Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fort Pickens Campground - Gulf Islands National Seashore - Florida

The Fort Pickens Campground is located on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola, Florida. It is inside the Gulf Islands National Seashore and you must purchase admission to the Seashore from the National Park Service before being allowed to travel to the campground.
Fort Pickens campground
Be careful of the route selected by your GPS to this park. I don't think there is a way to this park without paying tolls to cross some bridges. The question is how many tolls will you pay?
While our GPS may have found the absolute shortest path, it took us over a $12 toll bridge. The toll collector said that there was another route the locals know that has only a $1 toll. Thanks, GPS!
Pensacola Beach is a typical Florida beach in that it has many condos, hotels and souvenir shops. It is easy to tell that you are entering the park area because the landscape turns natural.
You cannot help but notice the top edge of the station where you purchase admission to the seashore area. It appeared that it was frequently hit by the big rigs entering the park. I took a cue from previous visitors' mistakes and made sure that Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer, had plenty of room to clear the building.
You have to pay for admission to the national seashore on top of your camping fees. The fee is valid for five days or you can buy an annual pass.
Once you are in the park, you have to drive a couple of miles to the registration building for the campground. There is a 90 degree turn heading into that parking lot and the thought crossed my mind that Becky could be backing Rosie out of this little road if I made a mistake in following the signs. (Becky handles reverse because I cannot accurately backup a car, much less Rosie!)
It turns out that you really have to turn off the main road to register for the campground. The RV parking spaces were hidden by the sand dunes when you first turn off the main road.
Speaking of sand dunes, the road leading to the campground passes through a narrow strip of land with the Gulf on one side and the bay on the other. You cannot help but notice the beautiful dunes and how the sand is starting to come over the sides of the road.
There are five camping loops in this park. Loop A is separate from the others. Loops B, C, D and E are in one large area. The frequent hurricanes passing over this park have taken out many trees and the shade they provide. Loop A has the most shade. The other loops are mostly in the direct sun. Rosie's air conditioner ran non-stop while at this park.
Rosie at Fort Pickens campground
We were surprised at how shallow the camping sites were. Our site was listed as OK for trailers up to 30 feet. Once we parked Rosie, there wasn't enough room to park the truck. We had to put the truck in the overflow area across the street.
Parking the truck in the overflow area
One of the first things we noticed in this park was the wildlife. Osprey and heron nests were full of baby chicks and the parents were either standing guard or catching critters to feed their young.

Along the beach, the manta rays were playing in the surf. We saw dozens of manta rays in the evenings.
You cannot visit this park without going to the fort. It was built before the Civil War and was used through World War II.
Fort Pickens
I imagine that the troops stationed at this fort had to suffer through some very hot days.
We were surprised by the number of campers in this park from Mississippi and Louisiana. Someone said this was the first good beach for those residents as they drive east.
We had to agree that this park features an amazing beach. The water is clear, the sand is powdery and white and there are some great sand dunes along the beach area.

Some specifics about this park:
  • There are five camping loops in this park. All five have lost trees and shade from the frequent gulf-bound hurricanes. It appears that the sites in Loop A have more shade than the others.
  • You really need to pay attention to the maximum rig sizes for the sites. Some of these sites are very shallow and barely fit the rigs. After parking Rosie, our truck didn't fit and had to be parked next to all the other trucks in the overflow parking area.
  • Sites have water and electrical connections. There is one dump station for Loop A and one for Loops B, C, D and E. You need to plan your exit time to avoid lines at the dump station.
  • Loop A is separate from the others. Loops B, C, D and E are in one large camping area.
  • Sites have both 30 and 50 amp service.
  • There is one bathhouse in Loop A and three for the remaining loops. The only problem is that one of the bathhouses serving loops B-E is closed and it doesn't appear that it will be reopened anytime soon.
  • The bathhouses can be listed as adequate. They are not modern and they are showing their age.
  • The bathhouse in Loop A is centrally located. You may be going for a little hike to reach the bathhouse in the other loops.
  • AT&T provides good 3G and 4G service over this park.
  • There is no wi-fi in the park.
  • We were able to pick up TV signals from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS. Some of the digital signals received were ME-TV, MY-TV, COZI and THIS.
  • There is a camp store in the park. Expect to pay a premium price for the things you buy there.
  • There is a Publix grocery store about six miles from the park. You will pay a dollar in tolls to drive to this store.
  • The park is across the bay from Pensacola Naval Air Station. One of the missions for this base is to provide flight training for Naval jets and helicopters. We didn't find the noise from the base to be disturbing.
  • Make sure you bring your camera and binoculars to this park. You will need both.
The Fort Pickens campground was a great find. We planned to camp at another park and quickly discovered it didn't appeal to us. We were able to use our iPhones to change our reservations to Fort Pickens and had a great experience. I am sure we will visit this park again.
We usually learn a lesson when we camp. There were two lessons learned on this trip. The first is to not be afraid to change reservations if you don't like a park. We were able to move from a park with limited appeal to one with many attractions.
The second lesson learned was to always carry the sewage tote when on the road. Our original reservations were in a park with full connections. At the last second, we decided to throw the tote on the truck. This made it easy to move to another campsite and we ended up at a great park.
I think that the Fort Pickens campground will become a family favorite.

1 comment:

  1. I have never been there, but it looks like a place that me and my husband would love. Thanks for posting some pictures. Loved the Manta.