A sketch of “Eric’s Sea Monster” is in the visitor center at Camp Helen State Park, overlooking Powell Lake, one of the largest freshwater coastal dune lakes in the world. These lakes are rare biological and geological gems, found only on the coasts of Australia and Africa and along this stretch of the Gulf of Mexico between Panama City Beach and Destin.
Location: Panama City Beach
Fees: $4 per vehicle
Open: 8 AM until sunset daily
Leashed pets welcome except on beach
A collection of 1930s log-and-stone cottages and a lodge in the Civilian Conservation Corps style sit on a high bluff overlooking the Gulf and the lake, and served as a vacation retreat for employees of the Avondale Textile Mills in Alabama between 1945 and 1987. Each fall, the Friends of Camp Helen State Park hold a history-and-ghost walk to recapture the spirits of the past.
Beyond the sea monster, the real secret of Camp Helen State Park is its prime beach access, a walk down a breezy causeway between the lakes—and a perfect spot for a morning sun and swim. The newest section of the park, across US 98 on the north side of the highway, has an accessible trail showcasing a variety of habitats.