Welcome to Big Shoals State Park, home of the largest whitewater rapids in Florida… if you happen to visit when the water level is high. Back in July (yep, just now getting around to posting this), Adam and I made a trip out to Little and Big Shoals State Park in White Springs, Florida for a little Sunday Funday adventure. We were surprised to learn that you can drive through majority of the park, including the land that joins Big Shoals to Little Shoals Conservation Area. (But thankful because the weather was HOT HOT HOT.) Even though we spent most of our visit in the car, we enjoyed our trip to this lush state park along the Suwannee River.
Native Americans once used the shoals’ as a quarry site to make stone chipped tools. They also frequented the sulphur springs until European settlers arrived in the early 1800s. William Brinton Hooker, one of Florida’s first cattle kings, settled on the northern shore of the Suwannee in the 1830s. Hooker raised scrub cattle and black seed cotton. He built a ferry across the river in the mid-1830s. In the early 1900s, the land was purchased for logging and turpentining. Longleaf pines in the park still bear the scars of cat-face stripping of bark to collect resins for naval stores production. (Historical information via floridastateparks.org.)
There are 33 miles of hiking and nature trails throughout Big Shoals State Park, many of which can also be accessed via horseback. The Florida National Scenic Trail runs along the river bluff for unique views of the Suwannee River. The typography is interesting at Big Shoals, ranging from steep slopes and ravines to sloping forests and pinewood flats. We took the Woodpecker Trail between the two parks.
The Woodpecker Trail joining Big Shoals to Little Shoals Conservation Area provided a great background for taking some photos of the Xterra in her natural habitat. She’s not a 4×4 but she still loves getting off the beaten path occasionally.
After a short hike from the Woodpecker Trail, we emerged onto the banks of the Suwannee River. The water was super low, as you can tell from the pictures, and there definitely weren’t any rapids but we still felt like we had been transported to the mountains of Georgia or Tennessee. When water levels are between 59 and 61 feet the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III White Water designation. Although seeing raging rapids in Florida would have been quite the experience, it was still neat to walk down on the flats and imagine where water usually rolled by.
One of my favorite features in the Florida State Parks is finding interesting forested pathways. The top photo is part of the Woodpecker Trail; the bottom photo is the path leading to the canoe launch. Both look like they belong in the pages of a fairy tale book.
My favorite native Florida animal has got to the Gopher Tortoise. I love coming across these slow and steady creatures. They’re a lot faster than they get credit for! The Gopher Tortoise digs deep burrows which they share with more than 350 species making them a keystone species. They are also highly protected by Wildlife Conservation Commissions and the penalties for disrupting the tortoises can be steep. If you see one in the wild, it’s best to snap a few pictures and let the tortoise be.
Big Shoals State Park also offers biking, fishing, an equestrian trail, geocaching, canoeing, and kayaking. A picnic pavilion that can seat up to 40 people is located at the Little Shoals entrance. And designated hunting areas are posted where licensed hunters can hunt during season.
For more information on Big Shoals State Park, visit floridastateparks.org.