Kayaking Big Shoals on the Suwannee River

All About Florida’s Only Class III Whitewater Rapids

Whitewater Rapids at Big Shoals on Suwannee River in Florida
Michael Warren / Getty Images

Besides being known as the Sunshine State, Florida is deriding called the “flat state.” With that well-established reputation, you’d never guess that Florida could have whitewater, let alone a class III rapid on it. Yet that is exactly what can be found in one easy to access place in North Florida. The Suwannee River in White Springs, Florida has a rapid known as Big Shoals that turns into a Class III rapid when the water is just right.

Kayaking Class III Big Shoals Overview

  • Trip Length: 1.5 or 5 miles
  • Difficulty: Class I with 1 Class III rapids
  • Hazards: Alligators, Trees along the river, Big Shoals Class III Rapids in between 59 feet and 61 feet
  • River Gauge: Suwannee River at White Springs

Getting to the Put-In

Take CR 135 north out of White Springs. You’ll see signs for the Little Shoals entrance to the Big Shoals State Park. Pass the Little Shoals entrance. There will be a sign to turn right at the Big Shoals entrance down a dirt road. Drive into the park and be sure to pay the fee at the gate. Follow the signs for the canoe launch in the park.

Navigating the Take-Out

  • 1.5 mile Trip Take-Out: Leave your car at the put-in. Once you pass Big Shoals on the river, paddle to river-right and get out where you can. Climb out to the overlooks above The Shoals. Hike back 1.5 miles with your kayak and gear to the put-in.
  • 5 mile Trip Take-Out: Drive east out of White Springs on Highway 41. There is a Boat Launch at the Highway 41 Bridge. Leave your car in the parking lot at the hiking trails.

Experiencing Rare Whitewater Kayaking in Florida

Big Shoals is one rapid on the Suwannee River that gets earns a class III designation at water levels in between 59 feet and 61 feet at the gage in White Springs. To view the rapids before deciding to paddle down to them, you can hike from the put-on 1.5 miles downstream on the “Yellow Trail” to some overlooks above the rapids.

It is a 1 1/2-mile paddle down the river to get to Big Shoals. There is a stop sign on river-left signaling the portage. Take-out here and hike down the trail to scout The Shoals. You’ll notice that there are a number of places to run Big Shoals but there are also some holes you’ll want to stay away from. Only experienced whitewater kayakers should attempt to run this rapid.

The easiest line through them is a sneak route along the river left bank in between an exposed rock formation and a tree growing out of the water. Running this chute is the easiest line in Big Shoals. You can take out on river left, hike back up, and run them again and again.

If you are lucky enough to paddle Big Shoals in White Springs, you will be one of only a few whitewater kayakers in the United States who will be able to say that you kayaked a whitewater river in the State of Florida -- so have fun and be safe.