Yes, yes: Beachgoing is the all-out no-brainer when visiting the Panama City Beach and 30A corridor. The sugar sands, the murmuring Gulf, the oodles and oodles of sunshine—sunbathing, shelling, and swimming don’t get much better, and we wouldn’t fault you if you wanted to spend (as many do) the majority of your vacation there on the soft surf-kissed strand.
But here’s the deal: There’s also some outstanding hiking on offer here along the Emerald Coast, and—along with boating forays on quiet bayous and sloughs—it gives you about as deep and intimate a look at the Florida Panhandle’s natural side as you could ask for.
Here’s a look at just some of the wonderful hiking trails to be pursued on a Panama City Beach-area visit—when you can drag yourself away from those plush sands, anyhow!
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
This wonderful refuge, named after one of its great coastal dunes, is a must-visit for any nature-minded visitors to the Emerald Coast: It isn’t called the “Crown Jewel of the Florida Panhandle” for nothing. The roughly 1,600-acre park boasts more than 15 miles of hiking trails, and it’s quite possible to loop them all into one wide-ranging foray.
Particular highlights include the No Name Lake Trail, which accesses the smallest of the several dune lakes falling within the park boundaries, and the Morris Lake Nature Trail, which weaves together some of the area’s impressive ecological diversity—including the shoreline of Morris Lake itself, a quiet cypress dome, coastal scrub, and the rolling dunes unfurling to the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida National Scenic Trail
One of the nation’s great long-distance hiking trail passes through this stretch of coast: the Florida National Scenic Trail, often shortened simply to the Florida Trail. Covering in total some 1,300 miles, it runs from the Panhandle all the way down the peninsula to the wilds of the Big Cypress.
Among the very loveliest and most intriguing sections of the Florida Trail lies within easy reach of Panama City Beach: the passage through the Econfina Creek Wildlife Management Area, which is quite rugged by Sunshine State standards, with rough ravines and steep-cut bluffs.
Panama City Beach Conservation Park
Covering close to 3,000 acres in the West Bay Ecosystem, this park represents the joining-forces of several entities—Panama City Beach, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—to protect water quality and natural habitat while providing an awesome recreational resource for locals and visitors alike.
There are more than 20 miles of fine trails, divvied up among about a dozen separate routes, within the Panama City Beach Conservation Park’s mosaic of pinelands, cypress domes, and various other upland and wetland environments.
Point Washington State Forest
A 15,407-acre expanse of protected lands between Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, the Point Washington State Forest is one of the top destinations for outdoor recreation on the Emerald Coast, making for an awesome daytrip out of Panama City Beach. Its pine sandhills, flatwoods, and wet prairies include plenty of deliciously quiet, wild-feeling corners, giving the hiker a welcome taste of solitude and adventure that feels worlds away from thronged beachfronts.
The hiking options include the Eastern Lake Trail System, which encompasses several loop options—among them an 11-mile circuit that’ll give you a nice fresh-air workout and a survey of the Forest’s native habitats and natural scenery.
St. Andrews State Park
A seashell’s throw to the southeast of Panama City Beach, the roughly 1,200-acre St. Andrews State Park makes a convenient outdoor getaway with plenty of beautiful scenery and natural spice on tap. Explore it on foot for the fullest experience:
Check out the wetland loveliness presented at the Buttonbush Marsh Overlook, and wander coastal scrub—and look for the namesake, always-grinning reptiles—along the half-mile Gator Lake Trail.
Emerald Coast Hiking
By all means, spend plenty of quality time on those Emerald Coast beaches—but spare an afternoon (or five) for exploring the Panama City Beach hinterland’s utterly awesome hiking trails! Let the breeze in the longleaf pines soothe you, the mystery of a cypress dome tantalize you, and the serenity of a wild dune lake’s shore harken you back to the primal heartbeat of this sun-splashed seaboard.