised short rib and pecan-crusted chicken. For more casual fare, seek out Frog’s Barbecue Pad (21031 NE Highway 27, Williston; 352.529.1023; facebook.com/frogsbbqpad), deep in the horse country that surrounds Devil’s Den. This side-of-the-road shack has been in the same spot for decades, and loyal customers drive hundreds of miles off-course for a bite of its pulled pork or barbecued ribs. It’s a great grab-and-go spot to load up on barbecue sandwiches, baked beans and fried corn nuggets for the road trip back to Southwest Florida.