Oceanside camping near Florida's panhandle

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of December 11-17, 1997
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Oceanside camping near Florida's panhandle
Question: My family is looking for a campground located in the panhandle of Florida within short driving or walking distance to the ocean. We prefer a small-town, rural atmosphere for a camping experience. Any suggestions?

Chris Hanna
Marshfield, WI

Adventure Adviser: Just south and east of Panama City, there are four barrier islands that shadow the panhandle separating Apalachicola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. Twenty-seven-mile-long St. George Island is the gateway to these largely undeveloped and untouristed stretches of sand.

Though St. George itself is more developed than the other islands, on the very eastern tip you'll find St. George Island State Park (904-927-2111), an 18-mile-long stretch of shoreline that is within a quarter-mile of a 60-site main campground.

On the Gulf side of the island kids can splash in the shallows, snorkelers can take advantage of the calm waters, and fishermen can cast for flounder, redfish, cobia, and king mackerel.

For birdwatchers, the Apalachicola Bay side of the park is an excellent perch to sight snowy plovers, American oystercatchers, and even black skimmers. From St. George, you can explore the other islands, but you'll need a boat (call Jeanni's Journeys at 904-927-3259).

A 20-mile paddle southwest from St. George Island State Park will bring you to the sandy beaches and wildlife refuge of Cape St. George State Reserve. Here you'll find 28 miles of shoreline and a spooky, abandoned lighthouse. Primitive camping is allowed, but you'll need to arrange it through the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (904-653-8063).

The largest, most primitive, and farthest west of the four islands is St.Vincent. Here you'll find a 12,000-acre wildlife refuge, home to exotic sambar deer, feral hogs, and red wolves. There's also an 80-mile network of jeep tracks that make excellent bike trails.

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