Class III rapids in Florida? Sounds crazy, right? After all, Florida is the flattest state in the country with some of the laziest rivers in the world. It’s longest river, the St. Johns, drops only about an inch per mile and actually flows in reverse twice a day with high tide.
Yet the Suwannee River drops 9 feet in less than a quarter mile through Big Shoals. As it rushes across a bed of limestone outcroppings, it earns a class III rapid designation when the water level is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level. Granted, these rapids don’t go on for miles like you find in the mountains, but the fact that they exist at all in Florida is a wonder.
These rapids are significant enough to be clearly visible on Google Earth. Easily spotted, they appear as the only white streaks in an otherwise tea-colored river. Even Little Shoals, just downstream and around the bend, are clearly visible from high above.
The limestone bed and surrounding limestone bluffs, along with dense subtropical foliage, help to make these some of the most picturesque rapids you’ll ever see. An easy mile and a quarter hike through a beautiful subtropical forest from the parking lot brings you to the best viewing area for Big Shoals. However, if you’re feeling like doing some serious hiking there are over 28 miles of multi-use wooded trails available. There’s even a 3.4 mile long paved multi-use trail linking the Big Shoals and Little Shoals parking areas.
Kayakers and canoeists can try their luck at the rapids from the north end of the Big Shoals parking area. I recommend hiking out to the rapids before trying to navigate them. Water levels are dependent on rain, so they can vary wildly. In dry times the river at this point can literally run dry. At other times the water is so shallow as to be unnavigable. If a lot of rain is dumped in the area the river will rise to the point that the rapids disappear below. But when conditions are just right, you’ll have a brief, but exciting slalom through Florida’s most extensive rapids.
Across the river, near Little Shoals, the Florida National Scenic Trail runs more than 41 miles almost continuously along the river. This is the only place the 1,100-mile long FNST runs next to a major river (Suwannee) for such a distance. So if you’re feeling really ambitious…
Whether you want to hike, bike, kayak, horseback ride, go 4-wheeling or simply have a picnic, Big Shoals has something for you. The fact that this is home to Florida’s most extensive rapids makes it a Florida Natural Wonder. Check out the Video, links, park map and our WonderMap (below). Then drop this one in your Florida Bucket List and make a point of seeing it for yourself.
Big Shoals State Park WonderMap. NOTE: Click on the waypoint flags for location photos.
Big Shoals State Park, 11330 S.E. County Road 135, White Springs, Florida 32096 (386) 397-4331 Map courtesy of Florida State Parks
References and more information: Park PDF Brochure http://www.floridastateparks.org/bigshoals/ http://www.floridatrail.org/suwannee-river/ http://www.srwmd.state.fl.us/index.aspx?NID=105 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_elevation