Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
Emergency contact information:
Escambia County Sheriff's Office:
Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office: 850-983-1100
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission 24-hour wildlife emergency/boating under the influence
Begin: Big Lagoon
End: Navarre Beach
Distance: 35 miles
Duration: 3 days
This guide will cover the route inside the barrier islands since it
is more sheltered and opportunities for camping and/or motel stays are
spaced at reasonable distances apart.
Advance reservations are
recommended for motels and campgrounds, especially during holidays.
People of the Pensacola
area can best be described as resilient. During the hurricane season of
2004-2005, they suffered through four named storms, the main one being
Hurricane Ivan. Houses, buildings, roads and bridges were damaged or
destroyed. The rolling dunes and tree-covered hamlets of the Gulf
Islands National Seashore barrier islands were flattened, leaving a
barren looking landscape of snow-white sand. Total recovery will be long
and arduous, but most roads and bridges have been patched and many
businesses have reopened.
For the paddler, you may
notice a lack of piers and docks extending into Santa Rosa Sound. What
remains from the storms are thousands of naked posts standing in the
water. The shoreline forests have taken a hit, too, with countless trees
having been killed by high winds or saltwater intrusion.
It is not the first time
strong storms have battered the area. The first recorded hurricane
occurred in 1559 when a killer storm struck only days after 2,000
Spanish soldiers and settlers sailed into Pensacola Bay to establish a
permanent colony. All but two of the colonists' eleven ships were
spared, crippling hopes for further exploration and resupply. The town
was soon abandoned. Saint Augustine, settled six years later, became the
oldest European city on American soil.
On November 3, 1752, a
hurricane and tidal wave hit Santa Rosa Island and destroyed all
buildings of a Spanish settlement except for a storehouse and hospital.
From 1877 through 2005, more than 45 hurricanes have struck within 60
miles of the area, and yet Pensacola has persevered and continues to
The circumnavigation trail
begins at Big Lagoon State Park. Almost 700 acres, the park offers
hiking trails and a top-notch campground. You can also view outstanding
examples of upland coastal forests. Log onto http://www.floridastateparks.org/biglagoon/default.cfm
for more information. For camping reservations, contact Reserve America
at (800) 326-3521 or log onto www.reserveamerica.com.
There is also a paddler's only primitive campsite near the kayak
launch site that can be reserved for one-night only through the park:
The trail traverses the
Fort Pickens Aquatic Preserve, 34,000 acres of seagrass beds, salt
marshes and the undeveloped portions of eastern Perdido Key and western
Santa Rosa Island. The preserve provides valuable habitat for wildlife,
birds and marine life, including several threatened and endangered
species. To learn more, log onto
The kayaking trail in this
segment touches upon the Gulf Islands National Seashore in several
places, mostly on the barrier islands. Some units, such as around Fort
Pickens, have been closed in the past due to hurricane damage. For the
latest information, log onto
www.nps.gov/guis or call (850) 934-2600.
1: Big Lagoon State
Park to East End of Perdido Key, 6 miles
The scenic Big Lagoon
State Park is an appropriate beginning for the Florida Circumnavigation
Saltwater Paddling Trail. Make sure to climb the wildlife viewing tower
to get a bird's eye view of the expansive marshes, forests, tidal
creeks and waterways in the area. You can launch at the park's kayak
launch near the viewing tower. There is also a primitive campsite near
the launch for trail users, along with a log book. To reserve the site
(one night only), call the park at (850) 492-1595. There is a nominal
fee. Please sign the logbook as this is destined to become an historical
account of the trail.
Paddling east from the
launch, the lagoon is wide enough to hug the shallow shoreline and will
allow you to largely avoid the Intracoastal Waterway, where boat traffic
can be heavy.
Primitive camping is
allowed on the eastern end of Perdido Key in the Gulf Islands National
Seashore, beginning a half mile east of the end of Johnson Beach Road
facing Big Lagoon (see map). You are asked to avoid the dunes and
vegetated areas, and you must pack out what you pack in. Fires are
allowed on the beach below the extreme high tide. If you are a long
distance paddler, this short day can be a great way to break in to the
rigors of the trip.
After dark, from your
camp on Perdido Key, you should be able to spot the Pensacola Lighthouse
on the mainland. Established in 1859, it is one of the oldest
lighthouses along the Gulf Coast still in operation.
2. Eastern End of
Perdido Key to Big Sabine Point, 17 miles
Take care in entering
Pensacola Bay as this is an open water body and winds can create
difficult paddling conditions. Also, be wary of currents and large ships
as you cross the channel between Perdido Key and Santa Rosa Island. It
is at this juncture that you will pass between Fort Barrancas on the
mainland and Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. Both forts underwent
several stages during the 1800s and early 1900s before being deactivated
when aircraft and missile defense systems made the need to protect vital
ports with coastal fortifications obsolete.
If you like to explore
history, you can land near Fort Pickens and walk around, although the
actual fort may be closed due to hurricane damage. Check the Gulf
Islands National Seashore website before embarking, or ask the rangers
at Perdido Key. You cannot land at Fort Barrancas as this is part of a
military security zone operated by the Navy.
Fort Pickens was the
center of fighting early in the Civil War because it remained in Union
hands. A Confederate takeover attempt in October of 1861 failed. What
followed was a two-day bombardment in which both sides cumulatively
fired several thousand shells. The noise and reverberations were so
great that thousands of dead fish floated to the surface in Pensacola
Bay and windows shattered in Pensacola, seven miles away. Fort McRee,
which once stood across the inlet, was severely damaged. In 1862,
Confederates abandoned the bay and Union forces took control of
Pensacola harbor for the remainder of the war.
Leaving Fort Pickens, hug
the shore along Santa Rosa Island as you paddle east. For several miles,
you can land and take rest breaks on these undeveloped shores that are
part of the national seashore.
Two motels are available
near the Bob Sikes Bridge on Santa Rosa Island after about 11 miles. A
Travelodge is on the
west side (see map). It has a small beach for landing. For reservations,
call (800) 934-5470 or log onto
The Paradise Motel is
about a quarter mile east of the bridge. There is a small seawall that
you will have to hoist your boat over. Call (800) 301-5925 for
By staying at either of
these motels, you can easily stroll to Gulf beaches for a swim. Several
restaurants and shops are in the area. For more information, log onto
The scenic and easily
accessible Big Sabine Point primitive campsite has benches and a fire
ring, but no facilities. If desired, you can walk a half mile south
across soft sand to a rest room and outdoor showers along the beach.
The kayak campsite was an
eagle scout project of Patrick Sheldon that had support from Escambia
County, the Sea Scouts and Friends of Ship 411 of the Pensacola Yacht
Club. It shows how a community can come together to support the trail.
3. Big Sabine Point to
Navarre Beach Bridge, 12 miles
You have the option of
paddling along Santa Rosa Island or the mainland as you head east
through the Santa Rosa Sound. Much of the land along the island is
undeveloped and part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Along the
mainland, you can land at two small boat landings for rest breaks, but
these offer no facilities. A wayside park and visitor's center with
facilities is on the northwest side of the Navarre Beach Bridge.
Just past the bridge on the mainland is the Best Western Navarre. You
can land in the sand just before the large rocks and pull up your kayak.
Call (850) 939-9400 for reservations or log onto www.navarrebestwestern.com
For camping, you can set
up a tent or rent a cabin at the Navarre Beach Campground, almost two
miles past the bridge on the mainland. You will need to carry your
kayaks up stairs over a small sea wall. The campground has full
facilities, including a Laundromat, heated pool, computer room and game
room. For reservations, call (888) 639-2188 or log onto