Whitewater rapids in Florida? Yes, at Big Shoals State Park in the quaint little town of White Springs in north central Florida. When the Suwannee River's water level is between 59 and 61 feet mean sea level, the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III for kayaking. But Big Shoals has more to offer than just paddling. With 33 miles of trails and a desire for adventure, there's plenty for everyone to enjoy.
With that in mind, my boyfriend, Bill Arnold, and I set out for a day of fun. We ride beautiful Arabian horses, Bask (an 18-year-old bay gelding) and Rain (a 10-year-old gray mare). It was a lovely fall day in north Florida - sunny and a pleasant 70 degrees. We packed snacks for ourselves and our horses. We were ready to go!
We rode through a typical Florida forest, with a mix of pine trees and hardwoods. Palmettos surround us, giving us the sense of riding through a sea of green. The trail options are numerous and marked by numbers. We're pretty certain the blue arrows indicate the trail that leads to the river, so we follow that one.
On our way, several large pine trees have fallen down as a result of the onslaught of hurricanes the area received in 2004. These downed pine trees made for excellent jumps, so off we went! As we got closer to the river, the evidence of all the rain from the storms was very apparent. The usually green-colored palmettos had turned brown and gray. We could see the water line on the pine trees, where it'd flooded 8 to 10 feet.
Many of the low-lying areas had filled up with water, also as a result of the rain. This gave us plenty of creeks to navigate and cross. We saw an otter swimming in one of the water holes.
Trotting up what appeared to be a small hill, we had to abruptly stop at the top. It was a high bluff overlooking the river. As we stood there on the bank's edge, I supposed it was meant to be a lookout point. It was very pretty and being 25 feet high, afforded a vista uncommon in Florida. Though the bank was rather steep, I asked my always willing Rainy to take me down for a closer look. There wasn't much beach there, but it was still fun.
We explored some more and accidentally ended up on the hiking path that runs along the river. No one else was there, so we continued until we came upon the section of the river where the shoals were. The white, foaming water atop the dark water of the Shoals looked pretty cool. The noise of the rushing rapids drowned out all other sounds.
Turning back, we picked up the horse trail again and jumped some more logs. The trails were wide enough for us to ride abreast and jump in tandem. We also found a trail that led to a smaller set of rapids, called Little Shoals. This section down off the banks had a little more beach. The snow-white sand contrasted nicely with the coffee-colored river. We ran into a few flooded trails, but we were able to follow them easily and safely.