Beach/St. Andrews Bay
Emergency Contact Numbers:
Sheriff’s Office: 850-267-2000
Sheriff’s Office: 850-747-4700
Sheriff’s Office: 850-227-1115
and Wildlife Conservation Commission 24-hour wildlife emergency/boating
under the influence
Grayton Beach State Park
Peninsula State Park
63 miles, depending
on side trips
Large storms and
hurricanes may close several inlets, requiring some portaging to
campsites and points of interest. No camping is allowed on Tyndall Air
Force Base, so a 24-plus mile paddle is required from St. Andrews State
Park to Mexico Beach, where motel accommodations can be made. To avoid
this long distance an
Alternate Inland Route
for Segments 2-4 utilizing the ICW can be accessed if weather conditions
are inclement. There are
several options for returning to the Gulf route if weather improves.
A GPS unit is a vital piece of equipment in this
segment as breakers along the beach may make it necessary to paddle
farther offshore, and fog can shroud landmarks. Also, it is sometimes
difficult to distinguish beachside motels from condominiums, and most
motels are not marked on the Gulf side.
Emerald waters, sugar-sand beaches and high dunes
mark the first two-thirds of this section, followed by a remote stretch
of wild barrier islands and peninsulas. There are several points of
interest and a couple of nights where motel stays are necessary. Most
motels are not marked from the Gulf side, so GPS points are given on the
map for motels located at key intervals. Paddling is a straight
west-east route parallel to the coast until barrier islands and
peninsulas are seen after St. Andrews State Park.
For state park
camping recommended in this guide, advanced reservations are essential.
or call 1-800-326-3521. Phone numbers are given in specific sections to
reserve primitive campsites outlined in this guide. There is an 8-person
and/or four 2-person tent maximum allowed at primitive campsites. Please
keep sites clean and follow all regulations in order for these sites to
remain open for paddlers. These sites are “pack-it-in, pack-it-out”
only, with campers following
Leave No Trace
Large tracts of
conservation lands and waters in the Panhandle are carefully managed for
ecological, historical or recreational purposes and remain pristine and
largely undeveloped. There are two state aquatic preserves,
St. Andrews Aquatic Preserve
St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.
1: Grayton Beach
State Park Campground to Grand Cayman Motel, 14 miles
than 2,227 acres,
Grayton Beach State Park
offers 37 campsites, 30 cabins, five picnic shelters, three coastal dune
lakes, four miles of trails and 13 distinct natural communities, from
beach dune to scrubby flatwoods. There are also 19 listed species of
protected animals and plants occurring within the park boundaries. The
park’s beach and dunes, like most along the Panhandle coast, consist of
quartz sand that floated down rivers and streams from the Appalachian
The park has a boat ramp, but what makes this
park so inviting to paddlers is that several campsites (even-numbered
sites from 10 through 20) are directly along Western Lake, so paddlers
can launch or land at their camping area. Western Lake is open to the
Gulf via a narrow inlet except when big storms such as Hurricane Ivan
close it with sand. Some portaging may be necessary. Check with the
ranger’s office for local conditions (850) 231-4210.
From the campground along Western Lake, paddle west approximately a half
mile to the Gulf inlet, and proceed east along the shore. In about six
miles, you’ll see an unmarred area of dunes nestled between coastal
development. This is the 1,920-acre
Deer Lake State Park.
Growing atop the high dunes is a rare plant: the Cruise’s golden aster.
Numerous other flowering plants can be found in the park’s 11 distinct
natural communities, including white top and yellow pitcher plants,
rosebud orchids and pine lilies.
The long boardwalk from the primary dune to the
upland habitats is worthy a stroll as it traverses an unspoiled vista of
rolling dunes with a scenic view of Deer Lake to the west. The parking
lot area has water and a composting toilet.
Regular public camping is not allowed at Deer
Lake. It is also not recommended as a launching spot as the Gulf is 200
yards or more from the parking lot down the long boardwalk unless you
use a kayak cart to roll your boat.
About five miles from Deer Lake lies a spot you don’t want to miss:
Camp Helen State Park.
It is marked along the Gulf by a decrepit pier jutting into the water.
From the pier, you can reach a trail to the upland areas of the park by
heading across the sand in a northerly direction.
Camp Helen, with its 1930s-era lodge and
cottages, will give you a glimpse of how Florida tourists spent their
vacations several decades ago. If you want to go back farther in
history, you can envision the four thousand or more years Native
Americans utilized this site. When standing atop the high hill, with
striking views on three sides and a cooling breeze in your face, you can
fully understand the desirability of this unique geologic landform. Make
sure to stroll along the park’s short loop hike through a scenic live
There is no camping allowed at the park, but
water and bathrooms are available to visitors during daylight hours.
About two miles past Camp Helen along the Gulf is
the first of many motels available to paddlers, the Grand Cayman Motel.
Advance reservations are recommended (call 1-800-322-4571). A GPS point
is provided for you on the map. A small market is across the street; a
supermarket is located about a mile west along the highway.
There are other
motels as you proceed east, the next one being about a mile away, the
Sugar Sands Beach Resort.
You can scope out the various motels ahead at
Panama City Beach Online.
Advanced reservations are recommended, especially on weekends and during
college spring break periods in March and April. Your choice of a motel
will determine the length of your paddle to St. Andrews State Park.
2. Grand Cayman
Motel to St. Andrews State Park Campground, 17.5 miles
Paddle past the
gleaming white beaches and numerous motels, condominiums and attractions
of Panama City Beach to
St Andrews State Park.
A handy reference point is the Dan Russell City Pier, about five miles
from the Grand Cayman. A supermarket is about a mile west of the Dan
Russell pier, along the beach road. The M. B. Miller County Pier is
about three miles past the first pier. These public piers provide public
restrooms, drinking water and outdoor showers. Numerous restaurants are
in the vicinity. You can shorten your day by staying in another motel
along the beach.
About three miles before St. Andrews is the
Richard Seltzer Park, which also has restrooms, water and outdoor
To reach the St. Andrews State Park Campground,
make a sharp left at the pass between the jetties and Shell Island, and
make another sharp left into Grand Lagoon and proceed just past the boat
ramp. There are numerous campsites on the water where you can land your
kayak (even numbers from 16-38, 96-114, and 101, 132, 134 and 143).
There may be rip-rap (large rocks) and marsh grass in front of others.
The park offers fresh water, showers and bathrooms.
Human history at St. Andrews State Park began
with early Native Americans, who feasted on fish and abundant shellfish
and left behind numerous middens (trash heaps of discarded shells, bones
and other refuse). In the early 1900s, bathers frequently used the area,
generally arriving by boat. The first known full-time resident during
this period was a Norwegian-born sailor who wrecked his boat on the
south bank of Grand Lagoon during a 1929 hurricane. “Teddy the Hermit”
decided to homestead and remained until his death in 1954 at age 74. His
makeshift shack once stood between campsites 101 and 102.
The purchase of land for a state park began in
1947 when 302 acres were acquired from the federal government for the
bargain price of $2.50 an acre. Today, after the addition of several
adjacent parcels, at a considerably higher cost, the popular park
consists of more than 1,200 acres.
The inlets and bays
around the park are part of the
St. Andrews Aquatic Preserve
. Considered one of
the most diverse bays in North America, with over 2,100 recorded marine
dependent species, St. Andrews Bay has the largest expanse of
ecologically valuable seagrass beds in the Florida panhandle. These
beds, along with expansive salt marshes, provide spawning and nursery
habitats for a wide variety of fish and shellfish. The beaches and
uplands along the preserve provide habitat and nesting areas for several
protected species such as loggerhead and green sea turtles, the
Choctawhatchee beach mouse, and snowy and piping plovers.
3: St. Andrews
State Park Campground to Mexico Beach, 25 miles
is a long stretch without camping, but one of the most pristine, with
little or no coastal development visible. The shoreline appearance is
reminiscent of a time before arrival of Europeans. Only occasional
fighter jets and motorboats will jolt you back to this century.
From the campground, paddle across the channel
and continue your journey west along Shell Island through St. Andrew
Bay. This island was formerly known as Lands End Peninsula and was
connected to the mainland, but the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the
current pass as an easier and safer channel into St. Andrews Bay.
Interestingly, in 2004, Hurricane Ivan closed the natural pass at the
other end of Shell Island, known as East Pass. It is one more reminder
that storms, winds and currents are constantly reshaping the coastal
landscape. After you cross the channel take the Gulf side of Shell
Island. Be careful of breakers along this pass and others. Take a wide
turn around them.
The east end of Shell Island and the adjacent
Crooked Island is controlled by Tyndall Air Force Base. You can land on
these inviting, sandy shores for rest breaks, but no overnight camping
is permitted. You’ll need to stay on the Gulf side for the rest of this
section. Otherwise, some portaging will be necessary (Crooked Island is
not a true island).
Mexico Beach is a small coastal community that
offers motels, a small grocery store (across from the Buena Vista
Motel), a hardware store, numerous restaurants, and a post office. The
two gulf-side motels, the El Governor (850 648-5757) and Buena Vista
(850 648-5323), are located a half mile apart just east of the city
pier. For more information,
The two commercial campgrounds in town are not on the water, so this may
present an access problem.
If you want to use Mexico Beach for a mail drop,
address letters or packages to: (your name),c/o general delivery, U.S.
Post Office, Mexico Beach, FL 32456. The post office is located one mile
inland on 15th Street.
4: Mexico Beach to
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, 6.5 miles.
Joseph Peninsula State Park
is a fitting end to this section, offering a true coastal wilderness
experience. The St. Joseph State Park’s wilderness preserve, one of only
six in the state park system, encompasses the northern 7.5 miles of the
peninsula (over 1,750 acres). This is an unspoiled landscape of large
dunes and coastal scrub and grasslands. The preserve is accessible by
foot or by boat, and circumnavigational paddlers can primitive camp in
the preserve at a designated campsite with advance reservations. Call
850-227-1327 to reserve a site.
Calling ahead avoids conflict with other users.
The site capacity is set to protect the wilderness quality of the
area. Payment is due on the
day of arrival and is normally paid at the ranger station, although a
long-distance paddler can pay by phone with a credit card the day of
arrival ($5.00 per person per night). No fires are allowed and campers
must follow “Leave No Trace” principles. Paddlers need to check in at
least two hours before sunset and check out with park personnel.
There are paddler campsites that can be accessed
from the bay or from the Gulf. Campsites 2 & 7 can be accessed on
the bay side. Campsite 3 can be accessed from the Gulf where you must
hike in from the beach following marked trails and camp in the
designated camping site. There is a limit of five campers per site and
most sites can accommodate 2-3 small tents.
From the wilderness preserve, paddle through the
clear waters of the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve. The shallow bay
waters are homes and nurseries for numerous fish and sea animals such as
sea urchins, scallops and snails. Seagrass beds are lush and abundant.
Fishing and summer scalloping are popular recreational
activities.Nearing the halfway point, water and restrooms are available
at the southern end of the state park at the picnic area and boat ramp
(see map). Outdoor cold showers are at the beach restrooms, across the
road from the park’s boat ramp along the bay. The park also offers canoe
and kayak rentals. A small grocery store can be found about five miles
outside the park boundary along 30E.
This stop is an excellent place to take an extra
day off to paddle along St. Joseph Bay or to hike along the park’s many
trails. The peninsula is a birdwatcher’s paradise; 247 species have been
observed at the park. Following the passage of fall cold fronts, you can
spot hundreds and sometimes thousands of migrating hawks and falcons
passing over and resting at the park on their way to Mexico and South
America. In winter, look for gannets, loons, cormorants and ducks.
Spring migrants include snowy and piping plovers and black-throated and
Summertime brings green and loggerhead sea
turtles to the beaches for egg laying.
water areas on both sides of the peninsula are part of the
St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.
The shallow bay waters are homes and nurseries for numerous fish species
and sea animals such as sea urchins, scallops and snails; seagrass beds
are lush and abundant. Fishing and summer scalloping are popular