Beaches in the Big Bend are rare, since this stretch of shoreline is defined by coastal estuaries and there is a lack of barrier islands.
Still, in the sweep of the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico between Apalachicola and Cedar Key, you’ll find slim ribbons and tiny patches of beach.
At Bald Point State Park, the beach walk takes you around the tip of a slender peninsula to where Ochlockonee Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.
The walk culminates in a boardwalk through the estuary to the bay. Sweeping views, colorful blossoms, and scurrying shorebirds add to the fun.
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Location: Alligator Point
Length: 1.3 mile loop
Address: 146 Box Cut Rd, Alligator Point
Fees: $4 per vehicle, $2 pedestrian or cyclist
Restroom: at the parking area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open sunrise to sunset daily. Dogs are not permitted on the beach.
Sunscreen and a hat are suggested for this hike, since the majority of the walk is in full sun.
Carry insect repellent, as you may need it in the estuary for the mosquitoes. Yellowflies can be a major problem here in early summer. Unfortunately, repellent doesn’t work on them.
From Tallahassee, follow US 319 to US 98 at Medart. Drive west on US 98 through Panacea to Ochlockonee Bay, crossing the bay on a long bridge. Continue one mile to SR 370, the road to Alligator Point. Follow this road for 3 miles to the turnoff for Bald Point Road. Follow Bald Point Road into the park entrance.
Since we initially hiked this as an out-and-back beach walk to the estuary boardwalk, we’re delighted to discover the park has added a footpath to make this a loop now called the Maritime Hammock Loop.
The hike begins at the first parking area after the main gate. A sidewalk leads through the coastal scrub, past restrooms and pretty picnic shelters to a boardwalk protecting the dunes.
The core beauty of this park is its solitude. You may encounter other visitors walking the sandy strand or soaking in the sun, but they will be few.
It is remote and calm here, with the sounds of cicadas, shorebirds and surf echoing in your ears. Fishing boats lie at anchor a mile or more offshore in the mouth of Ochlocknee Bay.
Shimmering schools of baitfish lie close to the surface of the sea as you exit the boardwalk and turn left to walk along the firm sands.
The shorebirds put up a perpetual chatter as your shoes squeak on the sand – perhaps you’d rather walk barefoot?
It’s an easy walk along the strand, and a time for contemplation, a mindful walk. The sea oats on your left are mimicked by the pine forest beyond; the waves, a constant strum.
You see the channel markings now, that lead into Ochlockonee Bay. Stilts race down the sand, past a dead horseshoe crab washed ashore in sea wrack.
When you reach the weathered finger of a tree that protrudes from the beach, you’ve walked 0.4 mile in the sun.
Beyond, you can see picnic shelters in the distance as the beach curves towards the bay. It is shallow here, and fishermen wade waist-deep although more than 100 feet offshore.
The coastal scrub curves to parallel the beach. From here you can see Mashes Sands, Wakulla County’s best-known beach on the far shore.
Stilts and gulls cluster in whistling gatherings at the point, where they know the fish are gathering as well.
At half a mile, you reach a hiker symbol sign beckoning you across the dunes. Turn left and follow the path.
Compared to the beach, it is more of a trudge through extremely soft sand, away from the shoreline.
As soon as you step over the dune, the strum of the shore disappears. Walk through an open coastal grassland on a trail defined by the rangers’ ATV tracks, dipping through swales.
As you reach the treeline, a low canopy of maritime hammock, relax in the shade of the bench.
The trail pops out at the far parking area, the end of the road. Cross the parking area to where the bench is, and follow the path, a concrete sidewalk to start, to the marsh.
A pretty lagoon sits off to the right. To the left, there’s a bench in the shade, and beyond it, a broad sweep of estuary fringed by pine woods.
A few more steps, and the trail, becoming a boardwalk, is surrounded by the estuary.
At 0.9 mile, trail’s end is at a platform overlooking the estuary and Ochlockonee Bay beyond, nearly 360 degrees of beauty. Houses do dot the far shore.
The air is imbued with the salt of the coast. A memorial bench provides a place to settle in for some serious birding.
Breathe in the salt air and calm, the chirp of cicadas, the birdsong. Then return back to the bench in the maritime hammock.
Follow the trail south through the hammock, paralleling the park road but in a delightful amount of shade.
Fungi rises from the oak duff, and wildflowers spill across the sandy spots.
Yaupon holly thrives in the understory. The windswept oaks are covered in shield lichen and Spanish moss.
Returning to the starting point at the paved path, the trail ends, making for a 1.3 mile hike.
Learn about the other trails you can hike or bike at Bald Point State Park
See our photos of Bald Point State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On 2.6 miles of nature trails, immerse in the sandhills and pine flatwoods habitats of the Ochlockonee River basin at Ochlockonee River State Park.
Myron B. Hodge City Park offers a nature trail where you can linger along the Sopchoppy River amid the sweet spring scent of Florida azalea.
4.1 miles. Following the gentle curves of the Sopchoppy River in the Apalachicola National Forest, this section of the Florida Trail is one of the most scenic hikes on the trail.