Shoal River in Crestview is a 9.5-mile stretch of wide river that offers an easy day of paddling along undeveloped land. Shoal River was aptly named for its shoals, which have formed into pillows of sandbars. These are a welcome place to stop and take a break from paddling, and most are found in the upper portion of the river. While Shoal River is almost 50 feet wide, depths are shallow enough to walk in and don’t exceed five feet. The amber water, filled with tannin from the surrounding flora, is clear enough to see to the bottom. The paddle on Shoal River is remote and passes through wetland hardwood forest. Magnolias, live oak, black gum and willows tower above the river and provide shade on the high, sandy bankings.
What Makes It Great
The Shoal-Yellow River trail used to contain more than 34 miles of paddling, but presently, only a 9.5 mile stretch remains open to the public. Much of the land on Shoal River is undeveloped, except a few lone houses and iron bridges, meaning the floodplain forest is teeming with wildlife. Kingfishers, blue herons and egrets can be spotted in the coastal plain’s scrub along the banks of the river. With many fallen trees and branches reaching into the river, these are good hiding spots for turtles and alligators.
Who is Going to Love It
Shoal River is perfect for beginners who are looking for a day of easy paddling. It's wide enough that no real steering skills are needed, and the current moves fast enough to aid in paddling, but not so much as to create anything beyond minor shoals. In cooler weather, make a plan to picnic on one of the sandbars along the way. For nature lovers, the beauty of the amber waters and the flush greenery are ideal for bird watching and even spotting occasional coastal mammals, such as black bears or deer.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Shoal River features only two access points between the 9.5-mile stretch, as it is the only section of the river that is accessible to the public. Boat ramps are located at the put in at U.S. Hwy. 90 and take out a SR-85 at Bill Duggan Jr. Park in Crestview. Parking is free at both locations. At Bill Duggan Jr. Park, you’ll find bathrooms, water, and a picnic shelter. Shoal River is predominantly a slow-moving river, but if there has been recent rain, the river moves faster and you’ll find some of the shoals are under water.
Check the most current water levels here. The best time of year to paddle the Shoal River is in the cooler temperatures of spring or fall, as the river lacks overhead canopy and is exposed to the sun.