6.9 miles. At the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island, after one last stroll along the shimmering sands of the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Trail comes to its Northern Terminus in the shadow of the most important historic sites in Northwest Florida, Fort Pickens.
Reaching the front gate of Fort Pickens, long distance hikers can feel their goal. The Northern Terminus of the Florida Trail lies ahead at the end of this section of trail, signaling completion of a hike from one end of Florida to the other. But this isn’t an easy wrapup, despite being at sea level. It’s entirely out in the open, blasted by the wind and drenched by the sun. But the sense of completion, and the weight of history, make this a compelling walk.
Dogs are not permitted along the beach section of this hike between the front gate and Langdon Beach, but may accompany you down the “Fort Pickens Trail” portion of the hike between Battery Langdon and Fort Pickens. There is a $10 per person or $20 per vehicle entrance fee to Gulf Islands National Seashore at Fort Pickens.
Make plans before you get here as to how you want to tackle the linear hike. Ideally, you can get dropped off outside the gate and walk into the Fort Pickens Unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Before you start your walk, make sure you have enough water with you before tackling this long beach walk along the Gulf of Mexico, as it’s almost five miles to the next water source. There are beach restrooms just outside the gate, but during the prime winter hiking months, they are closed and only a portable toilet is available.
If you don’t have the option of being dropped off outside the park, we suggest you use Langdon Beach parking area as your pivot point for an out-and-back hike in each direction, covering 13.8 miles altogether. That way, you have restrooms and water available in the middle of your walk. If the beach parking is full, park across the street at Battery Langdon.
This section of the Florida Trail is at the end of Fort Pickens Rd off CR 399 in Pensacola Beach. Use US 98 from Pensacola to reach Pensacola Beach.
This trek is in two very distinct parts: the beach walk and the Fort Pickens Trail. An orange blaze on a post leads you towards the beach as soon as you step inside the gate at Fort Pickens.
From here, it’s a simple walk along the sandy shore for nearly five miles, with no breaks from the shade. It’s delightful to walk alongside the waves and have no tall buildings to stare at, which is why we recommend walking west. It’s also more compelling to be walking towards the Northern Terminus of the Florida Trail.
While there is not a lot in the way of features along this stretch of beach, watch for bird life. We saw pelicans and a bald eagle along the way. Except at low tide when a bit of firm sand is exposed, the sand is soft, which makes for tough going at times. In general, it’s best to walk near the water.
At Langdon Beach, the Florida Trail leaves the beach. It’s a welcome relief to find shade at the beach pavilion, as well as restrooms and water.
Look for the FNST sign on the far side of the parking lot. Cross Fort Pickens Road, walking into the entrance road into Battery Langdon past another parking area.
At 5 miles, join the second portion of this hike, the Fort Pickens Trail. It starts behind a “service vehicles only” sign on a gravel road leading west from the parking area. Dogs and bicycles are permitted along this causeway through the salt marshes. You’ll notice many ospreys nesting in the tall pines.
After passing a side loop, the Blackbird Marsh Trail, the Florida Trail pops out into the Fort Pickens Campground. Follow the blazes straight ahead right past the campsites into Battery Worth.
West of this historic site, the trail becomes a well-marked path and tends to be pretty busy. You walk through a pretty rosemary bald and alongside marshes where turtles gather on high spots.
After crossing the wooden bridge, look for the official Florida Trail Northern Terminus marker tucked under a frame of bricks that mimic the interior architecture of the fort itself. It’s very low to the ground, so a little tricky for that selfie.
Trail’s end is up ahead, just outside the entrance to the fort itself. Pop inside and visit the gift shop to sign the trail register and get a commemorative National Parks stamp for the trail.
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Pensacola Beach