Outdoors & Nature in Pensacola

Top nature and wildlife viewing experiences in the Pensacola Bay Area

by Lynne Christen

Coastal kayaking at Gulf Islands National Seashore
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Ditch coats, ties and city cares: You won’t need them in the Pensacola Bay Area’s great outdoors.

Mother Nature’s gifts to the Pensacola Bay Area begin with beautiful beaches, but she offers so much more for visitors to explore today: pristine wetlands, clear rivers and creeks, lush forests and a bounty of native flora and fauna.

Canoeing and Camping in Milton, the “Canoe Capital of Florida”
From Pensacola, head north to the “Canoe Capital of Florida. At Blackwater River State Park, (one of Florida’s most well-liked inland state parks), you can pitch a tent steps away from the riverbank at a shady campsite equipped with electricity and water. The Blackwater River is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the nation, making the park a popular place for swimming, paddling, fishing and bird watching.

Nearby, at Adventures Unlimited Outdoor Center on Coldwater Creek, you can choose from well-equipped tent sites, rustic cabins or the Schoolhouse Inn. A host of recreational activities make the outdoor center a popular destination for families and groups. Choose from an entire fleet of on-site rental tubes, canoes and kayaks for a day on the river. There are also hayrides, stargazing, fishing and seasonal special events. And a major hit: the Outdoor Challenge Ropes Courses that teach teamwork and motivation.

Nature Excursions, Kayaking, Sailing & Surfing
After your nature adventure in Milton, head back to Pensacola Beach or Perdido Key to Gulf Islands National Seashore, where park rangers lead snorkeling, barrier island walks, stargazing and other nature excursions. Or spend a morning or afternoon kayaking or canoeing scenic wetlands along Santa Rosa Sound with Key Sailing kayaking ecotours. Go Paddleboarding at Coastal Paddle Company. Explore Bayou Texar by renting a kayak at Pensacola Paddlesport Rentals. Book a stand up paddleboard eco-tour with Outdoor Gulf Coast. Learn to surf at Innerlight Surf Camp. Hoist the sails and skim across the clear blue waters of Pensacola Bay with Lanier Sailing Academy.

Pensacola Bay Area Fishing & Diving
Reel in a delicious dinner at the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier or aboard a deep-sea fishing charter. Drop a line in the Escambia River where more than 85 species offer the richest variety of freshwater fishing in North America.

Go below and see why dive spots like the USS Oriskany (experienced divers only) M/S Antares, Timber Holes and the USS Massachusetts make the Pensacola Bay Area a mecca for divers.

Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach boast bike trails that meander along sand and sea. Rent a “regular” bike at Tiki Island Golf and Games – or have fun with a bicycle built for two, four, six or even eight people!

Pensacola "Green" Golf
“Golf green” at Lost Key Golf Club, the first course in the world to be certified as an Audubon International Silver Signature Sanctuary.

Sunrise, Sunset
Start the day at sunrise with a serene beach walk and feel your stress ebb away with the tide. At day’s end, watch the sun paint a masterpiece as it melts below the horizon.

Native Plants and Wildlife
The budding botanists in your group will want to visit Tarkiln Bayou Preserve which nurtures a wide variety of endangered native plants and the carnivorous pitcher plant.

Naval Live Oaks Preserve is home to the tough timber used to build famous ships like “Old Ironsides.”

From our shores, you can see playful bottlenose dolphins cavort in the surf. Watch them right off the beach, or connect with a local boating and nature tour company to get a front-row seat to the action.

Summertime means beach time for more than just the human species: Four types of sea turtles nest along area beaches in the summertime; hatchlings emerge from the nests on moonlit nights in the autumn. If you’re lucky enough to see a sea turtle or hatchling, please do not disturb it or the nest; it is prohibited by law. (Learn more about sea turtles at visitpensacolabeach.com/explore/turtles.asp.

Watch magic in the skies as monarch butterflies flutter by the Emerald Coast from mid-October through mid-November on their way to winter roosts that are thousands of miles away in Mexico. Wildlife-watch at Gulf Islands National Seashore, which is home to opossums, armadillos, rabbits, red fox and river otters. At the University of West Florida's Edward Ball Nature Trail, see their mascot, “Captain Thunder,” a 10-foot-long, three-legged alligator.

Bring your binoculars when you visit Big Lagoon State Park, the gateway of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Or visit another top spot for birders: the Project GreenShores habitat in Pensacola Bay, where volunteers have recorded more than 300 avian species.

Camping in Pensacola: A “Green” Lodging Choice
Living green can also mean staying green. At the wilder end of the spectrum, primitive camping enthusiasts can sleep under the stars right on the water at Johnson Beach on the barrier island of Perdido Key. Enjoy swimming, fishing, crabbing, boating and hiking by day at Perdido Key State Park and pitch your tent by nightfall on sites equipped with water and electricity right across the bay at Big Lagoon State Park. At Fort Pickens campground on the western tip of Pensacola Beach, settle into a site near the beach with water, grills and a bathhouse with hot/cold showers and electricity.

Eco-Friendly Hotels
Prefer a sustainable stay in style? Florida recognizes lodging properties that demonstrate commitment to sustainability. Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel, Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front and TownePlace Suites by Marriott are examples of Florida Green Lodging designated properties in the area, proving that you don’t have to give up creature comforts to stay green.

Join in the Effort
Eco-conscious groups work hard to protect and preserve Pensacola’s pristine beaches, natural environment and wildlife. Please join in to help. Honor the national and international “Leave No Trace” program by disposing of trash properly, minimizing camping/hiking impacts and respecting wildlife wherever you travel.

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