FL--Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens Campground

Discussion in 'National Parks, Forests and ACOE Campgrounds' started by Travelhoveler, Nov 29, 2011.

  1. Travelhoveler

    Travelhoveler New Member

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    Mar 8, 2011
    Last Wednesday night we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to spend Thanksgiving off the Florida coast. We'd been intending to drive down the Natchez Trace and spend the holiday around Natchez, but not being hampered by reservations, we decided to head for the coast. We left Nashville at 5, drove non-interstate highways south to near Montgomery, AL that night and set up quickly at a Flying J there for the evening. Next morning, we left early and arrived at Pensacola in mid-morning. We drove out to Santa Rosa Island, entered Gulf Islands National Seashore (there is a charge but out Interagency Pass took care of it), and drove down the island to the Fort Pickens Campground office. There, the ranger told us to choose a site and come back. We drove around for a while and chose a site in Loop E. The campground was about half full. It actually almost never fills up. It used to be a first-come, first-served only campground. Now that people can reserve sites, it's more crowded. Go figure.

    The campground was large (about 116 sites if I recall), though smaller than some on the nearby coast. [Gulf State Park an hour west has nearly 500 sites!). Most sites had water, sewer and electric, not that we needed them, but there were no dry-camping sites we could use with our camper. Cost was $20 a night.

    Almost all sites were paved, back in sites with short pads, though sites in the small A Loop were more set up for larger RVs. Some would have been two short for even our little pup along with our TV, though E-1 accommodated both. The park is very strict about all vehicles keeping to pavement, and direct people with vehicles that don't fit to use parking areas, some a good distance from the sites. We had a small live oak giving some shade and privacy. Most sites are fully exposed, mostly on account of recent hurricanes. In fact, the campground was still closed when we were last out that way after being buried by sands from Katrina.

    The site had pros and cons.

    On the plus side:

    • Santa Rosa Island is spectacular. The sand is sugar white, and you don't see any development from the national seashore.
      Despite lack of privacy between sites, the campground was quiet, even on a holiday weekend.
      Easy access to hiking trails where you can see lots of waterfowl.
    Minuses were significant

    • Too many sites in too small an area means little privacy between sites
      Bathhouses are clean but old and primitive
      No shade at many sites; this could make camping nearly unbearable in summer
    Fort Pickens, a mile to the east, is a large brick Third System Fort that saw significant action during the War Between the States. It was held by the Yankees throughout the war. Later, large Endicott System batteries were built in and around the fort. If you're a military buff, you might find the fort tour (self guided, though there are ranger-led walks) enjoyable.


    The park also has some beaches with bathhouses and showers, a fishing pier, and some boardwalks through the salt marshes.

    We enjoyed our visit but decided to leave the next morning and relocate to Big Lagoon State Park just west of Pensacola as we'd have more privacy. But we'd certainly revisit the Fort Pickens area for the day on account of the beautiful scenery, especially those snow white beaches.

  2. ecupcar

    ecupcar New Member

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    May 30, 2011
    Great review, thanks for the honest feedback.
  3. jimbobboy

    jimbobboy New Member

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    Oct 13, 2011
    Great review. Love the pictures.
    How about a review of Big Lagoon State Park. We may be headed that way after the first of the year.

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