If you prefer your Florida relatively remote, unpopulated, and wild, you might enjoy visiting a unique national park. Stretching 160 miles from Mississippi’s Cat Island to the eastern tip of Florida’s Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore is a great way to explore the Gulf Coast’s natural and historical features.
You can be as active as you care to be while setting your own pace: opportunities for swimming, bicycling, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, beachcombing, wildlife watching, boating, and camping abound. The seashore offers well-maintained trails and picnic areas, comfortable campgrounds, and museums and visitor centers at Naval Live Oaks, Fort Pickens, and Fort Barrancas.
What is Naval Live Oaks? It’s the country’s first federal tree farm in the Florida panhandle. President John Quincy Adams wanted to preserve the timber found in the stand of sturdy live oak trees for shipbuilding purposes, so he established Naval Live Oaks in 1829. Markers along the trail that meanders through the preserve identify sections of trees that were particularly valuable in the era of wooden ships. Some of the timber from the early 1800s is still preserved underwater in Commodore’s Pond, and some was used during a recent restoration of the USS Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides.”
A week-long pass to the seashore will set you back just $8. For $25, you can buy a pass good for a whole year, which is popular among the locals. For more information: nps.gov/guis, or thingstodo.com/states/FL/nationalparks/gulfislands.html.