The Gulf Islands National Seashore, designated as a national seashore by the United States National Park Service, is one of the Gulf of Mexico’s most pristine coasts. As a frequent traveller to this section of the Gulf, I was aware of its existence thanks to enormous signage on highways heading to the several beaches.
But, as someone who has recently been striving to spend more time outside, I was unaware of how extensive America’s largest national seashore actually covers. While investigating outdoor activities, I discovered that many of the beaches I’ve visited since I was a child are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
I was also unaware of how much there is to do along the national seashore other than sunbathe and swim in the ocean at some of the more popular beaches. There are numerous activities that I have been missing out on.
That is why we have put together this guide to visiting the Gulf Islands National Seashore. When you’re on Florida’s “Emerald Coast,” with its blue-green water and white sand beaches, you should recognise the Gulf Islands National Seashore as a true “jewel.”
Where Exactly Is Gulf Islands National Seashore?
The Gulf Islands National Seashore features a 160-mile-long shoreline. The area is mostly in Florida, although there are several barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi that are included in this national park.
However, for the purposes of this study, we will concentrate on the Gulf Islands National Seashore area in Florida. The park’s boundaries go from Perdido Key, Florida, to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The majority of activities, however, are located near Pensacola Beach, a renowned vacation resort on the Florida Panhandle.
Other notable local attractions include Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Alabama, as well as Pensacola and Destin in Florida. These settlements are not on the national seashore, although they are only a short drive away.
That means that even if visiting the Gulf Islands National Seashore isn’t the main reason you’re visiting the Alabama or Florida Coast, it’s a day trip worth taking if you’re in the region. You’re likely to find activities that interest you, and you’ll get to see some of America’s most gorgeous beaches in the process.
Is Gulf Islands National Seashore Free?
Although legally part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, public beaches along Pensacola Beach’s main stretch are free since they are owned and maintained by the city. However, because they attract guests staying in Pensacola Beach beach rentals, these will be the more congested beaches.
However, the National Park Service does charge a fee for areas of the national seashore that are owned and operated by them. This comprises the following websites:
Fort Pickens Area
Fort Barrancas Area
Opal Beach Area
Perdido Key Area
The admission cost is the same regardless of whatever place you visit. If you walk or bike in, plan to pay $15 per person. If you do not, you will be charged per vehicle rather than per passenger.
You will be charged $20 if you enter any of the locations on a motorcycle. All other non-commercial vehicles will be charged $25. The fee may appear to be exorbitant, but you will obtain a pass valid for up to 7 days. That means you can visit as many times as you like within a 7-day period and only have to pay once.
If you plan on going frequently, you may get an annual pass for $45. The yearly pass is valid for one year from the date it is purchased. Whether you purchase a 7-day admission or an annual pass, you should be able to enter any region of the park without having to pay again for as long as your pass is valid.
Why Do I Have To Pay A Fee?
You may be wondering why you should pay to enter the Gulf Islands National Seashore when other nearby beaches are free. However, you should keep in mind that this national park is much more than just the beach.
Furthermore, when you visit the Gulf Islands National Seashore, you are exploring some of America’s most beautiful beaches. When you pay the entrance charge, you help pay for upkeep and maintenance to maintain our beaches clean and lovely. You are also contributing to studies on the many plant and animal species that inhabit the area.
However, because there are more than simply beaches (including trails, amenities, and two historic forts), you are also assisting the National Park Service in paying for their preservation. As you can see, the fee is required to assist other people like you in enjoying this wonderful part of our country.
What To Do At Gulf Islands National Seashore?
There is lots to do whether you enjoy resting on the beach, connecting with nature, or seeking adventure. You’re likely to find something to your liking among the five separate paid areas and one free area.
Can You Swim At Gulf Islands National Seashore?
Without a doubt! Swimming is one of the most popular activities at the Gulf Islands National Seashore. This national park contains numerous beaches where people can swim or simply relax on the shore.
Johnson Beach is located in the park’s Perdido Key region. Because of the lovely sea that makes this part of Florida famous, it is one of the best beaches for swimming. This beach, on the other hand, has two huge parking areas, toilets, and picnic spots that can get congested during the high summer months.
But what makes this beach so special is that it is accessible to everyone. Those who require them can use beach wheelchairs. Simply ask one of the park officers at the main gate for one.
Opal Beach, also in the Santa Rosa area, is a popular swimming spot. There are also public facilities and a picnic area at this beach. In addition, it is one of the few beaches in the vicinity with lifeguards on duty throughout the summer months. It’s an excellent beach for families with children.
Because of all of the amenities, the Opal Beach region may often grow rather busy. If you prefer a less busy beach and don’t mind less amenities, there are plenty of alternative beaches in the Santa Rosa area with parking spaces and easy beach access.
Okaloosa Day Use Area
The Okaloosa Day Use Area, located on the eastern edge of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, is another popular beach. This part of beach is recognised for being quieter and having calmer waters, making it ideal for individuals who simply want to rest. It also offers public facilities and a picnic area.
Naval Live Oaks Area
If you prefer a more off-the-beaten-path beach, head to the Naval Live Oaks Area. This neighbourhood is located off the major roadway heading to Pensacola Beach and includes a beach area that is only a short trek away.
The trail is a 0.5-mile sandy path with no boardwalk that leads through the Florida Wilderness to a remote location on Pensacola Bay. The water is a little different here than at other Gulf of Mexico beaches, but it’s a terrific beach for individuals who prefer a less-known region.
There are picnic tables and facilities in this area, but having a picnic on the beach is just as enjoyable. The nicest part is that, unlike the other beaches listed thus far, this beach is free as long as you’re willing to take a little stroll.
What Else Is There To Do Besides Swimming?
Don’t worry if swimming isn’t your thing or if you simply need a vacation from it. There are plenty additional activities available to you. Hiking, birdwatching, and fishing are among the various activities available.
If you appreciate birdwatching, you should visit the Perdido Key Discovery Trail to see some of the area’s native species. Even if you are not a birdwatcher, you will appreciate taking a walk. This trail has a boardwalk, thus it is completely accessible.
If kayaking or paddleboarding is more your style, head to the Okaloosa Day Use Area. While it is not recommended to launch boats from trailers in this region, a boat launch is ideal for launching your kayak or paddleboard.
Naval Live Oaks
This is the finest area to go hiking if you enjoy it. The trails are largely flat along a sandy route and aren’t extremely difficult, but they are 7.5 miles long. The 0.8 mile Brackenridge Nature Trail is also fully accessible.
Is Gulf Islands National Seashore Worth It?
Yes, it most surely is. This national park property features one of the country’s most picturesque stretches of coastline. There is something for everyone here, whether you want a peaceful vacation or something more daring. This is one spot you’ll want to return to.