Camping / Northwest Florida / Parks & Forests / The Panhandle

Best beach camping in Florida’s Panhandle

~ 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 in both Florida and Alabama, 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.

Go to Beach Camping Checklist

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

Beach camping at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Pitch your tent in the sand.

Backpack a half-mile from the end of the paved park road to the isolated east end of Perdido Key and pitch your tent on the sand, dig a pit for your campfire and settle in for a few lonely days on unspoiled Johnson Beach.  This is beach camping at its best, and the price is right.  There is no fee for camping, although there is an $15 per vehicle entrance fee, which is good for one week.  Creative campers might pack their gear into kayaks and either paddle down the shoreline on a calm day, or load it onto beach wheels, but for the rest of us it’s at least a half-mile hike through soft sand to find the ideal location for your tent. Driftwood is not abundant, so bring your own firewood (or Duraflame logs). You do have to 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 that there is a section of beach that is clothing-optional, something to consider if you are taking children.

Gulf Islands National Seashore, Perdido Key. 13300 Johnson’s Beach Rd, Perdido Key, FL850-934-2600. Web site: www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/primitive-camping.htm

Activities: Primitive camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, snorkeling, swimming, bicycling.

Camping: Beach camping permits are free, although campers arriving by vehicle must pay a $15 entrance fee. (Campers arriving by boat do not need to register.)

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

Smart beach camping: Weather can change rapidly when camping on the beach, and it’s not always predictable. Still, campers should know the forecast before you go.

Big Lagoon State Park — Gateway to Perdido Key

This campground is not on the beach, but it’s close. The 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.  All 75 sites include water and electric hookups, picnic table and fire ring, and the campground will accommodate RV’s up to 45 feet. There are three full-service restrooms and a dump station in the campground. Pets are welcome.  Hikers enjoy a mile-long boardwalk and a 3.5-mile-long nature trail for bird-watchers.

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 tax and non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks. 

 

Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens Campground

Fort Pickens

Campsite at Fort Pickens

Fort Pickens

Fort Pickens

This spectacular 200-site campground is on the west end of Santa Rosa island is 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 it, 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, 1400 Fort Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561;(850) 934-2622. Web site: nps.gov

Activities: Camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, snorkeling, swimming, bicycling.

Camping: $26. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at recreation.gov

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

 

Henderson Beach State Park – Big dunes, white sand near Destin

Campsite at Henderson Beach State Park

Henderson Beach campsite

The sugar-white sand beach and convenient location near Destin shopping make this popular 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 heating and AC, and coin-operated washers and dryers are available.  Pets are welcome, and maximum RV length is 45 feet.

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 tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks. 

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

 

Camp Gulf Holiday Travel Park, Destin

Beachfront sites at Camp Gulf

Beachfront sites at Camp Gulf

This private campground is a full-service RV resort with 13 RV sites right on the beach. You don’t get much closer to the Gulf than this.  This is a full-service resort with two solar-heated swimming pools, a hot tub, laundry, Wi-Fi and cable TV.  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. Interior campsites are grassy with some shade, while shade is sparse 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 restaurant and shopping.

Camp Gulf Holiday Travel Park, 10005 Emerald Coast Parkway, Destin, FL  32550; 877-226-7485. Web site: http://www.campgulf.com/

Camping: Rates are seasonal with summer the most expensive. Beachfront sites are $94 (winter) to $179 (summer) per night; Interior sites range from $57 to $85 (winter) and $75 to $127 (summer), depending on how close you are to the beach. Cabins range from $115 (winter) to $248 (summer). Book online ($5 fee) or call the park direct at 1-877-226-7485

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches.

Topsail Hill State Preserve, Santa Rosa Island

Sunset at Topsail Hill State Park

Sunset at Topsail Hill

RV site at Topsail Hill State Park

RV site at Topsail Hill

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 beaches. The park also 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.  There is an unheated swimming pool in the campground, 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, 7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459, (850) 267-8330.  Web site: floridastateparks.org/park/Topsail-Hill

Activities: BeachBicycling, 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. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks. 

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

Grayton Beach State Park – Beautiful beach

Campsite at Grayton Beach State Park

Grayton Beach campsite

Dunes at Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach

This 2,000-acre park embraces one of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S., a sugar-sand paradise that stretches for a mile along a peninsula between Destin and Panama City Beach. The 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 Park357 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.

Camping:  $24/night plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee.  Cabins: $110-$130/night. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks. 

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

 

St. Andrews State Park – Beautiful beach, large campground

St. Andrews State Park

St. Andrews State Park

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. There are 176 sites on two campground loops, each with water and electric, picnic tables and grills. There are five restrooms with showers, and a laundry facility is available in the campground. Pets are welcome at campsites, and the maximum RV length is 45 feet.

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.

Camping:  $28/night plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks. 

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Cape San Blas – Best beaches!

Oh, my!  These beaches are unbelievable, and they consistently rank among the best in the nation.  The 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 bustling 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, 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.

Camping:  $24/night plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks. 

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

 

St. George Island State Park – All beach, and lotsa oysters

My favorite state park 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.  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. Warning: These sites can get very hot in spring and summer! There are 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.

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.

Camping:  $24/night plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. Reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks. 

Pets: Yes, but not on beaches

 

Grassy Point: Lesser known, beautiful, free camping

Bayside camping at Grassy Point

Bayside camping

The 2,337-acre Grassy Point Wildlife Preserve offers primitive camping in a lesser known preserve managed by the Florida Wildlife Commission. This pristine area is 14 miles northeast of Pensacola (across Pensacola Bay), and six miles southeast of Milton.

Recreation includes paddling, wildlife viewing, hiking and photography. Small boats can be launched from shore at both campgrounds.

Camping is limited to tents, trailers or self-propelled camping vehicles. Strictly primitive – no water, electricity, sewage hookups or other amenities – but portable toilets and bear-proof trash cans are available.

The Bayside Campground on the east shore of Blackwater Bay has 12 individual sites, one group site, a sandy shoreline and views of the bay. The four sites in the Bayou Campground overlook the salt marshes of Fundy Bayou, a meandering tidal creek that connects with Blackwater Bay.

The campgrounds can be reached via Choctaw Field Road (also known as Range Road 213), off Highway 87 in Santa Rosa County.

Grassy Point Wildlife Preserve. Choctaw Field Road (AKA Range Road 213), off Highway 87 in Santa Rosa County. (850)265-3676. Web site: myfwc.com

Activities: Bicycle, birding, camping, kayak and canoe, fishing, hiking, swimming.

Pets: Allowed but must be restrained at all times.

Camping: Free, but campers must obtain a free permit/site reservation up to 30 days in advance by calling the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service at (850) 265-3676 during regular business hours, Monday-Friday, 7 am-4 pm CST, or online. The permit must be displayed at the campsite at all times.

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

  1. audrey D says:

    maybe if ALL dog owners would pick up after their pets AND keep said pets on a leash. they would be allowed. I have a 20 year old CAT. Who walks on a with a harness on a leash. I would love to take Sooty to the Beach But he is not allowed either. So obey the rules and make it better for ALL pets.

  2. littleleftie says:

    I am VERY glad no dogs are allowed on the beaches! Not all owners are responsible and having stepped unsuspectingly into buried dog poop before, not having them there makes me a very happy camper.

  3. Ingrid L Dishman says:

    You need to check out Allagator Point,Fl.It is a great beach,and dog friendly. There isn’t a whole lot of things to do, but we go back year after year because it is a perfect place to “unplug “for a while. (We have found sind really great homes right on the beach through VRBO

  4. So long as me, my friends, and my families dogs are not welcome on the beaches of Florida state, national, and city campgrounds, well just keep going to eastern Georgia and the Carolinas with our average vacation expenditures in each state, not including calling, $20000 annually, until and unless Florida makes these beeches dig friendly. Honestly, I can fly me and my dig to Jamaica, whose beaches and luxury and food are superior, out the Grand Turks and now Cuba!! Seriously Florida, get your act together or get your act left behind.

    • It seems like pets are welcome at most of these campsites. No?

      • Yes, pets are allowed at all of these campgrounds — but not on the beaches. There are leash requirements, as you might expect.

        • Felicia says:

          Same here. Looking for some beach places to spend January, but won’t be coming to Florida because dogs don’t seem to be allowed on ANY beaches that are close to camping. We’ve been all over the country and Florida is the only state with parks with this restriction.

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