The pristine salt marshes of Big Lagoon State Park are perfect for exploring by kayak. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
My favorite place in Escambia County is a waterlogged stretch of the coast near Perdido Key. Known formally as Big Lagoon State Park, the over 700-acre property has hiking, biking, and paddling trails, fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities, campsites, and boat launches. Unfortunately, it was also near ground zero to Hurricane Sally in 2020. The natural resources of the park handled the storm just fine—being mostly salt marsh, the wind, waves, and rain were just absorbed and endured until the storm passed. However, as is typical, the worst damage was to the “built environment”—the boardwalks, observation tower, and pavilions. So much of this infrastructure was impacted that the park just fully reopened last week—July 7, 2023!



The boardwalks and observation tower were rebuilt after Hurricane Sally. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
If you have never spent time at Big Lagoon State Park, now is a great time to go. The most scenic stretch is East Beach, which is located at the dead end of the entrance road. This area has a restroom, a covered picnic pavilion, an elevated boardwalk loop, a 3-story observation tower, and a kayak launch. The boardwalk is over a healthy salt marsh, and the open channel reveals blue crabs and hundreds of fish. From the tower, you can get a 360° view of the intracoastal waterway and Gulf of Mexico, Big Lagoon, and Pensacola Bay. While there, I was lucky enough to get a couple of flyovers as the Blue Angels wrapped up their Friday dress rehearsal show.



The Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddle Trail begins here, at the opening of Grande Lagoon into the Intracoastal Waterway. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The kayak/paddleboard launch opens to two routes. Head left, and you will enter a quiet slough through the marsh into Grande Lagoon.  If you go right, you enter the intracoastal waterway. On a nice day with minimal boat traffic, you can easily paddle out to Johnson’s Beach, part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. For the truly intrepid paddler, this is the beginning of the Florida Circumnavigational Trail, which follows the coast of Florida for 1,515 miles! It is the country’s longest recreational trail and ends on the Atlantic Coast in Fernandina Beach. Only a handful of folks have braved the entire thing.



An osprey in its nest at the crook of a tall pine tree at Big Lagoon State Park. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
Osprey nests are common in the park, as are passing pelicans, herons, ducks, and other shorebirds. The park is also the start of the Great Florida Birding Trail, which highlights the best birding sites around the state. Entry fees are minimal–$6 for a vehicle with 2 or more occupants, and $2 for individuals on foot. Primitive, group, and RV camping is available for $20/night with utility fees. Boat launching is $10 for an individual and $12 for 2-8 people in a boat. The picnic pavilion and large amphitheater are also available for day rental and events. Big Lagoon is an excellent family-friendly location to spend a day, or a weekend, here in our backyard!
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.
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