Port St. Joseph (“St Joe”) State Park
In November, we camped at Fort Pickens State Park near Pensacola, Florida. I really enjoyed exploring the sand dunes and all of the 1800s and early 1900s coastal fortifications. Shortly after we arrived at Port St. Joe State Park, it was clear there were no abandoned fortifications to explore. A quick walk down the beach, on a dreary, overcast afternoon revealed a long stretch of white sand, water (the Gulf of Mexico) to one side and tall sand dunes on the other side (and the sand dunes are closed to foot traffic). My initial impression was that Fort Pickens was more interesting for me.
However, on the second day, the sun came out, and with nothing much to do, I decided on an extended walk.
During the mid-day, I explored the beach along the campground area. First, any beach offers photo opportunities—it may take a bit of looking around, staying alert, etc., but there are experiences to be had and shared.
Beach activities – January
So what do you do? I am beginning to see why the “snowbirds” flock south in the winter. Walks along the beach, watching sunrises and sunsets, listening to the gulf surf, hunting for shells, bird watching, and, for me, photography can quickly fill an enjoyable day. Although the dunes are closed to foot traffic, there are walkways for beach access and to explore the dunes. Information signs are posted along the walkways interpreting features of the dunes, and many vistas that provide excellent photo opportunities.
Local area attractions
For those not content with a folding chair, a book, and a beach, there are local attractions, including the Constitutional Museum in Port St. Joseph and, 15 miles south, historic Apalachicola with several fine places to enjoy locally harvested oysters and shrimp.
This was also the weekend of the annual Oyster Festival in Apalachicola. The main street along the waterfront was closed for the event. Of course, the focal point for the festival is seafood, especially oysters and shrimp. Oysters were available fried, baked and raw; all excellent (I know, I tried them all!) Shrimp were both fried and peel-and-eat. A selection of beers was available to accompany the shrimp and oysters, and funnel cakes to satisfy the sweet tooth.
There were games for the youngsters, and music provided by the Eric Culbertson Blues Band from Georgia. Their music had young and old toe-tapping and dancing on the waterfront. There was plenty of time to explore the town that feels more like the 1950s than 2015.
The state park campground is on the Port St. Joseph Peninsula. The 2516-acre park has miles of white sand beaches, striking dune formations, and a heavily forested interior. The area offers a favorable climate for year-round outdoor activities. On the west side are long stretches of shell-laden Gull of Mexico beaches. Tall sand dunes, accessible by boardwalks, shelter the inland areas.
To the east are the waters of St. Joseph’s Bay, At the far end of the peninsula is a the seven-mile long 1750-acre Wilderness Preserve. The preserve is accessible with a no-cost wilderness permit. In this area you can anticipate seeing eagles, deer, and other wildlife native to the area. There are no man-made structures in the wilderness areas.
Boating and kayaking are popular year-round. There is a sandy beach swimming area at the marina and kayak rentals are available nearby. There is a small, seasonal general store that sells basic camping supplies, fishing tackle and bait.
A short walk from the campground it is possible to view amazing sunrises and sunsets. There is a pullover on the bay side of the peninsula with a bench, specifically located to view the sunrise. Gulls, herons, egrets, fish hawks and pelicans joined me to greet the rising sun.
The campground is nicely laid out. Many of the camp sites are set back off of the road, offering a degree of privacy not found in many other campgrounds. Our site also backed up to a river where we could watch egrets and pelicans actively hunting. Sites are provided with 30-amp electrical service and water. A long water hose (or maybe two) is recommended because sites share water hook-ups and they may be on the “wrong” side of the camper.
Sites include a fire ring and a pair of posts for a clothesline. The sites are packed sand, and a large rug or mat outside the camper door will help reduce sand tracked into campers. Firewood and ice are available at the check-in station, and probably at the store when it is open.
There are two clean, well maintained bath houses in the camping area, both with multiple showers and easy access and facilities for handicapped campers.
So, even though there were no forts to explore, Port St. Joseph State Park is well worth a visit—even and extended stay.
For more information on camping at Port St. Joe State Park:
- JOSEPH PENINSULA SP
8899 CAPE SAN BLAS ROAD
PORT ST. JOE FL 32456
Phone Number: Information: (850) 227-1327
This was the second camping trip to Florida within three months, this time to Port St. Joseph, south of Pensacola. Although I was not impressed initially, I came to the conclusion that this was Not “Just Another” Gulf Coast Dune Beach.
Not “Just Another” Gulf Coast Dune Beach describes our camping venture to Post St. Joe’s state park and the neighboring Oyster Fest in Apalachicola.