Florida Panhandle State and National Parks

Florida Rambler’s excellent blog post about beach camping in the Florida Panhandle http://www.floridarambler.com/florida-camping/beach-camping-in-florida-panhandle/ made me want to see some of the campgrounds there. That really was the start of planning our route to Yellowstone this summer.

Here are some notes about each place we stayed.

Saint George Island State Park

-Beautiful beach with white sand and green-blue water. Softest sand-like baby powder.

-Small sandy RV spots, but there are a few bigger sites with concrete pads. Must book 11 months out. Trees block neighbors a bit. Some sites are hard to back into with fences in front of them.

-Nice bathhouses, but only two showers for woman and two for men in each bathhouse.

-Nature trail to bay and beach.

-Very buggy with no see ums and little black flies. The beach breeze keeps them mostly off the beach.

-The beach is empty. Very quiet campers!

-Ranger programs. We attended a campfire talk. Great!

-Beach path is out by the road where you turn in. About a 10-15 minute walk.

-Sun rises on beach, but sets on bay side.

-Shells are plentiful. Many sea birds.

-Town is small. Lighthouse is pretty. Paddy’s Raw Bar has great oysters from the Apalachicola Bay. Apalachicola is a close town that looked cute.

-No WiFi.

Saint Joseph’s Peninsula State Park

-About and hour and a half drive from Saint George Island.

-Small sites, but plenty of trees in between your neighbors. A few concrete pad sites. Book 11 months out.

-Very buggy. Bring bug spray or cream.

-About four showers for women and four for men in bathhouse. Bathrooms separated.

-Very short walk to the beach on a boardwalk.

-Beach was much more crowded and many more waves than St George when we were there.

-Best sunsets of the three parks.

-Lots of teens in this campground. Looked like church youth groups.

-Quiet Campground.

-So many jellyfish on the beach. Maybe due to the rough waters while we were there.

-Camp store close by marina.

-WiFi at marina and screened in pavilion. Slow.

-No diesel gas close by. No stores close by.

Fort Pickens Campground at Gulf Shores National Seashore (Santa Rosa Island)

-Best Beach! Very white sand and emerald green water.

-Empty beaches. Many Ospreys and other sea birds. Great for birdwatching.

-Close walk for some campsites to the beach path. Longer for others. Long boardwalk to beach.

-Close to Pensacola and stores and restaurants.

-Campsites were wide open with little shade or privacy. Sites along the tree lines were the best.

-Very crowded campground with many families and tent campers. Kids riding bikes and skateboards everywhere.

-Small concrete pads and you must have your vehicle on the cement pad as well, or park in overflow parking.

-Bathhouse crowded. A few showers closed off so it only left three for a huge campground. Unisex showers. Separate bathrooms.

-Fort Pickens is a great day trip. 10 minutes up the road. Nice bookstore and ranger tours. Jr. Ranger program.

We really loved spending time at these beautiful beaches and walked them morning and night. Look at our Instagram page for many more pictures!

 

Dry Tortugas National Park

The Dry Tortugas are seven islands located nearly 70 miles west of Key West. You can take the official concesionare ferry (the Yankee Freedom), a seaplane or your own boat to get there. Most visitors plan a day trip by ferry. The ferry costs about $175 per person, but check during the year for coupons. They sometimes give $25-$50 off. You should know, the Yankee Freedom ferry is very fast and several people were seasick on our trip. We took Bonine just in case and were fine. We stood out in the front of the ferry for most of the trip back and forth. I saw a huge sea turtle! You can also camp for $8 per night. The Yankee Freedom ferry will carry your gear for you. The campsites were pretty nice and some were shaded by trees. They were steps from a beautiful beach.

The Island you will visit on your day trip is Garden Key. Most of the island is taken up by Fort Jefferson. This fort was built from 1846-1875. It was built to protect an important shipping channel. In 1825 a lighthouse was built to warn vessels about the dangerous reefs. There are many shipwrecks all around the islands. The fort was also used as a prison during the Civil War. Audobon loved the islands for bird watching and Hemingway for sport fishing.

There were two tours offered of the fort. A 30 minute one and one that took an hour and 1/2. Craig and I just did a self guided tour. There are apps you can download for this. We toured the fort for about half an hour-45 minutes, got our national park stamps in the visitor center and then went snorkeling with our new masks! We rinsed off, changed and had lunch on the ferry. Then we went back out to take more pictures. I also got a new t-shirt in the gift shop. It takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Garden Key by ferry. We left at 8am from Key West and got back about 5pm. We did not feel rushed, but would love to spend more time on the islands camping for our next trip.

It was a great visit and our 18th national park! Craig and I were celebrating our 20th anniversary and we had a wonderful time in the Florida Keys and the three Florida national parks. More posts about our Florida road trip soon!