Cycling Florida's Suwannee River
The Suwannee Bicycle Association touts Big Shoals as a place where"scores of miles of jeep roads, fire lanes, and single-track can easily keep an off-road bicyclist busy exploring for an entire weekend." At least. The typical 18-mile loop that SBA members have put together represents some of the best riding anywhere in the state. Located on the opposite shore of Little Shoals, over 4,000 acres in the conservation areastate forest combo are home to scads of deer, turkeys, wild pigs, and the endangered gopher tortoise.
It's also home to some of Florida's scant whitewater, Big Shoals, whose roar over exposed limestone ledges announces the natural attraction as you ride your way onto the single-track north and upriver. Some sections have been posted in this area as sensitive, and should be covered gently by foot. If you're lucky, a quiet approach may allow you to see the beaver, whose pond made me ponder this toothsome wonder's intelligence.
General location: Big Shoals Conservation Area is located two miles northeast of White Springs.
Elevation change: You will have a chance to try out a smaller ring than you ever thought you'd use in Florida.
Season: Hunting is occasionally allowed here, so call if you're in doubt about the season. Periods of heavy rain will make portions of this trail unsuitable for riding.
Services: White Springs has the basics, but you will have to decide among Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and Gainesville for more specialized services.
Hazards: Hunters, at times, will be out and about. Also, some of the track has roots and slick obstacles that will upend an unwary biker. Vehicles are on some sections as well.
Rescue index: This is a popular destination all the time, but especially on the weekend. Should you need someone's assistance, it shouldn't take more than several hours in most cases. Still, sections are remote enough that you should plan on being self-sufficient for the duration.
Land status: This land is managed jointly by the Suwannee River Water Management District, Florida Division of Forestry, and Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
Maps: An enlarged map of the area is posted at the information station near the check station. For maps of Big Shoals and other lands managed by SRWMD (maintained by the SBA), contact the SBA.
Finding the trail: Exit Interstate 75 onto County Road 136 and head north to White Springs. At the flashing light, turn right onto US 41. At the next flashing light, turn left onto County Road 135 (known locally as Woodpecker Route and signed that way after you make the turn). Approximately a mile and a half down on the right, look for the signed entrance to Big Shoals. Park at the check station and head south behind gated Road 7 (to the right after the entrance road dead-ends).
Notes on the trail: Begin the counterclockwise loop by heading south onto gated Road 7, which turns into a single-track that comes close to the Suwannee's shore across from Little Shoals. Take care in certain sections on the single-track; it is wet and prone to erosion, especially if any skidding occurs. The single-track feeds into Road 4, which leads to Road 2. Take a right at the Road 4Road 1 intersection and ride behind the gate on another section that requires extra caution before more single-track appears at the blue marker the color of more challenging trail ahead. As you approach the overlook for Big Shoals, notices request that bikes be walked to minimize erosion. If you want, you can continue walking out on the orange-blazed Florida Trail, or if you've had enough of hoofing it, ride out on Road 18, which intersects with Road 2. Roads 1 and 2 come together near the ranger's residence close to Old Godwin Road. Of course, if you've had enough mileage for one day, you can turn west on Road 1 and head back to the check station. But some time or another, ride the single-track section (Long Branch Trail) north of Old Godwin Road. When you reach Old Godwin Road, turn right and look for the gated road leading to the left. If you've walked out on the Florida Trail, the road will be on your right before you come to the ranger's house.
Suwannee Bicycle Association
P.O. Box 247
White Springs, FL 32096
Water Management District
Route 3, Box 64
Live Oak, FL 32060
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication