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Big Shoals State Recreational Area

Located in North Central Florida is a little known recreational area where you can see the Suwannee River and surrounding woods in its natural state. Big Shoals State Park is 3,772 acres of swamps, woodlands, and sloughs located on the banks of the Suwannee River. There are over 6 miles of river frontage in the park where visitors can hike the trails running along the river banks. The park is never crowded and you might hike for hours without meeting another visitor. Being so far from the main highways means the park is quiet. Only the sounds of nature are heard as you walk the beautiful nature trails. The trails are cleared only wide enough to walk down and in many places you will need to squeeze between trees or climb up steep inclines.

The Park contains a total of 28 miles of woodland trails. The trails are designed for several different purposes. Some are for hiking only. Other trails are for horseback riding or bicycles. All of the trails are only narrow cleared paths through natural terrain. Although some trails are designated bicycle trails, do not try to ride a street bicycle on them. Only a mountain bike or off road bike with fat tires can negotiate these trails. Other trails are for horseback riding or hiking only. All photos on this web page were taken in the middle of January. Even in winter much of the native vegetation is green. Weather is mild in Florida and you can enjoy the area all year long. Hiking, biking, canoeing, and kayaking are just a few of the activities available in the park.

Near the parking area there are picnic tables under huge live oak trees which are hung with spanish moss. About 100 yards upriver is a canoe and kayak launch site. Wooden steps run right down to the water, making the launch and loading easy. The canoe and kayak launch site is about a mile up river from the white water rapids on a calm stretch of river bank. Rest rooms are located near the parking area, but there are no rest rooms or drinking water anywhere else in the park. You should plan ahead and carry any food or water you will need with you when you leave the parking area. Good hiking boots, a compass, and insect repellant are some of the other things you should think about. This is not a theme park. It is a wild, natural tract of woods.

Only those experienced with canoes and kayaks should attempt to run this section of the river. Before planning a river run you will need to check the water levels in the river. At a water level between 59 and 61 feet, the Big Shoals stretch is a Class III rapids. There is no place to get out of the river for about the next 7 miles and once you are committed, there is no turning back. At a river level below 51 feet, the water is rushing over exposed rocks and snags. Trying to run the rapids in low water may leave you stranded with the bottom torn out of your canoe or kayak. Any water levels above 70 feet will result in almost flat water conditions. A high water run will miss the thrill of the foaming rapids. For those who wish to see the rapids from the bank, a hiking trail runs along the river bank. It is about 1 mile from the parking area to the beginning of the white water stretch.

The park is open from 8:00 AM until sunset every day. Before going on any of the trails, get a map. Stay on the marked trails. Areas around the trails are filled with thick undergrowth and the area of the park is large enough to leave you lost. Spending the night in these woods is not a pleasant experience unless you are prepared for it. In addition to the hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, and bird watching, limited hunting is allowed in certain areas of the tract. Bow hunting, black powder, and gun hunting information can be obtained from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service. Links at the end of this article will give further information on water levels and contain maps for getting to the area. A Florida vacation should not be only the beaches or Disney World. Save a few days to see the real Florida.

Big Shoals State Park
Downloadable Tract Map
Downloadable Road Map to the Big Shoals tract
Suwannee River Water Level Information
My Florida.com Parks

Graywolf / 2005