Dig Baton Rouge

More Than a Beach

By Chase Berenson

Pensacola is known as the home of spring break and the Blue Angels, but this beautiful Florida treasure also features excellent camping and hiking along the world’s whitest beaches.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore is a unit of the National Park Service, which stretches 160 miles from Cat Island, Mississippi, all the way to Okaloosa, Florida.

Within that stretch of the coast is Fort Pickens, a historic US Army fort that dates back to the time of the War of 1812.  The fort is located on Santa Rosa Island, a barrier island separating Pensacola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s an excellent resource for outdoor recreation as well as an important piece of American history.

The Fort Pickens Campground is located just a couple minutes walk from the white-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico to the south and an even shorter walk from the waters of Pensacola Bay to the north. Though the campground caters to RVs, there are normally many tent campers present as well.

Most of the campsites are on RV loops, but the campground does allow you to check the map and choose your specific campsite online when making your reservation. If you choose carefully, you can snag one of the few campsites that are a little more isolated and which allow you to set up your tent under the trees growing in the sandy soil.

Fort Pickens is also the starting point for the Florida Trail, a 1,300 mile hiking trail that winds across the entire state and ends in the Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades.

Though most Fort Perkins visitors aren’t setting off to complete the whole trail, you can hike for a day-hike as far as you would like to go before turning around and coming back to camp. The first 25.3 miles of trail is the only stretch of the trail to follow an ocean beach, and is appropriately known as the Seashore section of trail.

After a long day of doing wholesome activities like learning American history, hiking, and lazing on the beach, sometimes it’s necessary to let loose. The National Seashore is very bicycle friendly, and Fort Pickens Road a direct route to the heart of the Pensacola Beach party scene.

Whether you’re grabbing dinner at Shaggy’s or drinks at Flounder’s, bicycles are by far the best way to get back to your campsite without worrying about driving.

When you do get back to your campsite, don’t forget to head out to the beach one last time at night; even though the campground is close enough to town for easy biking, it’s far enough away to showcase all the starts of the night sky without any of that pesky light pollution from the city.

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