Gulf Shores National Seashore
One of the most striking places of the Seashore is the Ft. Pickens area across the bay from Pensacola, Florida. The Ft. Pickens area is located at the western end of Santa Rosa Island just west of Pensacola Beach. The area is characterized by stunning soft white beaches and dunes, azure waters, and a generally gentle surf on the Gulf side and quiet waters on the Pensacola Bay side. It’s hard to say which is more spectacular, the fabulous beaches or the historic fort that gives its name to the area. Fishing, camping, hiking, birdwatching, are all available. We saw ospreys nesting right next to the campground along with abundant sea birds.
Begun in 1829, the fort was completed in October of 1834 by rented slaves. At the time, it was the largest brick structure on the Gulf of Mexico and its design and armament rendered it practically impregnable. Shaped as a pentagon with over 200 cannons with four-foot thick walls and massive reverse arches, the fort was built to withstand the heaviest barrage of land or sea. Evolving weapon technologies required changes to both armament and defenses throughout the fort’s active history which lasted until 1947 when coastal forts were declared obsolete. Walking through the fort is a fascinating experience using the self-guided online tour but left us with many questions. When we return to the area, we plan to go on the guided tours offered daily. There are other, later artillery batteries on the island that were in use during the Second World War. The only battles that took place at the fort were during the Civil War. The fort was never captured by the Confederacy.
The beaches are among the most beautiful in the United States. The warm waters of the gulf are clear and inviting. From the campground, you can walk to the beaches in minutes and there is none of the development seen in most areas of the Gulf Coast. The beaches remain as pristine as the ones I remember from my childhood in the Destin area a half-century ago. The sand is soft and deep (perfect for building drip castles) and during our visit more than 50 yards separated groups of beach lovers. Bring your portable tent structure and beach chairs, set up, and plan to spend the day in a beach paradise!
What it is…
Two campgrounds with 180 developed campsites with water and electric
Soft white beaches and dunes
Surf on Gulf side, quiet bay on the other side
Flush toilets, showers, drinking water, and dump station
Ft. Pickens historic site with museum and gift shop
Pensacola Lighthouse (In Pensacola)
Naval Aviation Museum (In Pensacola)
National Park System so any passes issued by National Park Service are valid for entry or camping
Camping reservations are through recreation.gov