BIG SHOALS STATE PARK
This park features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida. Limestone bluffs, towering 80 feet above the banks of the Suwannee River, afford outstanding vistas not found anywhere else in Florida. When the water level on the Suwannee River is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III Whitewater classification, attracting thrill-seeking canoe and kayak enthusiasts. A smaller set of rapids downstream is called Little Shoals. Over 28 miles of wooded trails provide opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. The Woodpecker Trail, a 3.4 mile long multipurpose paved trail, connects the Little Shoals and Big Shoals entrances to the park. The river offers excellent opportunities for freshwater fishing. A picnic pavilion that seats up to 40 people is available at the Little Shoals entrance. Located on County Road 135, one mile northeast of U.S. 41 in White Springs.
Birding enthusiasts will find a large variety of species at Big Shoals, including herons and egrets, wood ducks, red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks, woodpeckers, barred owls, ruby-throated hummingbirds, warblers, vireos, wrens, swallows and thrashers. Wild turkeys are usually plentiful and wading birds make regular visits. Bald eagles, northern mockingbirds, scarlet tanagers, the rufous-sided towhee, and indigo buntings also have been counted.
Wading birds, gopher tortoise, barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and timber rattlers are among the more populous species found at Big Shoals Public Lands. Marked trails offer many opportunities for viewing wildlife at both the Big Shoals and Little Shoals entrances. Maps are available at the kiosk at the Little Shoals entrance.
In the early 19th century (circa 1833-1843) a cow man named B. Hooker built a homestead on the crest of a ridge above the Suwannee River. Archeological findings suggest the land along both sides of the river supported human settlements during prehistoric times. Late in the 19th century the Old Godwin Bridge was built to span the river for both residential and commercial transportation. Floods swept the bridge away, but the pilings remain. From about 1910 until 1930 the Downing & Tuppins Turpentine Camp was the site of an African American community.
In the 1980s the State of Florida and the Suwannee River Water Management District purchased these lands with the intention of protecting the headwaters of the Suwannee River as it spilled out of the Okefenokee Swamp, as well as permanently protecting Big Shoals as the largest whitewater area in Florida. The land preserve also is intended to protect unique vistas and upland areas, historic sites along the Suwannee River, and the river floodplain.
Recreational opportunities associated with the Suwannee River, especially Big and Little Shoals rapids, have traditionally drawn many visitors to the area.
The Suwannee River's average current of 2 to 3 miles per hour and white sandy beaches have made the Shoals a popular spot for canoeing and kayaking. A canoe launch is located at the Big Shoals entrance. Canoeists should be aware that the shoals can be dangerous in both low and high water conditions. A portage area is provided on the left bank of the river traveling downstream. Canoe liveries are available in the area; visit our links to learn more.
The upper reaches of the Suwannee River provide great water for kayaking year-round, but water levels determine whether the shoals can be safely passed over or whether kayakers and canoeists should portage around the shoals. When the water level is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, Big Shoals earns a Class III White Water classification for kayaking. At 70' above msl flatwater conditions prevail. When the water is below 51' above msl, exposed rocks make the river around the shoals relatively impossible to navigate. Suwannee River Water Management maintains a daily record of river levels.