The Devil’s Millhopper. The name alone sounds ominous. When I first heard about this place in Gainesville, I thought it might be a haunted attraction of some sort. But when I saw it for myself recently, it turned out to be just the opposite and a pleasant surprise.
Anyone who lives in Florida knows the state is abundant with natural wonders. But the Devil’s Millhopper is one of the more unique works of nature. It’s actually a 120-foot deep sinkhole that was formed when an underground cavern collapsed. Since the late 1800s, its drawn the curious and groups of researchers who have found the fossilized remains of extinct land animals.
Modern-day visitors can descend into the bowl-shaped cavity via a series of steps and boardwalks. Venturing to the bottom can be strenuous, but it’s well worth the effort. As you go lower into the earth, you suddenly find yourself in a miniature rain forest and seemingly miles away from the hustle and bustle of the world above. Florida’s sandy terrain vanishes giving way to lush green vegetation. Streams of water pour off the limestone walls and splash into ponds on the sinkhole’s floor. At the end of the boardwalk, there are places to sit and meditate in the solitude. If you’re lucky, you might even see a small rabbit or a frog playing in its natural habitat.
The large sinkhole was given the name Devil’s Millhopper in the 1880s. It comes from the hole’s unique funnel shape. Farmers during this era would use gristmills to grind grain. On top of the mill was a funnel-shaped container called a hopper that held the grain as it was fed into the grinder. Over the years, hundreds of fossilized bones and teeth from early life forms have been found at the bottom of the sink. According to legend, the millhopper was used to feed bodies to the Devil. Hence the foreboding name to an otherwise peaceful place.
Around the rim of the sinkhole is a one-half mile nature trail that meanders through pine forests. A small exhibit area near the parking lot explains the geological history of the Millhopper and highlights some of the animals, past and present, that have called the area home. Picnic tables are also available for those who want to make a day of it.
The Devil’s Millhopper is a state park and is open from 9 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday. The area is closed on Monday and Tuesday. There’s a nominal fee for each vehicle that enters the park.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is located in northwest Gainesville off State Road 222. From Interstate 75, travel east on SR 222. Turn left on Northwest 43rd Street. Make a left on Millhopper Road and the park will be 0.2 miles on the right.