Take a walk on the "wild" side on your next vacation to Panama City Beach with these family fun activities that take you on an ecological adventure! Northwest Florida is often referred to as “The Undiscovered Florida Coast,” due to the abundance of the natural environment. The Panama City Beach area is a key region where diverse and rare species flourish, and where many travelers explore natural wonders and enjoy outdoor adventures. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike and bird watch along scenic trails; camp along the shore; enjoy unparalleled boating, fishing, and diving; take kayaking tours; go off-road cycling; stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and more.
In addition, Panama City Beach provides distinctive wildlife viewing opportunities. From exotic animals at the zoo and bottle-nosed dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico to alligators and egrets in the marshes and dune lakes, wildlife thrives in this area. And, with everything from airboat adventures to glass-bottom boat tours and hiking trails among the state parks, there are many ways to experience and observe the surrounding wildlife.
Panama City Beach officials – along with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Corp of Engineers, and the Florida Department of Fish & Wildlife – developed an innovative system to restore thousands of acres of protected wetlands, leading to the creation of the newly opened 2,900-acre Conservation Park.
Visitors can enjoy the Conservation Park’s boardwalks and 24 miles of unpaved trails as they hike, bicycle, or run loops that range from half-a-mile to 12-miles. Gayle’s Trails connects the Conservation Park trails with other trail systems throughout the beach and honors one of the project’s visionaries, Mayor Gayle Oberst. Public restrooms, picnic areas, a guide to local flora & fauna, and a pavilion are located near the main parking lot, and an outdoor classroom provides a venue for group educational and enrichment opportunities. Additionally, eight boardwalks totaling over a mile in length are scattered throughout the park, providing excellent viewing of natural wetland areas.
One of the most popular outdoor recreation spots in Florida, St. Andrews State Park is characterized by rolling, white sand dunes separated by low swales of pinewoods and marshes. Visitors are encouraged to hike the Blue Heron Trail that winds through myriad plant communities. Here, freshwater and saltwater marshes teem with wildlife and birds. The Gator Lake Trail provides visitors with an elevated vantage point for spotting alligators and a variety of waterfowl, wading birds and other small animals. Button Bush Marsh is a favorite feeding place for a variety of birds including herons and ibis.
The 1,260-acre area, located on the eastern edge of Panama City Beach, has more than 1.5 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico and the Grand Lagoon. Swimming, diving and snorkeling can be enjoyed in the Gulf and in the shallow, protected pool behind the jetties. A deep-sea jetty and surf fishing offer opportunities for anglers, as do two fishing piers, a boat ramp and concession stands. For visitors who want to get the most of this outdoor experience, two campground loops are nestled in the pine woods along the Grand Lagoon.
Shell Island, a pristine barrier island situated just across the shipping channel from the mainland, is a 7-mile undeveloped island that provides a peaceful spot to relax in nature or snorkel. The area surrounding the island is home to one of the largest concentrations of bottle-nose dolphins in the country. Shuttle boats are available to bring guests to the island in the spring and summer months.
Explore the exotic animals at Zoo World in Panama City Beach by cuddling with a lemur or feeding giraffes and alligators at the zoo. With more than 200 animals on display consisting of lions and tigers, wolves, prairie dogs and monkeys, your little ones will love this smaller yet much more interactive spot on their vacation.
Abutting the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell, Camp Helen State Park is located in westernmost Panama City Beach. The lake is one of the largest coastal dune lakes in the world, providing visitors with a unique look at the coast’s diverse environment. From dunes and marshes to wetlands and pines, this park gives guests a snapshot of plants and wildlife in a variety of ecosystems. Along with beach access, the park offers nature trails, biking, picnic areas and wildlife viewing areas.
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