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Latest update: March 2018

Shoal River... Paddling Florida's Panhandle

Shoal River in the Florida Panhandle is a slow-moving, wide and shallow river. Named for its many shoals, there are numerous sandbars for stopping off. The river flows through a mostly undeveloped forest area, with little shade. A tributary of the Yellow River, they join near Crestview. We visited both launches on the 9.5 mile paddling trail, and here we share a trip report from Josh Fulford, a lifetime local resident - thank you! (Detailed map and photos below)

Paddle Florida Panhandle, Shoal River, Kayak, Canoe

Distance: 9.5 mile Designated Paddling Trail
Location: Ocaloosa County (Crestview)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Tidal: No
Launch points: Ray Barnes Public Boat Ramp
(SR90), Bill Duggan Jr. Park (SR85) (See map)
Nearby Points of interest: Blackwater River State Park

Rentals/Outfitters/Tours:

Trailside Outfitter (sales)

Support and Advocacy:

1000 Friends of Florida

Shoal River... Comments and Photos

The Shoal River Designated Paddling Trail runs 9.5 miles from Ray Barnes Public Boat Ramp (SR90) to Bill Duggan Jr. Park (SR85). Both launches have shared boat ramps, both have ample parking and are easy off-on. There are designated truck and trailer parking areas, so paddlers should be aware of the boat traffic on Shoal River. Others have commented on the abundant wildlife and scenic paddling.


The Launches

Launch at Ray Burns Public Boat Launch (mile 0)

The Ray Burns Pubic Boat Launch concrete boat ramp is off the road under the SR 90 bridge. Ample parking including boat trailers, no other facilities.

Launch at Bill Duggan Jr. Park (mile 9.5)

Bill Duggan Park at SR 85 includes restrooms, playground, picnic area and ample parking. Launch from sandy area next to the concrete boat ramp. Many boat trailers and boating activity in the area.


Paddling on Shoal River by Josh Fulford

We launched at the east Hwy. 90 boat launch, it’s easier to back your vehicle to the water’s edge, unload, then go park your car under the bridge. There are signs marking truck and trailer parking only nearest to the water’s edge - I've been asked to move or be moved. South 85 launch also has designated truck and trailer only parking areas. As far as I know there are no shuttles from launch to launch, other than the occasional Good Samaritan. Also as a side note I’d be wary of these launches during low light or night conditions, as some of the people around here are a little sketchy (I’ve been living here all my life). Now for actual river paddling details:

We started out at the east Hwy. 90 launch and paddled downstream. For the first mile or so it’s pretty straight forward and easy going. There is a power line and a RR bridge you cross under. After the RR bridge the river gets more and more twisty - nothing un-navigable. Sand bars are bountiful pretty much the whole way down the river. There are 2 or 3 spots during this paddle that get a little nerve wracking but once again, it’s not un-navigable in a canoe or kayak (we did it in a 17-foot canoe). There is one of these blockages that is tougher than the others - you have to stop the canoe/kayak completely, turn sideways and pull yourself through the fallen timbers (you can stay in the vessel while doing this). Other than that, everything is pretty smooth paddling. You will pass a few waterfront properties, a couple of small side creeks, and several small hunting camps.

It would be impossible to miss the Hwy. 85 south launch, it’s visible for probably a quarter mile while paddling. It’s a sense of accomplishment when you see the launch, but you don’t want it to end.

Wildlife includes birds, deer, wild hogs, snakes, bream, largemouth bass, catfish, spiders, and mosquitoes as big as hawks, so make sure you bring bug spray.

I’d rate this paddle easy 97.5% of the time the other 2.5% is moderate considering the blockages.

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