Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf Islands National Seashore: Diverse Natural Beauty Stretching Along Hundreds of Miles of Coastline
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Hundreds of miles of adventure await at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which offers a thorough overview of the Emerald Coast's myriad of landscapes. History buffs, outdoorsy types, and beach bums can all find plenty to do and see at this vast park.

- The Local Expert Team

Take in the pristine beauty of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches through the states of Mississippi and Florida. The majority of this vast park consists of submerged lands, but there is plenty above water to keep you dazzled and entertained. This diverse landscape includes maritime forests, bayous, and gorgeous marine habitat. Whether your idea of outdoor fun involves hiking, birdwatching, fishing, or soaking in the sun, you’ll love every moment of your Gulf Islands adventure.

At first glance, the sheer scope of the Gulf Islands National Seashore can seem overwhelming. The park spans over 160 miles, so it can be difficult to decide where to visit and what to do while you’re there. Thankfully, the park is divided into regional sections known as ‘areas.’ These make it easier to plan your visit. Favorites in Florida include the Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks, Santa Rosa, and Perdido Key Areas. Each area offers unique scenery and attractions. The facilities vary dramatically from one area to the next, but in general, you can expect to find clean and well-maintained amenities.

A few of our favorite activities and amenities include the following:

Ample fishing opportunities are available throughout the Florida portion of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Keep in mind that, if you intend to visit both the park’s Florida and Mississippi areas, you’ll need to invest in multiple fishing licenses. However, you can avoid fishing with a license if you stick to the Fort Pickens Fishing Pier, which maintains a strict two-pole limit.

Enjoy your dream beach day at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which boasts many miles of shoreline suited to both swimming and wading. You’ll find beaches with lifeguards at the Santa Rosa, Fort Pickens, and Perdido Key Areas. Swimming elsewhere is permitted, but at your own risk. Keep an eye out for the changing colors of the park’s beach flags, which alert visitors to hazards. When two red flags are present, the beaches are closed to the public.

From short strolls to extended treks, hikes are available for every level of fitness. If you’re not feeling particularly ambitious, stick with the highly accessible Perdido Key Discovery Trail or the Brackenridge Nature Trail at the Naval Live Oaks Area. If you’re ready to test your limits and burn some extra calories, be sure to hit up the Gulf Islands segments of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Especially beautiful hiking can be found along the seven-mile segments of the Santa Rosa and Fort Pickens Areas.

Historic Sites
If your idea of a good time involves touring a historic fort, you’re in luck: you’ll find a variety of historic sites throughout the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Top spots worth checking out include Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas. The park offers self-guided tours, which you can download to your mobile device. At Fort Pickens, you’ll also find an indoor discovery center that offers additional insight into the area’s fascinating history. Likewise, Fort Barrancas has a visitor center staffed by rangers and volunteers.

If possible, set aside several days to explore the diverse offerings of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. On land or in the water, you’ll be taken aback by the sheer scope of this park’s natural beauty.

Insider Tips:
-The Gulf Islands National Seashore is far more vast than most visitors realize. Do your homework to get a full sense for the range of activities and amenities available. Unless you have several weeks to spare, you won’t be able to tackle the entire park at once. Instead, select one of the highlighted areas to explore in-depth each day.
-Keep an eye on the events page at the National Park Service website, where you’ll find a variety of guided tours and other activities. Several of these are scheduled weekly — and many are led by knowledgeable and experienced rangers.