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Pensacola Offers an Outdoor Bounty

Bays, bayous and rolling hills provide countless opportunities for outdoor fun.

Loading up the SUV for an outdoor adventure in Pensacola might take a while. Our climate, combined with a unique geography, provides ample opportunities for so many outdoor activities, we bet you can't pick just one.

Rolling hills skirt bayous and wetlands. Freshwater streams merge into bays, feeding the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore grouper, snapper and amberjack prowl a scattered fleet of sunken ships and artificial reefs just a short boat ride from Pensacola Pass.

Beautiful. Teeming with wildlife. It’s no wonder the Pensacola Bay Area draws outdoors enthusiasts from around the globe.

Five rivers feed Pensacola Bay. Neighboring Perdido Bay hosts an extensive system of quiet anchorages that famously hid Caribbean pirates in days gone by. The bays now serve as a haven for sailing, rowing, angling and paddling, from serious to seriously fun.

Hiking Treasures

Hikers can roam trails along bluffs on Escambia Bay,walk the mile-long boardwalk atop the Bayou Marcus Wetlands, trek through moss-covered naval live oak tree canopies in the Edward Ball Nature Trail, observe the rare, carnivorous white-top pitcher plants along the Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park trails, or comb the shores and natural upland beach habitat along Gulf Islands National Seashore. At the Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Preserve, a nature trail leads through a virtually undiscovered treasure trove of native secrets: rare insect-eating pitcher plants and sundew, water lilies and elusive bobcat thrive in this significant, protected corridor along the Alabama and Florida state line.

Paddling Pleasures

Protected bays and bayous and an often-gentle Gulf surf make the Pensacola Bay Area ideal for paddle sports. Just a few swipes of the paddle and paddleboards and kayaks can find undisturbed islands and skim along grass beds among fish and wading herons.

Along the west side of Pensacola, unique paddling destinations include Big Lagoon State Park in Perdido Key, Fillingim Landing on the Perdido River, and Jones Swamp Wetland Preserve and Nature Trail along Bayou Chico.

Sticking to the eastern side of Pensacola? Launch from scenic Bayview Park on Bayou Texar, paddle past tree groves along Thompson Bayou at UWF’s nature preserve, or check out the habitat creation project along Pensacola Bay called Project Greenshores.

Myriad Fish Havens

Rivers, bays and bayous all converging on the Gulf of Mexico brings a plentiful array of fish species within a short distance, with populations shifting with the tide and rainfall.

Inshore anglers on boats and kayaks can prowl the shoreline for redfish, black drum, speckled trout and, further up-river, freshwater bass, catfish and bream.

Bay anglers stalk redfish, flounder, sheepshead and even the occasional snapper and grouper. Fish from the beaches and piers for hard-fighting and delectable pompano, Spanish mackerel and king mackerel. Annual cobia migrations every March and April bring the massive, tasty game fish within range of beach or pier.

Offshore, the Gulf of Mexico harbors a bounty of reef fish a short boat ride from Pensacola Pass, where the bay feeds the Gulf. Sport-fishers head to the deep for blue-water fishing some 35 miles and more offshore, where powerful wahoo, tuna, sailfish, dolphin-fish and marlin provide the ultimate quest.

Get Below the Surface

Imagine an 872-foot aircraft carrier, encrusted with barnacles and harboring hulking grouper and amberjack as it rests on the seafloor. The former USS Oriskany, The Mighty O, was decommissioned and later donated as an artificial reef in 2006. It has since been named by The Times of London as one of the top ten wreck diving sites in the world. Local divers call it “The Great Carrier Reef.”

The Mighty O, which fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars, now serves as the unofficial flagship for a motley fleet of artificial reefs.

It’s just one of dozens of ships and boats that have been intentionally or unintentionally sunk that make Northwest Florida a haven for scuba divers. Many of these artificial reefs, from the Russian freighter to a trio of tugboats and the Oriskany, all lie within a short boat ride from Pensacola Pass.

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