Shoal River: a long river with a variety of paddling options
Limited development and easy access make this a good choice for both paddling and fishing trips.
SKILL LEVEL: Beginners to Advanced Beginners.
SCENERY: Only limited development for most of its length, but there is motorboat access in some areas.
LOCATION: Near Crestview, Florida.
The Shoal River offers almost 40 miles of floatable water in the Florida Panhandle before it meets up with the larger Yellow River. The Shoal River is almost entirely devoid of development along its length, and the scenery is quite pleasant. While we generally don't carry fishing poles on our canoe and kayak trips, we often see people who do so out on the river.
This Florida Panhandle river has different things to offer as it meanders downstream. Above Hwy 90, you can expect the river to be 30-50 feet wide, and to feature more sandbars. Below Hwy 90, the river is generally 100 or so feet wide, and the shoreline is more rugged, with few good stopping points. The wider river sections make for more favorable conditions for motorboats -- there are boat ramps at Hwy 90 and Wayside Park near Hwy 85.
Aside from the first several miles of the river, the Shoal is generally not a very inviting swimming destination. It is typically somewhat muddy. As with most bodies of water in Florida, you can spot alligators here, but they are generally pretty shy.
We are definitely partial to smaller creeks lots of twists and turns. The section of the Shoal that best matches this description is the short 6.8 mile trip from CR 1087 to Laird Rd, but you don't want to try this if the water level is low or you'll be dragging your kayak a good bit. Pullovers are a possibility in this section at any water level, so don't go unless you are ready to do some hauling over trees.
The longer 12.2 mile trip from Laird Rd to Hwy 90 is also a good possibility, with the first section being more fun, but 12 miles is a long way for beginners to paddle and out of the question for most families. Pullovers are also possible on the upper half of this trip. If gauge readings are below 6.0 at the upstream Mossy Head gauge, you are more likely to be dragging bottom. Below Hwy 90, pullovers are generally not an issue.
The Shoal River does conclude with a big surprise and my favorite section of the river. Where the Shoal River joins the Yellow, the path narrows and is extremely scenic. Our favorite trip here is to launch on Turkey-Hen Creek, then take the Shoal River until you get to the cutoff that veers from the main channel. The 1.8 miles on the cutoff route is worth the price of admission -- even if there are pullovers. This total trip is about 9.5 miles and requires an Eglin AFB pass.
River Miles reflect the approximate distances from the previous launch site.
LAUNCH SITE MAP (See next section for clickable directions)
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LAUNCH SITE DETAILS & DIRECTIONS
Launch: Southwest side of bridge. One-lane dirt access road -- not the best. Short carry to water.
Parking: Limited roadside parking. Visible.
Hwy 85 (Wayside Park)
Launch: Head east from traffic light north of bridge, then take your first right. Paved ramp.
Parking: Paved parking. Visible.
Facilities: Restrooms, covered picnic tables, playground.