I guess after showing a horse, I was distracted because my next stop was in Safety Harbor located near Clearwater, Florida, and I have little to post about our day. I will include a few snippets in my Florida summary post once I’ve left the state. For now, I continued to White Springs.
At first glance, it doesn’t look like White Springs has much to offer. For the most part, there is a historic general store, a bed & breakfast, and a restaurant, and it is flanked by a couple of state parks.
The history of White Springs, however, is interesting, and I can imagine how this sleepy town of around 800 is a fantastic outdoor getaway for locals today.
Big Shoals State Park
I spent the majority of my time in Big Shoals State Park, which I loved. It only costs $4 to enter which may be paid online or at the fee station upon entering. The fee station requires exact change as there is not an attendant.
Big Shoals State Park features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida. The blackwater Suwannee River drops nine feet in less than a ¼ mile creating the rapid system. Depending on the stage of the river, the Big Shoals rapids could have no flow or ranks as a class III rapid with water levels 59 feet high! When I visited, the river’s current was swift and looked like it would be a fun day for kayakers.
That said, I am a hiker, and I arrived early morning to let Annie stretch her legs along the Big Shoals Trail, one of many in the park. I’m not sure why I liked this trail so much because as I tried connecting to other paths, I kept getting turned around by swampy mudpits. Perhaps it was due to the two deer and turkey I saw. Regardless, as a result of the mudpits, I stuck to a 4.5 mile out and back jaunt along the river rather than making an inland loop.
In the beginning, the fog was lifting off the water which made for an ethereal experience beneath the long leaf pines and amongst the dense palmettos. And while I am usually not a fan of trails with information boards, the limited few that lined the Big Shoals Trail were interesting.
I likely would have missed the two pilings to the Old Godwin Bridge if it weren’t for the sign. The bridge was constructed in the late 19th century to connect Hamilton and Columbia Counties for both residential and commercial transportation. It was used for the logging, cotton and turpentine industries which dwindled over time as floods washed away the bridge.
Annie had a blast running free on the quiet, sandy trail as the first signs of springs popped to life. We didn’t see a soul until the last mile. Early morning hikes are so great!
After out time at Big Shoals State Park, we passed by Little Shoals State Park upon our return to White Springs. There is a 3.5 mile paved trail which connects the parks for those who want to bike or walk between the two.
Adams Country Store
We kept going and visited Adams Country Store which has been around since the Civil War, though it has changed owners and function over time. It is currently owned by Raymond Cheshire who had fond memories of the place when he visited as a child.
Now it operates as Suwannee Hardware & Feed and was featured in the music video for Alan Jackson’s “Little Man”. Inside, visitors will find trinkets, snacks, arts and crafts as well as hardware supplies. It is worth a peek!
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
After our short visit to Suwannee Hardware & Feed, we stopped at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park located on the north side of White Springs and the banks of the Suwannee River. The park was established as a memorial to Stephen Foster who made the river famous with his song “Old Folks at Home.”
This state park only costs $5 to enter and features a museum, the Carillon Tower, campgrounds with showers, cabins, a gift shops, trails, kayak launching areas, and a stage. It is a very popular park and holds the Florida Folk Festival (one of the best in the country) every Memorial Day.
Just to the left of the entrance of the park is the spring for which the town is named. Prior to the 1500’s, the spring was a sacred healing ground for the Timucuan and Apalacee Indians. In the 1830’s white settlers incorporated the area, naming it Jackson Springs.
In 1842, Bryant Sheffield bought the rights to the spring and ferry system, renaming it White Sulphur Springs. He built a hotel and spring house which attracted many tourists after the Civil War. In the meantime, during the Civil War, Confederate soldiers found refuge here.
It’s hard to believe this sleepy town was once booming with health seekers who came by stagecoach and later the railroad. Unfortunately, the town faded as soaking in springs went out of favor in the 1930’s. It is also hard to believe that in 1990, this second magnitude spring that once discharged 47,000 gallons per day ceased flowing.
Where to Stay and Eat
Despite not much being around, I found White Springs to be charming. It’s a perfect place for an outdoorsy, weekend getaway to kayak the Suwannee River or hike the Florida Trail. I would totally come back and reserve a camp spot at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park or stay the weekend at White Springs Bed & Breakfast and grab a fried catfish basket at Fat Belly’s. ETB