It's one thing to stay along the spectacular beaches of the Florida Panhandle's Emerald Coast. It's another to camp on the beach.
So that's why we bit the bullet and spent over $200 a night to stay in one of the choice beach spots on Camp Gulf, a very popular private campground in Destin, Florida. I know, I know, that's a ridiculous amount of money. You can book a beachfront condo or hotel room for the same price. Or less.
But we did it. It was on my bucket list. So we spent four nights there, wheels on the white sugar sand, yards away from the crystal clear waters. Actually, we spent two nights in one spot, two nights in another.
Camp Gulf has some 220 or so camping spots but only 16 of them are right on the beach. Those are the high price premium spots and they are packed close together. Out Class B Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL was sandwiched between a monster Class A skyscraper and a huge Fifth Wheel in spot #805 for the first two nights. With our awning out, it came within about five feet of touching the side of our neighbor to the west. To the east, the Fifth Wheel was bout a foot away from our driver's side.
The other two nights we were on the very first spot to the east, site #815. That number doesn't even show on the map of the campground. That's because it is the smallest and trickiest to park in. A Class A couldn't do it. I don't think a Class C could, either. But our Roadtrek fit just fine. And this was our favorite spot because, while we had a travel trailer very, very close to us on the west, there was nothing to the east but sand.
We loved those beach spots, despite the cost and the packed-in closeness to our RVing neighbors. Its not something we'd do a lot – because of the price – but living on the beach like that was pure heaven. Once we got past the sticker shock.
This was our second stay at Camp Gulf. We stayed at one further back on a concrete pad with a patio back in January, about a five-minute walk from the beach. We had Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound, with us then. We would have stayed on the beach at that time but, because of country regulations, dogs are not allowed on the beach. Thus, Camp Gulf's beach sites are not rented to those who have pets. This time, a month after we lost Tai, we were able to stay.
You need your own beach chairs and awnings. Most of our fellow beachside campers had big canopies they erected in the sand right in front of their RVs. Trust me, you need an awning or canopy. The Florida sun is intense.
There's a great ambience and sense of community along those beach sites. We met a couple from Louisiana who camped in a Fifth Wheel, painted in LSU's colors. Their beach canopy matched. A group of Texans took up three spots. They brought a margarita machine and a statue of a steer. Yup. You heard right. One morning, not long after sunrise, they were out in front of their rigs practicing steer roping.
Other campers, from the non-beach sites further back, wander down throughout the day, using the two access points for the beach.
A guy from Tennessee marveled that anyone would pay so much for a spot “when you can have access to the same beach for a third of that cost and by taking only a short stroll.” I can see his point but, hey, camping on the beach is what I wanted. And that's what I got.
Besides the beach, Camp Gulf offers clean and private restrooms and showers, a community room with daily activities, two swimming pools and a full service camp store.
Here's their very confusing rate sheet. When you add in taxes and fees, expct to pay more than is quoted. But call them if you want specifics because in our two stays, we found the rates fluctuating wildly because of the season and, no doubt, demand.
We liked the place. A lot.
In a previous post, a talked about three much more affordable state parks on the Emerald Coast that we also enjoy on visits here. They, however, are not on the beach and to get to the water, you need to take either a long walk or tram ride. I'm told there is also beach camping at the far eastern end of the Emerald Coast, near Panama City, but we haven't spent much time in that area so I can't give any suggestions there. We'll check those spots out next visit.
Further east and a bit south of Panama City is an area of the panhandle known as the Forgotten Coastline. There are two awesome state parks there a stone's throw from the beach and a charming little private campground called Ho-Hum in the village of Carrabelle. The Forgotten Coastline is really not a part of the Emerald Coast, however. The water's not that turquoise color and the beach isn't as powdery.
There is one more private Emerald Coast camground that we've stayed at – the Destin West RV Resort, which isn't in Destin at all but is located on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, west of Destin.
We had an awesome spot there, yards away from the shore of the 27-mile long Choctawhatchee Bay. Here's a review I did on this park at the time. The spots at Destin West are well spaced, with picnic tables and patios and the resort has its own heated pool and more amenities than you can count. It's across busy Highway 98 from the Gulf of Mexico, though. But if you stay there you have access to everything at the Ramada Inn across US 28, including its waterfall pool, health club and beach.
Winters along the Emerald Coast can be chilly, down to freezing at night, with temps in the 50's many days. Summers are the busy time. Fall – September through November – is the best time to visit.