Gulf Island National Seashore is actually located in two states, Florida, and Mississippi. National Seashores is a part of the National Park Service. Being designated a National Seashore is a land classification that focuses on the preservation of natural values while at the same time providing water-oriented recreation.
We visited Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks, Fort Barrancas and Santa Rosa Area of Gulf Islands National Seashore all located within Florida in January of 2016 and fell in love! We decided on staying in a hotel in Pensacola Beach and found it to be a great central location to explore this treasure.
We first visited the Santa Rosa area as we drove to Pensacola Beach. This section had several parking lots for beach access. One location had covered shelters with picnic tables. We practically had the beach to ourselves on the weekdays in January! I had heard about the sugar sand beaches of Florida but WOW! We just loved going for walks on the beach.
After enjoying a long walk on the beach we decided it was time to check-in to our hotel. We decided on the Margaritaville Beach Hotel in Pensacola Beach as it was centrally located to everything on the seashore. We were so impressed with this hotel that we wrote about it too!
We got up the next morning and was ready to explore the Fort Pickens area. We were in the park in no time and found ourselves driving on a road with sand all the way to the road edge. Later I found out that when the National Park Service developed this road to accommodate vehicle access to the park with minimal disruption to wildlife habitat and natural processes that make this island special. This can, at times disrupt the ability to visit the park as the road can flood during high water events. The park is aware of this and very pro-active in watching the weather for such events.
I was so happy we got up early and were the first ones on the beach. The ripple marks in the sand were amazing! There were several shorebirds that seemed to want to follow us on our walk. I had to get my feet in the water this time but was quickly reminded why it was quiet this time of year as the water was cold! I could only image how busy this place is in the summer.
After a little “Beach Therapy” it was time to explore Fort Pickens! I love checking old forts. We did a self-guided tour through the fort and checked out the bookstore and of course get a stamp for our park book.
After exploring the fort we decided it was time for lunch in Pensacola Beach and fuel up for the afternoon. We Headed over to Naval Live Oaks and was treated to a completely different environment. Here there are Saw Palmetto stands of pine and Oak trees which provided a nice shade from the afternoon sun. We also did a boardwalk hike and well walked the beach a little more.
I was attracted to photograph the Saw Palmetto and found myself walking through some dense area of them before taking the shot I was satisfied with. Shortly after returning on the trail I noticed an interpretative panel explaining Florida wildlife. There is when I noticed a picture of a Pigmy Rattlesnake on the Saw Palmetto. I stood there thinking about me just walking through that stuff with shorts and sandals on! This is why we are supposed to stay on designated trails!
We realized what time it was so we hurried to get to Fort Barrancas for sunset. We managed to get lost along the way and made it barely in time for sunset. It was worth it though as the sunset from the beach was fantastic! We really did not get a chance to explore this area as it was already turning dark but looked like more area to enjoy the beach
We got back to the hotel and was exhausted from a full day of exploring! We wanted a shower, dinner, and the bed. All we could talk about is how much we love this park before falling asleep. The next morning we were treated to a beautiful sunrise at the hotel while watching dolphins as we sat on our balcony drinking coffee. We knew it was going to be a good day.
We had a lazy morning as we knew it was our last day here. We really didn’t want to pack our bags and really wanted to stay longer but swore that we will have to return again. After checking out of the hotel we decided to go for one last walk on the beach. It was another beautiful day and being a Saturday there were several people on the beach.
By people, I mean we did not have the beach to ourselves anymore. The people we did see were very friendly and had a great time talking about the park, fishing, weather or whatever else that came to mind.
We finally made our way back to the car and was time to head back home. The drive back to the airport was long and all I could think of is how much I loved this place! I vowed to go back again, this time spending longer than a couple days to explore this incredible park.