Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
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Emergency contact information:
Escambia County Sheriff's Office: 850-436-9630
Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office: 850-983-1100
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 24-hour wildlife
emergency/boating under the influence hotline: 1-888-404-3922
Big Lagoon State Park
Navarre Beach Bridge
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.
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 prosper.
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. For camping reservations, log on to
or call (800) 326-3521. 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: (850) 492-1595.
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.
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
for latest information, 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. Make reservations
, or call (800) 934-5470.
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
reservations. By staying at either of these motels, you can easily
stroll to Gulf beaches for a swim. Several restaurants and shops are in
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 for a short walk to grocery store and
restaurants. Call (850) 939-9400 for reservations or click
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 click