Florida has 195 state parks. Whether you want to learn about the longest and costliest Native American war at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park or snorkel the beautiful coral reefs at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, there’s something for everyone in the Sunshine State.
One of those state parks in the northern part of the state is Big Shoals State Park. Here, visitors can view the only whitewater rapids in the entire state.
Learn more about what you can see and do at Big Shoals State Park!
What is Big Shoals State Park?
Big Shoals State Park is home to the largest whitewater rapids in the Sunshine State. Nowhere else in Florida can you see 80-foot limestone bluffs and Class III whitewater.
But the Suwannee River and surrounding landscape offer more than just outstanding views. The park is also great for biking, bird watching, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and paddling.
Where is Big Shoals State Park located?
Big Shoals State Park has two entrances. The Little Shoals entrance is located at 11330 S.E. County Road 135 in White Springs, Florida. The Big Shoals entrance is located at 18738 S.E. 94th Street in White Springs.
The park is located about halfway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville on Interstate 10 in north central Florida.
At the Little Shoals entrance you will find parking, restrooms, a picnic pavilion, and the trailhead for the Mossy Ravine Trail. The Woodpecker Trail connects this entrance to the Big Shoals entrance on the northeast side of the park.
The Big Shoals entrance also has parking, restrooms, a canoe launch, and the Long Brand Trailhead.
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 manage the public lands surrounding Big Shoals.
Big Shoals State Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset and offers visitors an outdoor playground. When you arrive, you will find a ticket booth where you can pay your entrance fees. Admission is $4 per vehicle and $2 per pedestrian or bicyclist.
Pets may be brought in as long as they remain on a leash. As always, follow the Leave No Trace policy and take your pet’s waste with you.
You can drive County Road 135 between 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 east side and Little Shoals on the west side.
How do I get to Big Shoals Rapids?
The easiest way to reach Big Shoals Rapids is to park in the Big Shoals parking lot on the northeast side of Big Shoals State Park.
From this parking area, hike 1 mile on the Big Shoals trail. Follow the yellow trail markers.
If you want a longer route, you can park on the west side of the park in the Little Shoals parking lot and hike or bike the 3.4 mile paved Woodpecker Trail to the Big Shoals parking lot.
How do I get to Little Shoals Rapids?
Little Shoals Rapids is also not accessible by car. To reach this area, you will also need to hike a bit. Enter the park via the Little Shoals entrance, go down Road 1 and turn right onto Road 6.
At the end of Road 6, you can park your vehicle and hike about a half mile on the Mossy Ravine Trail, following the blue markers. For a longer hike, you can park at the entrance and start at the Mossy Ravine Trailhead.
Are there any hiking trails at Big Shoals State Park?
With over 28 miles of hiking trails, Big Shoals State Park offers more than just whitewater rapids. As mentioned earlier, the Woodpecker Trail is a 3.4-mile paved trail that connects the two entrances to the park. Hikers and bicyclists share the trail.
The Big Shoals Trail is another popular trail that leads to Big Shoals Rapids. It is also ideal for birders who want to observe songbirds or wading birds. Other trails include the Long Branch Trail, the Mossy Ravine Trail, and the Palmetto Trail.
Don’t forget: What is a switchback when hiking? Click on the link to find out!
Can I fish in the Suwannee River?
Big Shoals State Park is an ideal place to fish. The fresh waters of the Suwannee River are home to trout bass, black crappie, sunfish and channel catfish.
You may need a fishing license. Check with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for state requirements.
In addition, when fishing, you must comply with regulations regarding size, number, method of catch, and season. For more information, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.
Can I paddle on the Suwannee River?
Paddling around the shoals is not recommended. Even experienced canoeists and kayakers should proceed with caution. However, there is a canoe station at the entrance to Big Shoals.
Many visitors enjoy the sandy beaches and paddling in the 2- to 3-mile-per-hour current of the Suwannee River. Just stay away from the rapids, as they can be very dangerous at low and high water.
Paddlers need to pay attention to water levels. The Suwanee River Water Management District records daily water levels so you can always check the Suwannee River Wilderness State Trail to make sure it’s safe to paddle.
When water levels are 59 to 61 feet above mean sea level, Big Shoals is a Class III rapid. When water levels are 70 feet above mean sea level, shallow water conditions prevail.
Big Shoals State Park closes the canoe launch when the water level is above 62 feet. When the water level is below 51 feet above mean sea level, exposed rocks make navigation extremely difficult.
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What wildlife can I see at Big Shoals State Park?
Depending on where you are in the state park, you may see gopher tortoises, wild turkeys or deer. Sparrows, hawks, long-eared owls, swallow-tailed kitties, and bald eagles are out at certain times of the day.
In the late afternoon, you may see Mexican broad-tailed bats at the entrance to Big Shoals near the bat house. They fly out every evening at sunset to forage for food.
If you arrive before sunset, you may be able to hear their soft squeaking. Just be careful where you stand so you don’t leave the park smelling like bat guano.
Is Big Shoals State Park worth a visit?
Big Shoals State Park is unlike any other state park in Florida. The whitewater rapids at Big Shoals are truly unique.
Whether you want to take a nice morning walk, go for a bike ride, or cast your line, Big Shoals State Park offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Pack a picnic and head to White Springs the next time you’re in the northern part of the Sunshine State.
Have you ever seen the beautiful backdrop of Big Shoals’ whitewater rapids?