Big Shoals State Park is home to the only Class III white water rapids in Florida on the famed Suwannee River. If you’re not looking to take a plunge in the rapids, the park’s 28 miles of wooded trails offer hiking, biking and horseback riding opportunities.
You might not think of Florida as a whitewater rapids state, but Big Shoals State Park north of Gainesville and east of White Springs, Florida, features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida.
The headwaters of the Suwannee River are in the Okefenokee Swamp in the town of Fargo, Georgia. The river runs southwestward into the Florida Panhandle, then drops in elevation through limestone layers into a rare Florida whitewater rapid. Beyond the Suwannee rapid, the river turns west near the town of White Springs, Florida. Next, the Suwannee River connects to the confluences of the Alapaha River and Withlacoochee River, eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico.
When the water level on the Suwannee River is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III Whitewater classification. Only experienced canoe and kayakers should attempt to navigate the Shoals. Limestone bluffs, tower 80 feet above the banks of the Suwannee River, with beautiful views not seen anywhere else in Florida.
One of the best outdoor activities to enjoy with family and friends is heading to the river to go whitewater rafting. Thankfully, you don’t have to travel all the way to Oregon for a spectacular rafting experience. If you’re going rafting for the first time, study these helpful whitewater rafting tips for beginners.
Before embarking on your whitewater rafting adventure, make sure you wear the appropriate clothes. You’ll want to have the proper protection for your feet, such as old gym shoes or rafting booties. Avoid open-toed shoes, and make sure to wear wool socks to prevent blisters. Wear a swimsuit or swim shorts and bring along a jacket. You want to be comfortable and dress according to the weather that day.
Wear Protective Gear
To ensure your safety, you’ll also want to wear a life jacket or a personal flotation device. Make sure the gear fits you correctly. You’ll also need to wear a helmet to protect your head in the unlikely case you’re thrown from the raft. This protective gear can save your life.
Be Prepared to Swim
Even though you’ll be wearing a life vest, you should still be prepared to tread water, as there’s always a chance you could get knocked off the boat. If you must swim, be wary of rocks in the water and keep your legs together.
Know How to Hold the Paddle
Another whitewater rafting tip is to know how to properly handle a paddle. Simply place one hand on the end (the T-shaped part) of the paddle and keep the other hand low on the handle.
Listen to Your Guide
You’ll have a guide with you to help you safely navigate the waters. Familiarize yourself with the various whitewater rafting commands so that you can properly communicate with your guide and navigate according to their directions.
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