Florida Actually Has Whitewater Rapids

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Whitewater rapids at big shoals state park

Florida has 195 state parks. Whether you’re looking to learn more about the longest and most costly American Indian war at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park or go snorkeling in the beautiful coral reefs of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, there’s something for everyone in the Sunshine State.

One of these state parks located in the state’s north-central region is called Big Shoals State Park. Here, visitors can see the only whitewater rapids in the entire state.

Let’s learn more about all you can see and do at Big Shoals State Park!

What Is Big Shoals State Park?

Big Shoals State Park features the largest whitewater rapids in the Sunshine State. Nowhere else in Florida will you see 80-foot limestone bluffs and Class III whitewater rapids. 

But the Suwannee River and surrounding landscape don’t just offer outstanding vistas. The park is also a great place for biking, birding, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and paddling.

Where Is Big Shoals State Park?

Big Shoals State Park has two entrances. The Little Shoals entrance is at 11330 S.E. County Road 135 in White Springs, Florida. The Big Shoals entrance is at 18738 S.E. 94th Street in White Springs. 

The park is about halfway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville along Interstate 10 in north-central Florida.

At the Little Shoals entrance, you have parking, restrooms, a picnic pavilion, and the Mossy Ravine trailhead. The Woodpecker Trail links this entrance to the Big Shoals entrance on the northeast side of the park. 

At the Big Shoals entrance, you also get parking, restrooms, a canoe launch area, and the Long Brand trailhead.

View of big shoals state park

Things to Know Before Visiting Big Shoals State Park

The Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Suwannee River Water Management District, and Florida Forest Service all manage the public lands around Big Shoals. 

Open from 8 a.m. until sundown, Big Shoals State Park offers an outdoor playground for visitors. When you arrive, you’ll see an honor box to pay your entrance fees. It’s $4 per vehicle and $2 per pedestrian or bicyclist.

You can bring pets as long as they stay on a leash. As always, follow the Leave No Trace principles and pick up after your pet. 

You can drive County Road 135 between the entrances or walk or bike the Woodpecker Trail to get from one side of the park to the other. You have Big Shoals on the eastern side and Little Shoals on the western side.

How Do I Get to the Big Shoals Rapids?

For the easiest access to view the Big Shoals rapids, you’ll want to park at the Big Shoals parking area on the northeast side of Big Shoals State Park. 

From this parking lot, hike 1 mile on the Big Shoals hiking trail. Follow the yellow blazes. 

If you want a longer route, you can park at the western side of the park in the Little Shoals parking area and hike or bike the 3.4-mile paved Woodpecker Trail to the Big Shoals parking lot.

How Do I Get to the Little Shoals Rapids?

You can’t access the Little Shoals rapids by vehicle, either. You’ll have to do some hiking to reach this area as well. Enter the park at the Little Shoals entrance, drive down Road 1, and turn right on Road 6. 

At the end of Road 6, you can park your vehicle and hike about a half mile down the Mossy Ravine trail, following the blue blazes. You can park at the entrance and start at the Mossy Ravine trailhead for a longer hike.

Whitewater rapids at big shoals state park

Are There Hiking Trails in Big Shoals State Park?

With over 28 miles of trails, Big Shoals State Park is more than just whitewater rapids. As mentioned, the Woodpecker Trail is a 3.4-mile scenic paved trail connecting the two park entrances. Hikers and bikers share the route.

The Big Shoals Trail is another popular one, which leads to the Big Shoals Rapids. It’s also ideal for birders looking to catch a glimpse of songbirds or waders. Others include the Long Branch Trail, the Mossy Ravine Trail, and the Palmetto Trail.

Keep in Mind: What Is a Switchback When Hiking? Click the link to find out!

Can I Fish in the Suwannee River?

Big Shoals State Park offers a great location for fishing. The freshwater of the Suwannee River is home to largemouth bass, black crappie, sunfish, and channel catfish. 

You may need a fishing license, so check the state requirements at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

In addition, all fishing must conform to regulations concerning size, number, method of capture, and season, which you can also learn more about on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website.

Can I Paddle the Suwannee River?

Paddling around the shoals is not recommended. Even experienced canoers and kayakers should proceed with caution. But you can use a canoe launch at the Big Shoals entrance. 

Many visitors enjoy the sandy beaches and paddling the 2 to 3-mile-per-hour current of the Suwannee River. Just steer clear of the rapids, as these can be quite dangerous in low and high water conditions.

Paddlers need to pay attention to the water levels. The Suwanee River Water Management District records the daily river levels, so always check the Suwannee River Wilderness State Trail to know whether paddling is safe. 

When the water level is 59 to 61 feet above mean sea level, Big Shoals is a Class III rapid. Flatwater conditions prevail when the water level is 70 feet above the mean sea level. 

Big Shoals State Park will close the canoe launch when the water level is above 62 feet. When the water level is below 51 feet above mean sea level, the exposed rocks will make it extremely difficult to navigate.

Keep in Mind: Looking to save money on your next national park visit? You can see National Parks for free on these days only!

Whitewater rapids at big shoals state park

What Wildlife Can I See at Big Shoals State Park?

Depending on where you venture in the state park, you might see gopher tortoises, wild turkeys, or deer. Sparrows, hawks, great horned owls, swallow-tailed kits, and bald eagles are out during certain times of the day.

In the late afternoon, you might see Mexican free-tailed bats at the Big Shoals entrance near the bat house. They fly out each evening at sunset to start looking for food.

If you arrive before sunset, you might hear their tiny squeaks. Just be careful where you stand to avoid leaving the park smelling like bat guano.

Mexican free-trailed bats flying at Big Shoals state park

Is Big Shoals State Park Worth Visiting?

Big Shoals State Park is unlike any other state park in Florida. The whitewater rapids at Big Shoals are truly unique.

Whether you want a place for a nice morning stroll, a bike ride, or to cast your fishing line, Big Shoals State Park offers many outdoor recreational activities. Pack a picnic and head out to White Springs the next time you’re in the north-central part of the Sunshine State.

Have you ever seen the beautiful scenery of the whitewater rapids at Big Shoals?

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