The white sugar-sand beaches of Florida’s Panhandle are something to behold with their majestic, rolling dunes, sweeping views of the emerald-green Gulf waters, sailboats sliding past, and far out to sea, fishing trawlers reeling in the day’s catch.
Roughly 200 miles of mostly unspoiled beaches on the Gulf of Mexico run non-stop from St. George Island west to Perdido Key, the exception being the tourist center around Panama City, affectionately known as the “Redneck Riviera.”
In Gulf Islands National Seashore, which encompasses islands off Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, pitch your tent right on the beach, while seven state parks offer more developed campgrounds that can accommodate both RVs and tents. Some even have cabins. And there are a few private campgrounds, although expect to pay more than national and state parks.
From west to east, here is our guide to the best beach camping in Florida’s Panhandle:
Perdido Key at Gulf Islands National Seashore — Primitive camping
You can no longer backpack into the isolated east end of Perdido Key, but experienced kayak campers can still pitch their tents there.
A park ranger cautions this can be a harsh climate, so only experienced kayakers with a healthy respect for nature should consider it. A comfortable knowledge of rapidly changing weather patterns is a prerequisite.
There is no fee for camping, but there is an $20 per vehicle entrance fee, which is good for one week.
Driftwood is not abundant, so bring your own firewood (or Duraflame logs).
You still must register and obtain a free camping permit at the Perdido Key Entrance Station so park rangers know you’re out there in the dune-filled wilderness. Boaters do not need to register if they originated outside the park.
Be aware there is a section of beach that is clothing-optional, something to consider if you are taking children.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Gulf Islands National Seashore, Perdido Key. 13300 Johnson’s Beach Rd, Perdido Key, FL. 850-934-2600. Web site: nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/backcountrycamping.htm Activities: Primitive camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, snorkeling, swimming, bicycling. Camping: Beach camping permits are free, although campers arriving by vehicle must pay a $20 entrance fee. (Campers arriving by boat do not need to register.) Pets: Yes, but not on beaches. | TripAdvisor Reviews
Florida Rambler guide to Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Big Lagoon State Park — Gateway to Perdido Key
This campground is not on the beach, but it’s close.
Big Lagoon’s 75 sites are set in pinewood flats and accommodate both tents and RV’s. The beaches on the lagoon are just a short walk, and it is not much of a stretch to hike, bike or paddle over to Perdido Key and Gulf Islands National Seashore.
There are three full-service restrooms and a dump station in the campground. Pets are welcome.
All 75 sites include water and electric hookups, picnic table and fire ring, and the campground will accommodate RV’s up to 45 feet.
Hikers enjoy a mile-long boardwalk and a 3.5-mile-long nature trail for bird-watchers.
Big Lagoon State Park
Big Lagoon State Park, 12301 Gulf Beach Highway, Pensacola, FL 32507; (850) 492-1595. Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/Big-Lagoon. Activities: Beach, Bicycling, Birding, Boat Ramp ($12), Camping, Canoe/Kayak, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Swimming. Pets: Allowed in designated areas only. Escambia County prohibits pets on beaches and/or waterways. Camping: $20/night plus daily utility fee of $7, taxes and a one-time, non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, Book online or call (800) 326-3521. | TripAdvisor Reviews
Check out our Beach Camping Checklist
Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens Campground
This spectacular 200-site campground is on the west end of Santa Rosa island within the protected Gulf Islands National Seashore.
The campground is named after a historic fort found on the island’s westernmost point, built in the early 1800’s to protect Pensacola Bay. It was one of four forts that did not fall into Confederate hands during the Civil War.
You have to hike some to see the fort, but history buffs will love it.
All 200 Fort Pickens’ campsites have water, electricity, grills/fire rings, and picnic tables. The sites range in length from 16 ft for tent sites to 50 ft for larger RVs. Restrooms and dump stations are nearby.
Fort Pickens Campground
Fort Pickens Campground, 1400 Fort Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561;(850) 934-2622. Web site: nps.gov Activities: Camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, snorkeling, swimming, bicycling. Camping: Tent, non-electric, $26; RV or tent with electric, $40. Amenities include flush toilets, showers, drinking water and a dump station. For campground reservations up to 12 months in advance, book online at recreation.gov. Pets: Yes, but not on beaches. | TripAdvisor Reviews
Read More: Gulf Islands National Seashore
Henderson Beach State Park – Big dunes, white sand near Destin
The sugar-sand beach and convenient location near Destin shopping make this beachfront campground an attractive destination for RVers.
A nature trail winds through the rolling dunes. Surf fishing is popular, and the catch includes pompano, red fish, flounder, catfish, whiting and the occasional cobia.
The campground has 60 sites with a mix of back-in and pull-through sites. All sites have water and electric (some 50-amp), picnic tables, ground grills and clothesline posts.
Restrooms with showers have both heating and AC, a nod to this coast’s wide range of seasonal temperatures, and coin-operated washers and dryers are available. Pets are welcome, and maximum RV length is 45 feet.
Henderson Beach State Park
Henderson Beach State Park,17000 Emerald Coast Parkway, Destin, FL. 850-837-7550. Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/Henderson-Beach Activities: Beach, Bicycling, Birding, Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Swimming. Camping: $30/night plus a daily utility fee of $7, state and local taxes and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. Pets OK, except on beaches. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, book online or call (800) 326-3521. | TripAdviser Reviews
Read More: One of Florida’s best beaches with camping
Camp Gulf Holiday Travel Park, Destin
Camp Gulf is a private campground with 13 RV sites directly on the beach. You don’t get much closer to the Gulf than this.
Overall, Camp Gulf has more than 200 RV sites with full hookups, including 30/50-amp electric; 21 sites are pull-through. There are 19 cabins in the interior of the park and one on the beach.
This is a full-service resort with two solar-heated swimming pools, a hot tub, laundry, Wi-Fi and cable TV.
Interior campsites are grassy with some shade, while shade is sparse on sites closer to the beach.
This campground is more expensive than public campgrounds on this list, but Camp Gulf is a solid alternative for those willing to pay for the comforts of a full-service RV resort with nearby restaurants and shopping.
Camp Gulf (Private)
Camp Gulf Holiday Travel Park, 10005 Emerald Coast Parkway, Destin, FL 32550; 877-226-7485. Web site: https://www.campingonthegulf.com Camping: Rates are seasonal with summer the most expensive. Rates range from $100 to $250, depending on the season and how close you want to be to the beach. Pets: Yes, but not on beaches. Book online or call 1-850-502-5262.
Topsail Hill State Preserve, Santa Rosa Island
While this state park’s campground is not directly on the beach, you can hike, bike or take a tram on the half-mile trail that takes you to 3.2 miles of secluded, white quartz sand.
The park has 13 miles of trails, including a nature trail through ancient dunes and coastal scrub communities that harbor a variety of birds and other wildlife.
There are 140 campsites in the RV campground and 20 tent sites in a separate loop. The park also offers one-bedroom bungalows and two-bedroom cabins for those who want to “rough it” in comfort.
RV sites have full hookups, including 30/50-amp electric, cable TV, sewer. Tent sites have only electric and water.
The campground features an unheated swimming pool, laundry facilities and shuffleboard courts. Bathrooms with showers are heated in winter and cooled in summer, and there is a campground store.
Topsail Hill State Preserve
Topsail Hill State Preserve, 7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459, (850) 267-8330. Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/Topsail-Hill. Activities: Beach, Bicycling, Birding, Cabins, Camping, Canoe/Kayak, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Swimming, Tours. Camping: $42/night for RVs, $24/night for tent campers, $100/night for bungalows, $130/night for cabins, PLUS a daily $7 utility fee, taxes and a one-time $6.70 booking fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, book online or call (800) 326-3521. Pets: Yes, but not on beaches
Grayton Beach State Park – Beautiful beach
Grayton Beach State Park embraces one of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S., often ranked in the Top 10, a sugar-sand paradise that stretches for a mile along a peninsula between Destin and Seaside.
The 2,000-acre park features a 4.5 mile trail for hiking and biking, and there’s a boat ramp where you can launch your canoe or kayak for paddling Western Lake.
A new campground loop has added 24 new sites with water, 50-amp electric and sewer hookups, bringing the total number of sites to 52. Both camping loops have restrooms with hot showers, although the restrooms in the old loop are closed until the end of the year for renovations.
The park also has 30 two-bedroom, one-bath duplex cabins that accommodate up to six people each, so invite your friends to spend a week or a weekend when you’re here. Pets are welcome in the campground, and the maximum RV length is 40 feet.
Grayton Beach State Park
Grayton Beach State Park, 357 Main Park Road, Santa Rosa Beach, FL. 850-267-8300. Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/Grayton-Beach. Activities: Beach, Bicycling, Birding, Boat Ramp, Camping, Cabins, Canoe/Kayak, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Swimming. Pets: Yes, but not on beaches. Camping: $30/night plus a daily utility fee of $7, taxes and a one-time, non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. Cabins: $110-$130/night plus $7 utilities, taxes and $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, book online or call (800) 326-3521.
St. Andrews State Park – Beautiful beach, large campground
With its proximity to Panama City, in the heart of the Redneck Riviera, you can just imagine how crowded this beachfront park can get in summer.
But the rest of the year it is all yours to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and canoeing.
There are two fishing piers, a jetty and a boat ramp. Two nature trails offer opportunities for birding, especially in spring and fall.
The state park has 176 sites on two campground loops, each with water and electric, picnic tables and grills. Five restrooms with showers and a laundry facility are available in the campground. Pets are welcome at campsites, and the maximum RV length is 45 feet.
St. Andrews State Park
St. Andrews State Park,4607 State Park Lane, Panama City, FL. 850-233-5140. Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/St-Andrews Activities: Bicycling, Boat Ramp, Boating, Camping, Canoe/Kayak, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking. Pets: Yes, but not on beaches. Camping: $28/night plus a daily $7 utility fee, taxes and a one-time, non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, book online or call (800) 326-3521.
St. George Island State Park – All beach, and lotsa oysters
One of my favorite state parks in the Panhandle, St. George Island State Park is on the east end of the barrier island that frames Apalachicola Bay, one of the most productive oyster beds in the world.
Miles of pristine, white-sand beaches await your for swimming, sunbathing, shelling and beach combing.
Two boat ramps on the bay side offer access for canoes, kayaks and small boats. And you are close enough to the commercial fishing port of Apalachicola to enjoy fresh fish, especially oysters, at any time of the year, although it’s generally not advised to eat raw oysters in summer.
Each of the 60 campsites has electric and water hookups with a dump station nearby. Six sites have concrete pads, and the rest are hard-pack sand. The campground is tucked behind rolling dunes, less than a quarter mile from the beach.
The campground has two restrooms with hot showers, and nature trails meander through nearby pine forests and coastal scrub. Pets are welcome in the campground, but not the sprawling beach, and the maximum RV length is 43 feet.
Fair warning: Exposed sites can get very hot in spring and summer!
St. George Island State Park
St. George Island State Park, 1900 E. Gulf Beach Drive, St. George Island. (Near Apalachicola). Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/St-George-Island. Activities: Beach,Bicycling, Birding, Boat Ramp, Boating, Camping, Canoe/Kayak, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Swimming. Pets: Yes, but not on beaches. Camping: $24/night plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. Reservations up to 11 months in advance, book online or call (800) 326-3521.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Cape San Blas – Best beaches!
The campground at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park remains closed while undergoing reconstruction from damage caused by Hurricane Michael. Some day-use areas are open, including large segments of the beach. For latest updates, go to https://www.floridastateparks.org/learn/2022-construction-projects-underway
Oh, my! These beaches are unbelievable, and they consistently rank among the best in the nation.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park offers 10 miles of white-sand beach and some of the tallest sand dunes in the state.
You can launch your kayaks and canoes from the beach, or from the boat ramp on the bay side. There are three hiking trails, including the 6-mile Wilderness Preserve Trail that meanders through 1750 acres of an unspoiled coastal eco-system brimming with wildlife. Swim in the Gulf or the bay.
There are two campgrounds with a total of 119 sites, each with 30-amp electric, water, a picnic table and fire ring, and all are just a short walk to the beach.
The Shady Pines campground has more shade. Pets are welcome in the campground, but not on the beach or other day-use areas. Some sites can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet, but most are much smaller with individual limits. Eight cabins are available for $100 a night overlooking St. Joseph’s Bay.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (Campground undergoing renovation)
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park,8899 Cape San Blas Road, Port St. Joe, FL 850-227-1327. Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/St-Joseph Activities: Bicycling, Boat Ramp, Boating, Camping, Canoe/Kayak, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking. Pets: Yes, but not on beaches. Camping: $24/night plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, book online or call (800) 326-3521.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.