If you’ve ever wanted to scramble up and down Florida dunes, here’s your chance! This part of Santa Rosa Island is a coastal desert that the Florida Trail weaves up and over. The Florida Trail is the only National Scenic Trail to meander along a beach—the beaches of Santa Rosa Island—and this is one of the few spots on the island where it shifts to the bay side for a scramble through enormous dunes. Drawing close to Santa Rosa Sound, the trail provides a look at a maritime hammock and needlerush marshes as well, but most of your time is spent clambering in and out of the deep windblown bowls in the shifting sands.
Location: Pensacola Beach
Length: 3.8 miles
Fees / Permits: none
Bug factor: Low
This is a day use area, entirely in the open, with no shade. Carry plenty of water. Hiking poles are a must, as is a good sense of navigation between the blaze posts, since the wind obscures the footpath with fresh sand on a daily basis.
From Pensacola Beach, follow SR 399 east towards Navarre. This segment of the Florida Trail is on the bay side of the road between the beginning of the Pensacola Bicycle Trail and Parking Area 9. Look for a Florida National Scenic Trail sign at the trail crossing from the beach, best accessed from Parking Area 9.
At the FNST sign, follow the footpath – marked by posts – into the dunes on the bay side of CR 399. This is one of the rare places in Florida where you can hike up and over large sand dunes. Orange-blazed posts lead you out to a beach on Pensacola Bay, and then back south through massive bowls of sand before reaching a coastal hammock, the Oasis. Because of the open nature of this preserve and the constant movement of the sand, it’s easy to lose the footpath. Scout the next blaze post ahead of you. If you can’t figure out where you should be, head due south to reach CR 399 and west to the Pensacola Bicycle Path. Winding through the enormous dunes, the trail crosses stretches of black needlerush salt marsh and works its way west into the shadow of a large condo complex before heading south to meet the Pensacola Bicycle Path again.
0.0 Crossing at CR 399
2.7 The Oasis
3.8 Emerge on Pensacola Bicycle Path