Big Shoals on the Suwannee
Summary of Features
- Scenery - excellent
- Swimming - not recommended
- Crowds - small-none
- Access - very good, need clear directions
- Facilities - none
- Safety - sharp rocks, forceful rapids
- Cost - Free
Little Shoals Directions
From the flashing light in White Springs at the intersection of Highways 136 and 41 (on the other side of the bridge from the Stephen Foster park), head SE away from the park and out of town about a mile. Cross the Suwannee again. On your left you can see some of the Little Shoals in the distance. A park and boat ramp are located just before the bridge, but continue over the bridge and go about ½ mile, then turn left just before the inspection station.
Go over the railroad tracks to the entrance to the Suwannee River Water Management District tract. Just beyond the huge wooden signs is a glass-enclosed map with a little roof over it. This map shows the way to a good view of the shoals. Continue on the dirt road for about ½ mile, bending around to the left. At the dead-end (at a gate that says "Bad Dog,") turn right between two wooden posts. The road narrows. Continue about 0.8 mile to a clearing where the sand inthe road becomed deep. Go about 1/10 mile to the right and you will see an overlook on your left. A narrow path held together by tree roots and bordered by palmettos lead down to the river.
Little Shoals Description
Here you can see some rapids flowing over big flat layers of limestone. At this point you could walk across the Suwannee. The flat limestone shelves remind me solidified lava.
Big Shoals Directions
On the other side of the river is a park, popular with mountain bikers. From this park one can see both Little Shoals and Big Shoals. To reach it, start at the intersection of Highways 136 and 41. Go through town about ½ mile, passing the high school, then turn left on 3rd Street at the next flashing light (by the S & S foodstore/gas station). Go around a bend and over the railroad tracksyou are now on 135 heading northeast. Go about 1.2 miles and look for the sifan on the right that says, "Big Shoals Conservation Area." If you pass the huge plantation-looking house on your left and a white wooden fence, you have gone too far. From here, dirt roads wind all around and I never made it all the way to the river and Little Shoals. Big Shoals to the northeast can also be reached by these same dirt roads.
A quicker route to Big Shoals is to head out again to 135 and go about 2 miles down the road to Godwin Bridge Road. Turn right on to the dirt road and continue about 1.5 miles to the gate to the SRWMD lands. Go through the gate and straight ahead a short distance is an open area with high bluffs overlooking the river. Bike trails lead from here to the Big Shoals, then to Little Shoals and all around.
Big Shoals Access and Related Information:
During the winter of 99-2000, Big Shoals was closed for some sort of renovation. However, a friend and I rented a canoe at American Canoe Adventures north of White Springs on Swift Creek (904-397-4122 ) and the owner, in a van pulling the canoe trailer, simply opened the "gate" and drove in. The canoe launch is to the left, down a steep boardwalk. The stairs go right into the water without a platform so it is awkward to put your canoe in the water.
In March of 2000, rainfall had been low for 2 years and the river was hardly moving at all. Trees reflected in the dark waters looked just like their real counterparts above, and in photographs it is sometimes hard to tell which side is the reflection. You have to make some effort paddling to make any progress downstream.
Big Shoals Description:
After about a mile you see a small sign on a tree to the left, warning that the Big Shoals loom ahead. Soon you hear the roar. It is best to scout out your path by pulling to the side before going over any of the rapids. I went on the right side of the river, as that seemed safest. The main shoals only go for about 300 feet, but for Florida, they are quite impressive. The water is shallow over the biggest of the waterfalls, and you can walk around on them. Be sure to wear something on your feet, as the rocks are sharp. The most downstream of the rapids was too steep for the canoe so we portaged. Flat (enough) areas along the right bank make this possible. You might want to stop and sit underneath one of these little waterfalls and let the water stream over your shoulders. It makes a great photo.
Right after the shoals, on the right bank, is a white sandy beach with a gentle slope. A few minutes more downstream and on your left, you see Robinson Creek emptying into the river, emerging from a ravine with steep banks. The water is dark, like the Suwannee. Follow the canopied creek in a few hundred feet - the river was so low that day that I walked it - and you will come across a waterfall not quite six feet high and fifteen feet across. Day-glo green moss grew everywhere on the rocks. Flat slabs of rock make a convenient places to walk in the shallow stream. Above the waterfall, the land levels out and the banks are not much higher than the creek.
A few minutes downstream from Robinson Creek, you see a much smaller stream, also on the left, but with crystal clear water emptying into the river. Be careful when you step onto the sand because I sank about 2 feet - test the ground first. This sream tumbles down a narrow (maybe six feet at the top, 2 or 3 feet at the bottom) gorge before hitting the river. Climb up the gorge and note the 2 flat logs that serve as bridges across the tiny canyon. When I reached level ground, I could not tell where the stream came from, and did not follow it to the source. I suspect that might have been the run to Bell Spring, which flows 0.4 miles to the river.
At various places along the way, listen for the sound of water trickling down the rocks into the river.
After this you have about four or five miles until you reach Little Shoals, described above. Little Shoals goes for much longer than Big Shoals, and is far gentler on the canoe. Little Shoals is reachable by land and open to the public, and we encountered some people hanging out here and fishing - the first I saw on this entire canoe trip. The small shoals continue right up to the bridge on Highway 41, where we took out at a steep concrete boatramp in a roadside park.