One of our most favorite tracts of National Parks Service property is the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a 160-mile stretch of gorgeous and very secluded beaches, undisturbed by development and characterized by blue-green sparkling water. So big is this property that it lies in two states – Florida and Mississippi – and is divided into 12 district areas.
The protected regions include mainland areas and parts of seven islands. If you count Alabama, the area is even longer but while some islands along Alabama coast were originally considered for inclusion, for some reason, they are not officially part of the national seashore managed by the National Parks Service.
The area we visit the most is known as the Santa Rosa Sound area and it is found between Okaloosa Island and Fort Walton Beach, FL and the eastern outskirts of Pensacola.
To the south is the Gulf of Mexico, an area of the Florida Panhandle known as the Emerald Coast because of the beautiful turquoise color of the water. To the north is Santa Rosa Sound, a popular salt water area that connects Pensacola Bay and Choctawhatchee Bay and is part of the Intercoastal Water Highway.
We cross over on a bridge from U.S. Highway 98 in Navarre and head west. This stretch of the Seashore is about seven miles long and there is no development, once you get past the pier atNavarre Beach and the high rise waterfront condos nearby. The two lane road – perfect for cyclists – is bordered by the Gulf and the Sound, so you have water off both sides. There are beautiful white sand dunes as well.
There are numerous pull offs and plenty of parking, plus a large picnic area.
Besides swimming, bicycling, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, beach combing, bird watching and boating, there are two historic forts:
The Fort Barrancas Area is onboard Pensacola Naval Air Station where visitors can tour Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt.
The Fort Pickens Area is located west of Pensacola Beach features historic fortifications from the early 1800s through the mid-1900s, as well as miles of beaches.
Another area we like to visit is theThe Okaloosa Day Use Area on U. S. 98, between Destin and Fort Walton Beach, FL It has picnic tables, a boat launch, parking, and restrooms with outdoor showers.
But it’s the stretch just west of Navarre that keeps drawing us back. We drive our Roadtrek out early and stay till sundown, daycamping. We haul out our beach chairs and take them down to the water and use the RV for picnic preps. And of course our own private rest rooms. And it’s totally free.
For overnight campers, the Gulf Islands National Seashore does maintain two developed campgrounds, one in Mississippi and one in Florida. Each campground offers water, grill/fire rings, restrooms, and picnic tables.
In Mississippi, the Davis Bayou Campground near Ocean Springs, Mississippi has 51 sites. Each site is $22 per night and some sites can accommodate RVs up to 45 feet long. All sites have water and electricity. The bathhouse has restrooms and hot showers.
The Fort Pickens Campground is located near Pensacola, Florida and has 200 campsites, ranging in length from 16 feet to 50 feet, and one group tent site. All sites are $26 a night with water, electricity, grills/fire rings, and picnic tables. Restrooms and dump stations are nearby.
Park entrance fees are not included in camping reservations. Campers who have Golden Age/Interagency Senior and Golden Access/Interagency Access Pass holders receive a 50% discount.I don’t think you can find any more beautiful beaches anywhere.
There are very popular campgrunds, especially in the summer. To get one, we suggest reserving a campsite well in advance by visiting www.recreation.gov or calling 1-877-444-6777. You cannot make reservations by calling the park.
There are also nearby private campgrounds in Fort Walton Beach, Navarre and Pensacola.