Discover the essence of the Florida Panhandle with a visit to any one of these 10 state parks.
One of the original nine state parks in the state, Florida Caverns State Park
is home to over 30 caverns; however, only one is open to the public for tours. The 45-minute guided tour introduces you to such formations as the "wedding room" complete with a "pipe organ" and "cake" that was so named by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) while working on the cavern. The 1,139-acre state park also has multi-use trails, canoe rentals to explore Chipola River, spots to fish and more. Overnight accommodations include 35 campsites.
Torreya State Park
is one of the few places in the state to view fall foliage. With the bluffs (about 190 feet above sea level) overlooking Apalachicola River, it's one of the state's more scenic places. The name comes from a rare species of Torreya tree that only grows on the bluffs. It was believed that Noah used Torreya trees for the Ark. The state park offers 16 miles of hiking trails, freshwater fishing in the river and plenty of birding opportunities. Also on the property is the 1840s plantation home of Jason Gregory, which was moved by the CCC from the West Bank and rebuilt on the East Bank. Guided tours are available. Overnight accommodations feature 30 campsites, three primitive sites, a YURT and a Florida Cracker Cabin.
As if Panama City Beach's 27-miles of sugar white beaches
along the Gulf of Mexico wasn't enticing
enough, the area is home to two distinctively different state parks. Located on the far eastern edge is St. Andrews State Park
, one of the most popular and most visited parks in Florida. In addition to the 1.5 miles of beach to explore, fish of one of two piers or the jetties, go geocaching, launch your boat into the Gulf, hike one of the two nature trails or bike along the two-mile paved road. During the spring and summer seasons, boat shuttles to Shell Island run. As far as accommodations g
o, St. Andrews State Parks has two campground loops with a total of 176 campsites. On the far western end, you'll find one of Panama City Beach's hidden gems, Camp Helen State Park
. This day-use park offers both saltwater and freshwater fishing, hiking trails, birding and wildlife viewing. Of course, there's beach access as well. Camp Helen State Park has a historic district that includes a water tower, lodge and more. The district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visit South Walton's 16 beach communities
and stay for its nature beauty found within four state parks and Point Washington State Forest
. At Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
, you can enjoy little over three miles of beach good for walking or saltwater fishing. Lake Campbell, a rare coastal dune lake (South Walton is one of a handful of places in the world home to this phenomenon) is a prime spot for freshwater fishing or launching a canoe or kayak. There are hiking trails as well as birding trails, and a biking path, too. Spend the night or weekend in a bungalow or cabin. Topsail also offers 156 campsites and 22 tent sites. An abundance of outdoor fun awaits you at the day-use Deer Lake State Park
. Enjoy the unspoiled beach, followed by fishing or hiking on the trails. Go birding or wildlife viewing. You'll have time to do it all if you plan wisely. Take a short break from
the beach to explore Eden Gardens State Park
. Bordering Tucker Bayou in Point Washington Forest, the 163-acre day-use park features the Wesley House, home to the second-largest collection of Louis XVI furniture. See the 600-plus-year-old oak tree known as the "wedding tree." The other draw to the park is the gardens. Check out the ornamental garden, heritage rose garden, butterfly garden and others. Visit for the scenery or fish at Tucker Bayou. Close to 2,000-acres, GraytonBeach State Park
offers a mile of sugar white sand beach and four miles of trails. Of particular interest for those who enjoy being on the water, there's a 100-acre coastal dune lake perfect for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding. Those looking to cast a line can choose either surf fishing or fishing on the lake. Accommodations include 30 cabins and 59 campsites.
Exhale and begin to relax when you set foot onto St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
. Situated at the tip Cape San Blas
, a 17-mile long barrier peninsula near Port St. Joe
, this secluded natural gem offers 10 miles of white sandy beaches and some of the tallest sand dunes in the state. Spend the day shelling, boating, fishing or relaxing. Explore the interior of the park on foot along of any the three hiking experiences. The park is also known for its birding as well as its wildlife viewing opportunities. Think about extending your stay? The park has seven cabins and 119 campsites. There are seven designated sites set aside for primitive camping.
The 28-mile barrier island of St. George Island
is regarded for its undeveloped beaches and laid-
back atmosphere. It is also home to St. George Island State Park
, whose history includes being used in WWII training exercises. Today the park offers a wide variety of activities for those who love playing in the outdoors. Swim, go shelling or just walk along the pristine beaches. Explore the waters on your boat, or in a canoe or kayak. Take a hike or ride your bike. Go birding or go fishing. There are plenty of ways to enjoy St. George Island State Park. For overnight stays, the park has 60 campsites and two primitive camping sites.
photos, personal collection: (top right) Florida Caverns State Park, (top left) Torreya State Park, (middle left) St. Andrews State Park, (middle right) Camp Helen State Park, (lower middle left) Grayton Beach State Park, (bottom right) St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, (bottom left) St. George Island State Park