Go to Fort Pickens If You’re Into Birding, Fishing, Surfing, Hiking, Shell Hunting, Dolphin Spotting, or Just Being a Beach Bum
The fort is in this pink circle on the aerial photo. The campground is in the green circle and the red line is the walking path from the campground to the fort.
Technically, the fort, campground, and beach are all separate. That said, they’re all located in Gulf Islands National Seashore on an island shared with the city of Pensacola Beach. The campground just uses the name of Fort Pickens.
Above: The Gulf Islands National Seashore – click to enlarge
The beach is a very short walk from the campground on a very nice boardwalk through the beach dunes. The beach itself is long and wide with pretty white sand. It is great for wading and looking for seashells. Quite a few people were fishing on the beach, and a few were attempting to surf.
We also saw numerous schools of Bottlenose Dolphins swimming just offshore.
Above: Brenda enjoying the beach
Bird Watching At Fort Pickens
There were some good opportunities for seeing wildlife in the park. The park provided a checklist to help keep track of your bird sightings. Evidently there are 345 bird species in the park.
The most entertaining birds we found were the Ospreys. There were quite a few pairs with nests of babies in the trees all through the campground and surrounding dunes. The parents constantly flew to the beach to grab a fish out of the ocean – without going under water – and then flew back to the nest repeatedly all day long. Many bird watchers were seen with binoculars in hand.
The shore birds are protected. Apparently 50% of last year’s Snowy Plover chicks were killed crossing the road in the park. To protect the chicks, the park has a maximum speed limit of twenty miles per hour.
Fort Pickens Campground Site Selection
We made our reservations several months in advance, but based on the number of campers in the campground, advance reservations were not necessary in mid-April.
Before you make an online reservation, carefully look at the described length of each campsite. The 40-foot sites were reserved months in advance by Class A motorhome owners. The shorter sites were more available, but their length was described on the website as short as 20-feet long.
As this photograph shows, there is heavy vegetation at the end of the shorter sites. A truck camper could not have any room to open a rear camper door or slide out a rear slide if this was the selected site. We chose a longer site and had plenty of room for accessing the truck camper door.
Another thing to be aware of is that they are remodeling the shower house and the one in Loop A is brand new. The one in loop D is very old. It is in acceptable condition, just not very up-to-date.
Also, there are extremely bright yard lights on the shower houses. If you want to see the stars at night, I’d recommend selecting a campsite at a distance from the shower houses. The campsite had water and electrical connections for $28 per night. There is also a separate $8 one week entry fee for the Gulf Islands National Seashore.