Stretching across three Gulf Coast states, Gulf Islands National Seashore protects portions of the barrier islands between Navarre Beach, Florida and Gulfport, Mississippi.
Lat-Lon: 30.324873, -87.192195
Fees: Access to Naval Live Oaks is free. Beach unit access $10 per car (pass good for one week) or $5 per individual; special pass available for after hours access to Fort Pickens. See full details.
Open: Depends on unit. Some are open 24 hours, some are open sunrise to sunset.
After Pensacola was selected to be a federal naval yard in the early 1800s, four forts were built (or shored up) to protect it. Originally built by the British Royal Navy as a log redoubt in 1763, Fort Barrancas sits on a hill above the western shore of Pensacola Bay. The Spanish added their touches in 1797, and the fort went through another update between 1839 and 1844, supervised by Major William H. Chase. The nearby Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas was built between 1845 and 1859 to protect the Pensacola Naval Yard but was never used. Fort McRee on Perdido Key dated back to 1834, with 128 cannons trained on the entrance to Pensacola Bay. It succumbed to erosion by wind and waves over the decades; only a single battery built in 1942 remains. But of the four forts, Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island has the most storied history. All of Pensacola’s forts are part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Only Fort McRee is inaccessible (except to divers), as it slipped beneath the surface of Pensacola Bay decades ago.
Fort Pickens is the northern terminus of the statewide Florida Trail, which also passes through Opal Beach, a seasonally-open unit of the park on Santa Rosa Island. Vast stretches of beach are open to the public in the various units. Coastal forests and bayous are also protected by this 216-square-mile National Park.
Explore the park
- Florida Trail, Fort Pickens - At the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island, after a beach walk along the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Trail reaches its Northern Terminus at historic Fort Pickens.
- Fort Pickens - History buffs, beachgoers, campers, and hikers looking for an oceanfront experience will enjoy all that Fort Pickens has to offer.
- Naval Live Oaks Preserve - 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