10 Fun Things To Do at Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens

Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens, Florida

Located along the Emerald Coast of the Florida panhandle, we are sharing the best things to do at Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens.

The island has miles of sugar-white sand beaches perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing. Along with outdoor recreation, Santa Rosa Island and the Fort Pickens area is home to a famous fort full of war history sites you can tour.

The Fort Pickens Area

Fort Pickens Beach areas
Fort Pickens Beach areas.

Before we get into the article, I want to clarify something. Fort Pickens is used kind of loosely.

There is an actual fort called Fort Pickens. In addition, there is a campground called Fort Pickens, and the portion of Gulf Islands National Seashore along Santa Rosa Island is referred to as the Fort Pickens area. Knowing this will help you plan your trip as you read “Fort Pickens” everywhere.

Things To Do at Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens

Views of the Gulf Islands Fort Pickens area
The Gulf Islands Fort Pickens campground and beach area.

Gulf Islands National Seashore is a delight for nature and beach lovers. The park features beautiful beaches, marshes teeming with wildlife, and picturesque sunrises and sunsets.

There are great fishing opportunities near shore for anglers. In addition, birdwatchers will find an abundance of coastal birds like Osprey, Black Skimmers, and American Oystercatchers to watch and photograph.

1. Do a Self-Guided Tour of Fort Pickens – The Fort

Views of Fort Pickens
Touring Fort Pickens.

Called “the Guardian of the Gulf,” Fort Pickens is a popular attraction at the park. It is a brick fort located on a bluff overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of Interior in 1972.

Visitors can do a self-guided tour and walk around the grounds. It is interesting to see everything and read more about the history. The fort was originally built to protect Pensacola Bay. It even has original cannons on display.

2. Swim and Sunbathe at the Beach

View of Fort Pickens Beach
Fort Pickens Beach.

Santa Rosa Island is home to sugar-fine, white sand beaches perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and walking the beach. The emerald blue waters will take your breath away.

There are places to access the water all along the island, including Langdon Beach. Stay on designated trails or boardwalks to protect the sand dunes.

3. Hike Along Santa Rosa Island

Hiking at Fort Pickens
Hiking at Fort Pickens.

With miles of trails, you might enjoy hiking the:

  • Florida National Scenic Trail,
  • Fort Pickens Trail,
  • Blackbird Marsh Trail, or
  • Fort Pickens Dune Nature Trail.

To get trail maps on your cell phone, download the AllTrails app. We love this free app to find hikes when traveling.

4. Watch for Wildlife and Birds on the Gulf Islands

Baby Osprey in the nest along the Blackbird Marsh Trail.

Visitors can see a variety of plants and wildlife at Fort Pickens. There are hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, dolphins, and more.

We loved seeing the nesting Osprey in the spring the first year we visited. The second year we visited, we saw a small pod of dolphins from the beach. It was awesome.

5. Fish Along the Coast

Fishing at Fort Pickens
Fishing Pier at Fort Pickens.

Fish right from the coastline. There is a fishing pier near the fort on the bay side, too.

6. Enjoy a Sunrise

Gulf Islands inter-coastal trail.

For an early morning adventure, head down to the Gulf side of the island to watch the sunrise. The sparkling water and golden skies are breathtaking sights.

7. Catch the Sunset

Catch a sunset on the Pensacola Bay side of the island. With miles of undeveloped coastline and pristine beaches, it’s the perfect place to take in nature’s beauty.

8. Camp at Fort Pickens

View of Fort Pickens Campground
Camping at Fort Pickens Campground.

There are over 200 campsites here. The campground is RV, motorhome, van, and tent-friendly. Make reservations using recreation.gov in advance because the campground books months in advance.

We loved camping here: We stayed in Camp Area E and could walk right to the beach. Check out our article about camping at Fort Pickens Campground for more details.

9. Watch the Navy’s Blue Angels

Blue Angels flying right over us at Fort Pickens.

The Blue Angels have a practice schedule. Since they are based out of Pensacola, and depending on when you visit the area, you might be able to catch a show. Check out the Blue Angels practice and events schedule if you are interested in seeing them while you visit.

10. Kayak Around the Islands

Blackbird Marsh Trail hike along the island.

If you like ocean kayaking, Gulf Islands National Seashore is a neat place. You’ll get to explore miles of pristine coastline and backcountry camping.

There are places to rent kayaks near Pensacola Beach.

Where is the Gulf Islands National Seashore Located?

Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens is located along Pensacola Bay off Gulf Breeze Parkway.

This national park stretches from Cat Island, Mississippi, to Santa Rosa Island in Florida, protecting over 160 miles of coastline in total.

Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens Map

Other Questions You May Have While Planning Your Trip

Does Fort Pickens have a beach?

Yes, Langdon Beach is the main beach area (with parking and a pavilion) facing the Gulf of Mexico.

However, there are multiple places to access the water along the island. You can access the beaches from trails and boardwalks near the campground and the fort.

Can you swim at Gulf Islands National Seashore?

Yes, you can swim here. Be mindful of weather conditions and rip tides. The beaches have flags designating water conditions for safety.

Can you walk around Fort Pickens?

Yes, walking around the fort is surreal. You can go in and out of a lot of spaces. It is interesting to explore and read the historical signs around the facility.

Make sure the park is open

Due to the nature of Gulf Coast storms and how low-lying the barrier island is, always check with the Fort Pickens Area National Park Service before planning a trip to ensure the road is open.

We visited in May 2021, and the road flooded. The island was closed temporarily for a few hours. We visited again in May 2022, and the water was calm and crystal clear. It was paradise.

Is there an entrance fee for Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens?

Yes, there is an entrance fee to enter the park. It is $25 for a week. The Annual National Park Pass is accepted here.

Are dogs allowed on the beach?

No, however, there is a dog-dedicated beach not too far from the park entrance, closer to Pensacola Beach. You’ll see the signs for the dog park on the Gulf side.

Dogs are allowed on the trails.

Trail near Fort Pickens Campground Camp Area E.

When is the best time of year to visit?

The best time to visit is in the spring. The weather temperatures are pleasant, and the park is not crowded. The summer humidity hasn’t quite kicked in.

We visited in mid-May during the middle of the week, and there were no crowds. It was beautiful.

For snowbirds, it is a great vacation spot for folks escaping the colder northern parts of the US.

Are you traveling through Florida? If you’re headed to the Keys, learn more about Christ of the Abyss Scuba Diving Site.

More Things To Do in the Area

Driving, Perdido Key is located about an hour away. You can visit another part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore from Perdido Key. Big Lagoon State Park and Perdido Key State Park are also worth checking out.

Get more info here:

Things To Consider While Visiting the Sunshine State

Being along the Gulf of Mexico, consider the weather. Be agile and flexible when planning a trip. The weather could be sunny and beautiful or windy and stormy. Hurricane season is June-November in Florida.

Have Fun Visiting

People come from all over the world, lured by the sugar sand beaches, to visit the Gulf Coast’s barrier islands.

Santa Rosa Island is a gem. The national seashore offers stunning natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor adventure. From sunrises over the water to dolphin sightings, there’s plenty to see and do in this coastal paradise. If you enjoy visiting national parks, you’ll love the Gulf Islands.

Safe travels.

Ashlee & Pablo

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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation and travel writer sharing the best-kept secrets that aren’t in your typical guidebook. Her goal is to inspire people to travel with a sense of adventure by sharing hidden gems across the U.S. and beyond. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo. They camp in their Aliner often and love wandering the world. Follow their latest adventures on Instagram @thehappinessfxn.


  1. Denise on January 28, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    I love all of the wildlife! Gulf Islands National Seashore looks like a great place to visit!

    • Ashlee Fechino on January 29, 2022 at 11:52 am

      Hi Denise! It is a fantastic place to see wildlife. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Susanna on January 27, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    Wow, the gulf islands national seashore looks like a beautiful spot. I am all about hiking, camping, and birding, so this definitely needs to go on my list of places to visit in the U.S. Those Osprey nests are so cool!

    • Ashlee Fechino on January 27, 2022 at 2:57 pm

      Susanna – you would love exploring this part of Florida. It is teaming with wildlife! We can’t wait to go back.

  3. Bea on January 26, 2022 at 11:28 pm

    It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Florida. And I’m always looking for new places to visit there. Thanks for the inspiration – a new one for my bucket list.

    • Ashlee Fechino on January 27, 2022 at 2:56 pm

      Hi Bea – thanks for reading. Gulf Islands National Seashore is such a great beach destination in the south!

  4. Linzey on November 5, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    Hey, this is really cool! I hadn’t heard about this at all before. It seems like such a neat combination of beach, nature, history and wildlife. Thank you so much for putting this together and sharing! – Linzey @thefamilyfuntour

    • Ashlee Fechino on November 5, 2021 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks for reading, Linzey! We are so happy you enjoyed this article. It was a fun place to explore. We can’t wait to go back to Florida. Have a nice winter!

  5. Clarice on November 4, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Fort Pickens (the actual fort) looks like it’d be super cool to explore. It reminds me of Fort Stevens up here in the PNW, which is also open to the public to explore. I love the history behind these places!

    • Ashlee Fechino on November 4, 2021 at 11:14 am

      Hi Clarice! Thanks for sharing! I will look up Fort Stevens in the PNW. We have been wanting to spend more time in that part of the U.S.

  6. Linda (LD Holland) on November 3, 2021 at 10:52 pm

    We are definitely craving a beach vacation. So good to read about Gulf Islands Seashore Fort Pickens in Florida. It would be a great change from the standard Florida spots. Long stretches of sugar fine white sand would be perfect. And options for hiking would ensure lots of outdoor time.

    • Ashlee Fechino on November 4, 2021 at 11:14 am

      Hi Linda! When we visited – it was pretty quiet. It was not crowded. That’s our style! Hope you can enjoy Florida this winter. We will definitely go back.

  7. Karen on November 3, 2021 at 7:22 pm

    I have always wanted to kayak along the Gulf Islands and camp. Did you see kayakers? The pictures make me want to plan that trip sooner than later.

    • Ashlee Fechino on November 4, 2021 at 11:13 am

      Hi Karen – kayaking sounds so fun! We did not see kayakers on this trip. It was actually really windy and there were red flag warnings.

  8. Amy on November 3, 2021 at 5:49 pm

    The blackbird marsh trail looks lovely!

    • Ashlee Fechino on November 4, 2021 at 11:11 am

      Hi Amy! It was really cool. We had a blast hiking along the island.

  9. Burt Randall on October 29, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    This was another fun article to read, especially about the fort and fishing. HAVE FUN guys !!

    • Ashlee Fechino on October 31, 2021 at 1:13 pm

      Hi Uncle Burt! Thanks for reading and stopping by! So nice to hear from you!