Set out to explore “the last undiscovered Florida coast” and find out firsthand how diverse and rare animal species and plant life make Panama City Beach a nature lover’s wonderland today for National Take a Hike Day! With 27 miles of beach, a multitude of parks and forests and a 700- acre natural barrier island, eco-tourists have their choice of wonderful adventures, from hiking and biking to kayaking and canoeing. You don’t have to go far to enjoy a swim, look for shells or just log some great bird watching time. The sugar white sand may take center stage in Panama City Beach, but the area offers much more than can be seen from condo balconies. In addition to flip-flops and sunscreen, add hiking shoes to your suitcase and spend an afternoon walking along hiking trails and footpaths.
The Panama City Beach Conservation Park is a vast pine plantation and cypress dome restoration area. With loop trails ranging in length from 0.6 to 11 miles, the park encompasses nearly 3,000 acres of protected land featuring mostly flat paths, boardwalks, restrooms, picnic areas and outdoor classrooms. A color-coded map depicts a dozen trails of varying lengths. The park is perfect for families, groups, bird watchers, flora and fauna fans, bicyclists and serious hikers. See if you can spot the various native wildlife soaring and roaming freely, including eagles, alligators, woodpeckers, wild boar, whitetail deer, snakes and coyotes. At less than two miles, the green trail is ideal for short walks with children, while the yellow trail (4 to 7 miles) and blue trail (5.2 to 6.5 miles) provide for more ambitious hikes. A 9- to 11-mile orange route leads hikers around the perimeter of the park, while the 11-mile red route goes around and through the middle of the park. Along the way, you’ll experience several wetlands and woodlands. The Conservation Park also includes Gayle’s Trails, made up of nine miles of linear paved trails for hikers and bikers. They can be accessed at Frank Brown Park and connect to the trails at the Conservation Park. The trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset.
St. Andrews State Park brings together the best of both on- and off-the-beach activities. In addition to one-and a- half miles of beaches with a jetty, designated swimming areas, picnic pavilions, fishing piers and a play area, you can also find bikes, kayaks, stand up paddleboards and snorkeling equipment for rent. The park also offers nature trails that intersect a rich diversity of coastal plants and wildlife. There are two trails in the park to choose from. The Heron Pond trail takes you on a hike through a pine forest and past a historic turpentine still. The Gator Lake trail provides a scenic lakeside view and, sometimes, an opportunity to see Florida’s state reptile. To get to the park, turn south onto Thomas Drive from U.S. 98. Veer to the left (east) as Thomas Drive approaches the Gulf and follow it to the park gates. Admission is $8 per vehicle. Admission for pedestrians, bicyclists and extra
passengers is $2.
Abutting the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell, Camp Helen State Park is located in westernmost Panama City Beach. The lake is one of the largest coastal dune lakes in the world, providing visitors with a unique look at the coast’s diverse environment. From dunes and marshes to wetlands and pines, this park gives guests a snapshot of plants and wildlife in a variety of ecosystems. Along with beach access, the park offers nature trails, biking, picnic areas and wildlife viewing areas.