We live in a run-happy town.
Just about every day of the week, you can find a group of grinning, giggling, chattering running groups plodding along a favorite route in the Pensacola Bay Area.
From the Capt’n Fun Runners on Pensacola Beach to the World of Beer and McGuire’s runners and other groups in Pensacola, you can find camaraderie and a cold brew after a weekday run, and there’s a charity run just about every Saturday too.
But what if you just want to break out the gear and rip out a quick run? We got ya covered here. These are my favorite routes to roll away the miles.
Community Maritime Park and Downtown Pensacola
Our first stop on the runner’s tour is at Community Maritime Park in Downtown Pensacola.
Home to the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, this award winning stadium is flanked by a stunning wrap-around promenade with a view of Pensacola Bay and the Palafox Pier marina.
It’s about a mile to lap the perimeter of the park, but why stop there?
Keep going — head downtown on Main Street and hang a right on Palafox Street to the pier head. Oh geeze, another promenade! Hug the pier as you head north, say hello to the anglers, then cruise along the railing to Main Street. It turns into a wide sidewalk along Bayfront Parkway, stunning views of historic downtown Pensacola and Pensacola Bay unfold.
Keep going east along Bayfront Parkway about 2-plus miles out and you pass Admiral Mason Memorial Park — if you can take your eyes off the bay. Stretch it to the foot of the Pensacola Bay Bridge for a 6-mile out-and-back.
Cut it as short as you like for your return, or take a zig zag through scenic Downtown Pensacola. It’s exhilarating. Beware of the burger traps though. Occasionally, I veer off-course for a burger and beverage at one of the many downtown hotspots. Hey, training is tough!
Bayview Park and East Hill
2001 E Lloyd Street, Pensacola
Carved into the gentle slopes along Bayou Texar, Bayview Park makes a pristine site for running, dog-walking and grilling (I rarely pack burgers. And hey, you can rent paddleboards and kayaks too, but that’s another blog).
The paths (about 0.6 to 0.9 miles) trace along the bayou, rolling hills — with shade from resident magnolias, live oaks and pine.
As I said, I can’t run laps. So let’s stretch it out and check out the East Hill neighborhood. Bayview Park is also the start and finish to the Bayou Hills 5K/10K held in March. The neighborhood road route winds through rolling residential streets and takes you through some downright testing hills. We coastal Florida flat-landers call these brutal climbs. Folks from Tennessee might chuckle, but they are our hills, and we are proud of them, got it?
Perdido Key and Big Lagoon State Park
Perdido Key always has a special place in my heart because it balances two worlds: the luxury coastal resort and the barely-touched refuge touched with wild beauty. Although the road can get busy, Perdido Key Boulevard has an ample running and bike path that hugs the coast. There is also a much more quiet loop along River Road (near Lost Key Golf Club, the Perdido Key Oyster Bar and Sunset Grill).
Johnson Beach — part of Gulf Islands National Seashore — offers a long beach road flanked by sand dunes and coastal wetlands (or hey, you can run the beach for a real test).
Then there’s Big Lagoon State Park. The hiking trails roll through coastal wetlands and scrub woods. Home to the Pensacola Runner’s Association event, the Bay to Breakfast 8K, it’s a tough cross-country route with almost no pavement or shade. Starting and ending at the Big Lagoon Pavilion, this primitive loop takes you through packed gravel, soft sand and elevated boardwalks. It’s rugged and beautiful — just like Perdido Key.
UWF Trails and West Campus
Occasionally, my ankles feel like they are ready for a good, natural beating — otherwise known as a trail run. Well, folks, we got it here. The University of West Florida’s hiking, biking and equestrian trails have got your path to wild fitness. From rolling to steep hills, winding to wide open spaces, from 1.5 miles to 9 and 12-mile loops and more, these trails fill and exceed your trail-running route needs.
The campus trails are shorter and more “civilized,” than the West Campus routes — and both are open to the public.
No motorized vehicles are allowed but be prepared to share the paths with the occasional mountain biker, dog-walker or horseback-rider— and our native wildlife. It’s a challenging run, whichever path you choose!
Fort Pickens and Gulf Islands National Seashore
This is an awesome out-and-back if you’re on Pensacola Beach — a destination run.
Park at the Fort Pickens area and take the loop along the sea wall at Pensacola Pass, running past historic Civil War-era batteries. The road winds through sand oak and ancient dunes, then flattens out along Fort Pickens Road.
There are short sections with no bike/running lane, so be careful. It’s about 9 miles from the pier to the Fort Pickens gate, so you can dial up your distance here.
Bring water. There is no shade, but plenty of inviting beach pit-stops if you want to pause for a dip!
Left a favorite of yours off the list? Comment below with your favorite running route in the Pensacola Bay Area.