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Pensacola Area Parks to Explore

From pristine beach vistas to unspoiled marshlands to serene coastal woodlands, Pensacola boasts a wealth of parks that highlight the natural beauty of our environment. Visitors are never far from an example of why we believe Mother Nature calls Pensacola home.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

USA Today recently affirmed what folks in Pensacola always knew: The Gulf Islands National Seashore is the best beach around. The news site's readers named the Gulf Islands National Seashore not only the best beach in Florida, but the best beach in the eastern United States.

The reasons why are clear.

Perhaps the key to Gulf Islands’ appeal is its unspoiled simplicity. As its name suggests, much of the park is located on islands – Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key – giving the park the feeling of isolation and distance that many beachgoers crave.

Three of the park’s sections in Pensacola – the Santa Rosa Area on the east side of Pensacola Beach, Fort Pickens on the western edge of Pensacola Beach, and Johnson Beach on Perdido Key – feature miles of Gulf front roadway sided only by rolling white sand dunes, sea oats, and endless horizon.

Only occasional parking lots, picnic pavilions, and restroom facilities hint that humans have ever been here. Otherwise, visitors are more likely to encounter a dolphin, sea turtle or osprey than neon lights, loud music or a billboard.

The Santa Rosa Area and Johnson Beach offer daytime access to the beach. Johnson Beach also offers primitive overnight camping.

Fort Pickens includes the historic military installation, built in 1829 as part of the fort system to protect Pensacola. It offers guided tours, a museum, snack bar, camping and more.

Another area of Gulf Islands National Seashore, Naval Live Oaks, adjoins Gulf Breeze to the east. Naval Live Oaks – home to the park’s visitor center – offers a landscape filled with the area’s namesake trees. The live oaks here were once harvested to construct warships, including the U.S.S. Constitution.

In addition to the visitor center, Naval Live Oaks offers miles of trails, picnic pavilions, and shorelines on Santa Rosa Sound and Pensacola Bay.

Picturesque Perdido

Along with Johnson Beach, Perdido Key and the southwest corner of Escambia County offer hidden gems of natural beauty at several parks.

Big Lagoon State Park offers an amphitheater, fishing, wildlife, swimming and hiking through unspoiled Florida wilderness. This is a favorite location for outdoor weddings. It also serves as a prime location for crabbing.

Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park, located on Perdido Bay, offers the unique environment that is home to four rare, carnivorous pitcher plant species, all of which may be viewed from an elevated boardwalk.

Perdido Key State Park – located on the island itself – also offers undisturbed access to both the Gulf of Mexico and Old River. It provides picnic facilities, fishing opportunities and more.

Beauty of Pensacola

On Escambia Bay, Bay Bluffs Park features a network of wooden boardwalks that descend from the aptly-named Scenic Highway to the shoreline below.

On the north side of Pensacola, the University of West Florida offers a variety of woodland and wetland trails, including the Edward Ball Nature Trail, which includes a half mile of boardwalk on Thompson Bayou, a beautiful hardwoods swamp. Just off the boardwalk lie a web of bike paths. The campus also offers more than 20 hidden-treasure "geocaching" sites.

Not only does Pensacola offer a variety of large, natural parks, but Downtown Pensacola is dotted with smaller, historical parks perfect for exploring the past or enjoying a picnic. For more on those, click here.

So wherever you choose to walk in Pensacola’s picturesque scenery, be mindful of your step – that’s Mother Nature’s back yard you’re exploring.

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