Big Shoals State Park
If you are visiting Florida you won’t want to miss Big Shoals State Park, which is located in the north central region of Florida. The park is best known for having the largest whitewater rapids in Florida within its boundaries. The park also boasts limestone bluffs, picturesque vistas unlike any others in Florida, amazing hiking trails, and a wide variety of activities to keep any RV camping enthusiast entertained for days.
Be sure you have your camera to capture views that you won’t see anywhere else in Florida. The Suwannee River runs through the park lined with tall bluffs. The bluffs provide a great way to see the beautiful landscape, including Florida’s only whitewater. Take a walk along the Big Shoals Trail beneath the forest canopy toward the river. The plant and animal life will amaze as much as the incredible views as you hike toward the river.
One plant to look for is the greenfly orchid. it has purplish green flowers that seem to be suspended above leaves of glossy evergreen. The flower grows on shaded branches of oak trees and southern magnolia trees on the bluffs and in swamps. As you walk along you’ll hear the roar of the rapids long before you see them rushing over downed trees, limestone outcroppings and agatized corals.
Butterfly watching is also a favored past time at the park. The winged beauties can be seen at most state parks due to the tremendous amount of natural habitat but your chances of finding a native species are much higher at Big Shoals State Park. To see some varieties found around North Central Florida, visit floridastateparks.org’s great article or check out our blog post!
Birding & Fishing
The park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, some of the birds you’re likely to see include swallow-tailed kites, ruby-throated hummingbirds, wrens, warblers, mockingbirds, bald eagles, a variety of hawks, wild turkeys, herons, egrets, wood ducks, woodpeckers, barred owls and even Mexican free-tailed bats if you’re near the Big Shoals entrance in late afternoon through sunset.
Freshwater fishing is available along The Woodpecker Trail, which connects the Big and Little Shoals entrances of the park. Anglers regularly target multiple species of sunfish, black crappie, large-mouth bass, and the catfish are plentiful as well. Fishing does have to follow local and state regulations as related to number, size, method and season, and a fishing license might be required.
On the Water
The water current averages between two and three miles per hour on the Suwannee River. There are beautiful white sandy beaches, which make the Shoals popular for kayaking and canoeing, although you should be aware the shoals can be dangerous. There is a portage area on the left bank as you travel downstream; and there are canoe liveries available nearby.
The upper reaches of the Suwannee River provide great water for kayaking year-round, in fact, when the water level reaches 59 to 61 feet above sea level, the shoals is classified as a Class III White Water for kayaking. Flat water conditions win out when mean water levels reach 70 feet. On the other hand, depths of 51 feet above sea level make the waters nearly impossible to navigate because of the exposed rocks. For current information check with Suwannee River Water Management which maintains a record of water levels on a daily basis.
Other Places to Visit
Check out the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center where you’ll learn about the life of songwriter of folksongs like Oh Susannah and Camptown Races. The center is part of a state park that has RV camping available as well as beautiful walking paths. The park is located near the town of White Springs, Florida which has a well-preserved historical district with Victorian-era homes.
In nearby Lake City, Florida there even more activities to enjoy. The area is a fantastic place for outdoor enthusiasts. From Civil War festivals and other history festivals to simply spending quiet time reflecting in nature, there are plenty of options.
Indeed, Lake City has something for everyone – there are historical attractions like Olustee Battlefield State Park, which is the location of Florida’s largest Civil War battle, fought in 1864. Here you’ll find historical artifacts in the museum and visitor’s center. In addition, the area is easy to explore using well-marked trails featuring plaques that give visitors insight into the battle.
There’s also the Osceola National Forest with 200,000 acres of woodlands and swamps just waiting to be explored. You may decide to set up camp here so you can take full advantage of the variety of wildlife, fishing, hiking and swimming. Some activities may require a special permit.
There are also offers visitors cultural activities, music festivals, golf, shopping, a brewery and the beautiful architecture of a past era that remains in several homes and businesses.