Being a Florida native, I am always looking for the best places to camp in Florida when we come back on vacation! Not only is it generally cheaper than a hotel, but you get to experience so much more of the area being in touch with nature. Several times we have gone camping in Fort Pickens in Pensacola – it’s definitely our go-to camping spot in the area.
Can you walk to the beach from Fort Pickens Campground?
Yes absolutely! Aside from the cheap price to camp, this was my biggest question! Fort Pickens is SO much bigger than I had expected. You CAN walk or bike around, but we usually opt to drive since we’ve got kids and usually go when it’s pretty hot out!
Aside from beach access, there are also great hiking trails including the Florida National Scenic Trail! As packed and busy as the park says they are, there is SO MUCH ROOM and land that it’s easy to find your own secluded spot here. Although we tend to stay off season due to our work schedule.
A note about Florida wildlife – do NOT touch anything that you aren’t 100% sure of what it is! Above are two different types of jellyfish that washed up on shore – one of which is a Portuguese man-of-war. I can guarantee you that this will ruin your trip if you touch it! Please pre-warn your kids as well.
You’ll also occasionally find floating comb jelly which look like small ping pong ball sizes clear blobs. Florida has an amazing diversity of wildlife to enjoy.
While I have not found the best seashells on the beaches by Fort Pickens, you can drive down to Navarre beach for some better shelling options – especially first thing in the morning before the crowds come! Believe it or not we actually found a large shark’s tooth once which was rare!
How much does it cost to stay at Fort Pickens Campground?
I definitely recommend going through their website for the most up to date information here, but when we visited it cost around $26 per night for tent camping. While there is no general camp store on site, there is access to laundry and a dump station for RVs. You can also find a National Park Service gift shop too.
Any time we have been, the campgrounds have been quiet enough and have perfectly suited our needs – which is to be close to the beaches! You definitely can’t beat the price and location!
How much does it cost to go to Fort Pickens?
You’ll need to pay around $25 per vehicle to get into the Gulf Islands National Seashore area (Fort Pickens included!) – BUT the great thing is that this pass is good for up to 7 days! So if you’re camping here a week or less you’re all set with the one fee.
The National Seashore ALSO extends into Mississippi so if you happen to be going to both areas, the one fee for the Gulf Islands National Seashore covers BOTH locations. You can view all of the current entrance fees here.
Is Fort Pickens a military base?
It was! It’s no longer an active military base, but it absolutely has a long military history from the early 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. In fact it’s one of the largest brick forts built in the United States! It is now part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and you can explore the area on your own! As you can see from the photos in this post, there is a LOT of ground to cover! And this is only part of it!
There are canons, there are dark tunnels and hallways, and there are amazing scenic views. There is even a “hidden” closed off entrance in the sand dunes. Fort Pickens is definitely a must visit place!
Is there fishing at Fort Pickens?
YES! Man we had a BLAST fishing at Fort Pickens! There is a pier you can drive to inside the park grounds, but anytime we’ve been the pier has been packed so we have opted to fish on shore with the kids. At least until the crowd clears out a bit then we move up to the pier.
We’ve still caught some sizeable red drum offshore this way and it was great for the kids that want to run around in the sand! I do recommend having a flashlight or phone lights at night though because it is difficult to see.
Recommendations for Camping in Fort Pickens:
I highly recommend coming well prepared. There is no “quick and easy” place to shop for supplies. You’ll need to go into Pensacola away from the beaches for shopping – and it’s a bit of a trek.
Sunscreen is an absolute must – no matter what time of year it is. The sun is never on vacation in Florida!
I do also recommend bringing bug spray – we typically don’t need it being off of the beaches but we keep it on hand in case we do. If you have kids, make sure you bring some sand toys!
Don’t forget any fishing gear (this includes a possible fishing license), camping gear, etc. that you want. You can use grills at the campground only (not at the beach) as well as campfires (again, campgrounds only).
*FISHING LICENSE – You do NOT need a fishing license if you are planning on fishing from the Fort Pickens pier! However, if you plan to fish elsewhere, please make sure you know the rules. You can see specific Fort Pickens fishing regulations here.
There are LOADS of free beaches to pull off on the side of the road and visit on your way into Fort Pickens. Miles of them in fact! But be forewarned there are NO bathrooms. It’s primitive and it’s stunningly beautiful. You literally feel like you’re driving where no one else has been before – it’s breathtaking.
There are no quick lunch spots once you get down to the Fort Pickens stretch of road so you’ll want to be well prepared with your own food and water.
What I love about exploring Fort Pickens is that walking through the tunnels is a great way to cool off from the Florida sun! Honestly we never spend much time at the campsite. We are at the beaches or exploring the fort during our entire stay and we only go back to the campgrounds to sleep. A lot of times we’re too tired even for a campfire!
Some of the tunnels require a flashlight or phone light to make it through to the end which my kids of course explored every nook and cranny! It is amazing to stand here and reflect on what it must have looked like when it was an active military installation! It’s such a maze!
We usually just go to Fort Pickens for a few days when we get a break off of school around Thanksgiving, so unfortunately we haven’t had nearly as much time to explore the area as we should, but you can see here there are ALL sorts of things to do without ever leaving the Fort Pickens area!
Camping in Fort Pickens is surprisingly CHEAP and a fantastic location in relation to the beaches. It’ll always be our go-to spot in the area when we’re looking to save a few bucks!