Naval Live Oaks Preserve outside Pensacola was our nation’s first tree farm, established in 1828 by President John Quincy Adams to protect a significant coastal stand of live oaks for military use. In those days, our navy’s ships were made of wood, and Pensacola was a significant deep-water coastal port. Once a supply of live oak was no longer considered important for national security, the land remained under federal protection, eventually becoming part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches west across three states. Trails at this preserve meander through ancient dunes along both sides of the island, with one following the historic Pensacola-St. Augustine Rd, offering exploration of a variety of coastal habitats.
Location: Gulf Breeze
Length: 0.8 to 30 miles
Type: Loop and linear
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Bug factor: Low to moderate
Restroom: Yes, at visitor center
This federal preserve, part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, is open 8 AM to sunset, and the Visitor Center is open from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily except Christmas. Take the time to orient yourself at the Visitor Center before striking out on the trail system.
Bicycles are permitted on many of the trails. Use caution crossing US 98 due to high speed traffic—and the fact drivers don’t expect to see pedestrians crossing in the woods.
Carry plenty of water. Hurricanes stripped out a lot of the canopy in 2004-2005, so there is minimal shade.
From Pensacola, follow US 98 east over the Pensacola Bay Bridge to Gulf Breeze. Continue east into the preserve and park at the visitor center. The Breckenridge Nature Trail starts behind the center near the lookout over Santa Rosa Sound.
The primary trail that most visitors take the time to explore is the 0.8-mile Breckenridge Nature Trail, named for Henry Breckenridge, the forester who oversaw the preserve. It provides overlooks over Santa Rosa Sound and interpretation of the naval use of live oaks. The main trail system starts across US 98. It can be accessed from the nature trail.