Scenic beauty, history, culture and adventure are all yours to explore throughout the Florida panhandle’s RiverWay South region. Here, an impressive river system connects a network of pristine waterways. Those waterways provide access to recreational venues and the wealth of preserved traditions and historic sites which combine to offer a seemingly infinite variety of reasons to spend time exploring here.
Scenic beauty abounds at a combination of natural and manmade attractions throughout the region. Whether following a nationally designated scenic byway route, navigating the region’s picturesque waterways or exploring the preserved lands of a state park, visitors find not only beauty but also countless recreational opportunities. Referred to as a watery Eden, RiverWay South is best known for the majestic Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee Rivers and is also home to the Ochlockonee and Chipola Rivers and Econfina and Holmes Creeks. It is home to sandy-bottom springs and underwater caves popular with divers from around the world.
The region is celebrated for popular activities like freshwater fishing and paddling but hiking, biking, beach activities, birding and wildlife viewing are also favorites . . . and that’s only the beginning. Identified as a “biological jewel” and one of six biodiversity hotspots in the nation, this panhandle region is recognized for its “combination of species rarity and richness.”
History buffs relish resources including locations on National Register of Historic Places, well-preserved state parks lands and Native American settlements. Vast cultural resources dot the landscape as well, bringing agricultural, architectural and lifestyle traditions of both natives and settlers to life through unique attractions and events. There’s so much to explore!
Fast Facts and Trivia
- Constructed in 1825, the Bethlehem Baptist Church of Campbellton is now known as Campbellton Baptist Church and is the oldest organized Baptist Church in Florida.
- The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home site is located in the piney woods of Westville, Florida. Laura and her family lived here from October 1891 to August 1892, when they returned north due to Laura’s inability to tolerate the humid environment.
- “Upside down footprints” can be seen in trails across the ceiling of Moss Hill Church, one of Florida’s oldest, in the Holmes Valley community.
- The Battle of Marianna has been labeled by some as “Florida’s Alamo.” It was the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Federal soldiers during the War Between the States.
- The Panhandle Pioneer Settlement is a living-history museum with a collection of 18 historic buildings, dating from 1820 to the 1940s. They are arranged on five acres to replicate an idyllic farm community.
- From 1834-1839, the United States Government built the Federal Arsenal (Apalachicola Arsenal) on the high bluffs settled by the Creek and Seminole Indians in modern day Chattahoochee. When Andrew Jackson was sent to take command of the American armies during the Second Seminole War from 1835-1842, he stayed in the Arsenal Quarters, one of two structures still standing today.
- The RiverWay South region is home to five Historic Districts: Apalachicola, Chipley, Havana, Marianna and Quincy.
- Featured on “Real People,” “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” and the “Today Show,” the World’s Smallest Police Station is located in Carrabelle on the north side of US 98.
- Shepard’s Mill on Telogia Creek, built in 1875, is the only commercial water-powered grist mill remaining in Florida.
- The RiverWay South region is one of six “biological hot spots” in the U.S. due to the number of rare species there, many of which are only found in small areas.
- Torreya State Park is Florida’s first State Park. The park is named for the Torreya tree, an extremely rare species that grows only on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River.
- The Apalachicola National Forest is the largest U.S. National Forest in Florida. It encompasses 632,890 acres and is the only National Forest located in the Florida Panhandle.
- Florida Caverns State Park is one of a few state parks with dry (air-filled) caves and is the only state park in Florida to offer cave tours to the public.
- Bald Point State Park is where Ochlockonee Bay meets Apalachee Bay. Here, black bears, sea turtles and alligators all share the same stretch of beach.
- RiverWay South’s underwater caves are visited by scuba divers from around the world. These popular spots include Vortex Springs, Morrison Springs, Blue Springs Recreational Park, Merritt’s Mill Pond.
- Sites along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife trails dot the map of the RiverWay South region.
- The Chipola riverside boasts 63 freshwater springs, the largest number of any site in Northwest Florida.
- Western Lake in Santa Rosa County is probably the most photographed coastal dune lake with a backdrop of tall spindly Slash Pines. Dune lakes are found in only a few locations worldwide.
- Vortex Springs, Inc. is the largest diving facility in the state of Florida. The spring produces approximately 25 million gallons of crystal-clear water per day at a year-round temperature of 68 degrees.
- The Florida Maybell tree can be found only along the Ochlockonee and Chipola Rivers.
- The Spanish Heritage Trail consists of 10 sites with links to Florida’s rich Spanish history, and follows a winding, 150-mile path in Jackson County.
- The Florida Native Wildflower Drive (SR 65) is a 25-mile scenic route through the Apalachicola National Forest. Sitting in the midst of a national hotspot for biological diversity, the route has been recognized by the Florida Wildflower Foundation and acknowledged by enthusiasts as “the best place in Florida to view native wildflowers.”
- The nationally and state designated Big Bend National Scenic Byway is a 220-mile scenic drive which travels through coastal and forest portions of Leon, Wakulla and Franklin Counties.
- The Ocheesee Creamery, the only dairy in the state that makes its own butter, is a small, three-generation dairy and creamery with a storefront, farm, and bottling tours.
- On the side of State Highway 77 in Wausau stands what may well be Florida’s most unique roadside memorial–the Possum Monument. Unveiled in 1982, the inscription reads: “Erected in grateful recognition of the role the North American possum, a magnificent survivor of the marsupial family pre-dating the ages of the mastodon and the dinosaur, has played in furnishing both food and fur for the early settlers and their successors.” The 1982 session of the Florida Legislature further recognized the possum by passing a joint resolution proclaiming the first Saturday in August as “Possum Day in the Great State of Florida.”
- Apalachicola Oyster Cook-Off, January, Apalachicola, www.OysterCookOff.com
- Lighthouse Full Moon Climb, St. George Island, Monthly, www.StGeorgeLight.org
- Bonifay Down Home Street Festival, March, Bonifay, www.holmescountychamber.org
- Washington County Heritage Festival, March, Falling Waters State Park, www.FloridaStateParks.org
- North Florida Wildflower Festival, April, Blountstown, www.calhounco.org
- Chipola Feather Fest, April, Chipola, www.FloridaBirdingTrail.com
- South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival, April, Sandestin, www.SoWalWine.com
- Quincy Fest, May, Quincy, www.dosomethingoriginal.com
- Annual Commemoration of the CSS Chattahoochee, May, Chattahoochee, www.chattahoocheemainstreet.org
- Forgotten Coast Paddlejam, May, St. George Island, Apalachicola, www.Paddle2Love.com
- Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, June, Sandestin, www.FishECbc.com
- Wausau Fun Day & Possum Festival, August, Wausau, www.WausauPossumFestival.com
- Swamp and Stomp Mud Run, September, Blountstown, www.calhounco.org
- Spirit of the Canyons, October, Florida Caverns State Park, www.VisitJacksonCountyFla.com
- Pioneer Goat Day, October, Blountstown, www.calhounco.org
- Northwest Florida Championship Rodeo, October, Bonifay, www.bonifaykiwanis.org/rodeo
- Port Fest, October, Quincy, www.dosomethingoriginal.com
- Florida Seafood Festival, November, Apalachicola, www.FloridaSeafoodFestival.com