What if I told you that you could go spelunking nearby?
Well, you can, sort of.
Plus, you won’t even need a helmet flashlight or fancy repel gear.
With the Dames Caves complex in south Lecanto, there are 37 discovered caves, several of which are safe and wide open to explore. You can take selfies in them and climb back out of one of the more gorgeous holes in the ground this state has to offer.
Dames Caves is located on the Citrus Tract area of the Withlacoochee State Forest. It is somewhat popular, but also has some natural-rock formation that is a must-see for any avid hiker or adventurer.
Besides, it won’t take you all day, or be as dangerous as deep-cave diving, such as in other states, or Florida’s springs and underwater caves.
With its shaded areas, several steep climbs for entries and exits, and picturesque views, it is definitely Worth The Trip.
Watch your step
First and foremost, Dames Caves, while in a state forest, is not maintained or monitored by the parks service. Are there a few guard rails? Yes, however, unofficial markers — a few spray-painted rocks and tree trunks — guide the way. There are foregone warning signs, so enter at your own risk.
Yet, the risk is never that great. You will need to be surefooted and most likely be wearing boots.
The semi-steep climb down into Vandal Cave — the largest and most colorful cave of the bunch — requires some maneuvering.
Once down there, take in all the graffiti, then realize where the cave got its name. There’s not a bright color to be missed.
The nature of this cave is still a sight to behold — so be sure to gaze up.
It is a good 30 feet to 40 feet deep, has some alcoves and the landscape is dominated by karst landforms.
Geologically, the caves are among the oldest in Florida.
If you happen to go when it’s not raining or even after a shower, listen closely and you just might hear the underground rivers flowing beneath you.
Exit Vandal Cave and feel free to explore, at your own risk, other nearby caves such as Danger Cave, Peace Sign Cave and Sick Bat Cave, all of which are aptly named, though Bruce Wayne might not approve of the last one.
In Search of Dames
Getting to the Dames Caves system is not hard, however, it is not an exact location. There is no sign or parking lot, but most GPS apps will be able to take you to the “Unofficial Parking Lot,” which is on County Road 491, about 12 miles south of State Road 44. The entrance near the gate has several yellow posts almost directly across the street from West Lone Court.
Once there, it is less than a half-mile to reach the biggest grouping of the caves. Peace Cave is about another quarter-mile from Vandal Cave, but can easily be found thanks to a big spray-painted peace sign. Groovy, baby.
Recommendation: Use the AllTrails app available for free download to your smartphone. Not only does it have thousands of trails, their locations and informative data, it works as a GPS tracker and can help you find your way.
Loop it, Lizzie
If you can’t spend all day exploring these caves (which you probably can’t), then definitely walk past them just a little further until you find the Lizzie Heart Sink Loop trail. It’s a nearly 4-mile, moderately-challenging trail, tucked under a tree canopy for plenty of shade and even includes some slight elevation.
Toward the bottom of the loop will be water runoff, or sink, but depending on the time of the year, it could be dry and it lets you cut the loop. Another recommendation, stay on the trail and enjoy the lush vegetation and some wildflower surprises. It’s worth the nearly 90 minutes it takes to complete it.
Besides, if you’re lucky, you might have it all to yourself for a nice serene and peaceful hike, while other adventurers are still spelunking in the caves.
Dames Caves and the Lizzie Heart Sink Loop
Where: 10701 S. Lecanto Highway (Note: this is an unofficial parking lot)
Details: Dames Caves is a set of 37 discovered caves in the Citrus Tract area of the Withlacoochee State Forest in Lecanto. There are several to climb into, including Vandal Cave and Peace Cave. These caves are situated on the Lizzie Heart Sink Loop, a nearly 4-mile trail that’s considered a moderately challenging route, takes an average of about 90 minutes to complete, and is a popular trail for hiking, biking and even a little motocross. The trail is open year-round and leashed dogs are welcome.
Cost: There is no charge to visit Dames Caves.
Published September 07, 2022