Henderson Beach State Park

Henderson Beach State Park in Destin: Natural Seashore Oasis Along Urbanized Coast
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Henderson Beach State Park provides a surprisingly tranquil swath of idyllic sugar sand, gleaming dunes, and precious coastal scrub alongside developed amenities such as a campground and a well-maintained beachfront picnic area. Given its accessibility and the beauty of its natural features, the fee to enter doesn't even seem worth mentioning.

- The FloridaPanhandle.com Local Expert Team

One of the all-out treasures of the Emerald Coast, Henderson Beach State Park protects a gorgeous seaside mosaic tucked right up against Destin’s sprawl. One of the best beaches in the entire region awaits you here, as does an introduction to impressive natural habitats that have become mighty rare with the heavy development of the Florida Panhandle’s oceanfront.

Nature lovers will thrill at the spectrum of ecosystems preserved within the state park’s bounds. They include white-sand dunes that rise as high as 30 feet, as well as the Destin seaboard’s last remnant of coastal scrub, dominated by myrtle and sand live oaks and Choctawhatchee sand pines and roamed by such nifty critters as gopher tortoises and bobcats. (Count yourself lucky if you spot either.) The ¾-mile nature trail—which allows dogs, leads you through both of these important habitats and tops out on a tall dune serving up a great coastal view.

The state park’s beach itself unfurls for more than a mile, and while it can certainly get crowded on weekends and holidays the small day-use parking fee helps keep it, overall, comparatively peaceful. (By the way, you’ll be able to leave and come back after paying the parking fee.) On an off-season or midweek visit, you may find yourself with a surprising degree of elbow room.

Watch for dolphins and sea turtles (loggerheads and greens nest here) in the nearshore waters, not to mention a whole menagerie of shorebirds. (A slew of birds migrate through Henderson Beach State Park, in case you’re of the birdwatching persuasion. Monarch butterflies on migration also tend to flitter their way here in the fall.)

The beach is a great place for a swim much of the time, but there aren’t lifeguards and you’ll have to beware of the colored flags that indicate conditions. Purple flags warn of jellyfish; single red flags mean rough and potentially dangerous surf or rip currents, and double red flags prohibit swimming entirely. A yellow flag warrants caution because of potentially strong currents or waves, while a green flag suggests a low-danger day.

Even if you can’t go in the water, strolling or sunbathing on the Henderson Beach State Park strand is wonderful. Sunrises and sunsets here tend toward the postcard-perfect end of the spectrum.

The Henderson Beach State Park campground encompasses some 60 RV and tent sites. You’ll find outdoor showers in the campground as well as the day-use area, which includes six picnic pavilions with grills, a children’s playground with shaded seating, and beach boardwalks.

Like angling? Henderson Beach State Park is a great place to cast a line: Fishing the surf here may haul you in a pompano, flounder, whiting, or any number of other Gulf of Mexico game fish.

If bicycling’s more your style, you won’t find any designated trails or paths here, but it’s a joy to pedal the one-mile paved park road.

Whether you’re here for a bike ride, a day spent lounging on the sugar sand, or a walkabout through some lovely remnants of the wild Emerald Coast, Henderson Beach State Park is an all-around treasure well worth a visit.

Insider Tip:
A day at Henderson Beach State Park’s sugar-sand seashore can be all-out wonderful—but you ought to bring along your own beach umbrella, as shade’s at a premium here.