Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi & Florida

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Along the northernmost shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Pensacola Beach, and Perdido Key both offer unparalleled access to an immense stretch of federally protected seashore. Spanning more than 160 miles in total, you can explore a captivating array of picturesque landscapes and uninterrupted Gulf vistas while soaking up the opportunity for solitude and relaxation. Whether you’re seeking an invigorating bout of exercise or a leisurely stroll, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice across this unspoiled region; with miles of pristine beaches entirely absent of human activity.

Pensacola Beach Sunrise
Pensacola Beach Sunrise by Gatorgoon

Gulf Islands National Seashore consists of over 97,000 acres of prime waterfront real estate on the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi River. Gulf Islands National Seashore has no casinos, no condominiums, and no shopping malls, and it will remain that way forever. There are historic coastal forts, wild islands, sandy beaches, salt marshes, and wildlife. Your visit counts as support for this amazing national park area on the beautiful Mississippi and Florida Gulf Coastline.

Fort Pickens

Fort Pickens, one of four military fortifications constructed to defend Pensacola in the 1800s, is an impressive historic landmark located on Pensacola Beach, within the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Open year-round from sunrise to sunset, visitors to this striking park can enjoy a range of activities such as fishing both off the shore and pier, birdwatching, camping, and exploring nature trails and the fort. The Visitor Information Center at the west end of the island features a history museum providing valuable insight into the area’s past.

Fort Pickens National Park (Gulf Islands National Seashore)
Fort Pickens National Park (Gulf Islands National Seashore) by faungg’s photos

Entrance fees are required for admittance to Fort Pickens Area, Opal Beach (Santa Rosa Area), Okaloosa Area, Fort Barrancas Area, and Perdido Key Area, which can be paid using accepted Interagency America the Beautiful passes. All funds collected here are given to the National Park Service for the upkeep and improvement of facility services and programming. Specifically, 80% of these fees are utilized for renovation and repair efforts throughout the park. Additionally, free entrance days are available each year to national parks, allowing visitors to experience some of our nation’s most pristine and treasured sites without having to pay any admission costs.

Johnson Beach

Johnson Beach is a sought-after recreational area located in Perdido Key, within the Gulf Islands National Seashore. With its lifeguard-supervised beaches, secure facilities, and ample parking, visitors can enjoy an array of aquatic activities and explore the Discovery Nature Trail.

Johnson Beach Gulf
Johnson Beach Gulf Islands National Seashore by Florida Sea Grant

This half-mile boardwalk runs through various terrains such as sand dunes, pine trees, and salt marshes, offering spectacular vistas along the way. To gain entry into this serene environment, patrons must pay an entrance fee at registration. All in all, Johnson Beach is an ideal location for those seeking water-based recreation and a nature trail to explore.

Naval Live Oaks Area

East of Gulf Breeze in Santa Rosa Sound, the Naval Live Oaks Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore provides an idyllic setting for fun and relaxation. Originally created in the 1800s to protect the precious live oak trees that were coveted by the shipbuilding industry, the area is now a haven for outdoor activities such as hiking, picnicking, and swimming. Stretching seven and a half miles along the sound, the area offers visitors covered pavilions, restrooms, and picnic tables. Open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm every day of the week, the access-controlled entrance ensures a safe and secure environment for all to enjoy the beauty of this unique slice of outdoor heaven.

Live Oaks north part water south
Naval Live Oaks Area by Ebyabe

Must-visit Spots

Gulf Island National Seashore is a treasure trove of natural wonders, offering visitors a chance to explore the unspoiled beauty of the Gulf Coast. Within the park, there are several must-visit spots and attractions that will leave you in awe of the diverse landscapes and abundant wildlife.


Pristine white sandy beaches that stretch for miles along the coastline. Whether you are looking to bask in the sun, take a refreshing dip in the turquoise waters, or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll, these beaches offer a serene and idyllic setting.

Hiking trails

The park also boasts numerous hiking trails that wind through lush forests, marshes, and dunes. These trails provide a chance to immerse yourself in the natural habitat of the Gulf Coast, where you may encounter native wildlife such as dolphins, sea turtles, and a variety of bird species.

Fort Pickens

This well-preserved fort, built in the 19th century, offers a fascinating glimpse into the region’s military history. Explore the underground tunnels, climb to the top of the fort’s ramparts, and soak in the panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico.

Barrier islands

These islands, including Santa Rosa and Perdido Key, are accessible via ferry or private boat and offer a secluded escape from the mainland. Pristine beaches, sand dunes, and nature trails await, providing ample opportunities for birdwatching, shelling, and snorkeling.

Perdido Key State Park
Perdido Key State Park by MyFWC Florida Fish and Wildlife

Coastal marshes and estuaries

These fragile ecosystems are teeming with life and serve as vital habitats for many species. Take a guided kayak tour or rent a paddleboard to navigate through the winding waterways, where you can observe the unique flora and fauna that call these marshes home.

Gulf Islands Attractions


The shoreline of the protected coastal area is a haven for wildlife watchers looking to observe some of nature’s most majestic creatures in their natural habitat. From majestic ospreys and great blue herons soaring through the sky, to dolphins, sea turtles, and rays dotting the crystal-clear waters, there is no shortage of opportunities to get up close and personal with ocean life. Furthermore, the seashore also serves as an essential nesting and hatching ground for species such as black skimmers, least terns, and loggerhead sea turtles – providing countless hours of exploration and observation throughout the year. With an exciting variety of creatures that inhabit this unique ecosystem, it is no wonder why wildlife watchers consider the Seashore one of their favorite places to explore!

Recreational activities

The seashore is a haven for those seeking outdoor recreation. From snorkeling to kayaking, fishing and boating, the array of activities available makes it an ideal destination for any nature lover. Launch your kayak from one of several waterside parking lots and set off on your own journey. Keep your eyes peeled for fauna such as the gopher tortoise, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin and over 300 species of birds. Get up close with marine life by snorkeling among sand dollars, starfish, crabs and fish. Alternatively, take a ranger-led tour through the brackish marshes of the area to discover all sorts of hidden wildlife hidden in the shade of tall pines and gnarled live oaks. Whatever you choose to do, you’re sure to find something to love at the seashore.

Historical Attractions

No matter where you call home, a visit to Gulf Islands National Seashore is sure to be an unforgettable experience. With centuries of history and breathtaking natural beauty, the seashore offers something for everyone. Located off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, one of the most renowned cities in the United States, this remarkable destination gives visitors an opportunity to explore the region’s rich military heritage.

From the grandeur of Fort Pickens, constructed prior to the American Revolution, to the stunningly preserved Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee, exploring these forts provides a unique insight into the strategic importance of Pensacola Harbor over the years. In addition to the forts, visitors can also take advantage of the pristine beaches and lush forests that make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Whether you choose to canoe through mangrove swamps or simply relax on the sandy shores, a day spent here will be one to remember.

  • Enjoy snowy white beaches, sparkling blue waters, lush salt marshes, and dense maritime forests.
  • Tour historic Forts Massachusetts, Pickens, and Barrancas, parts of a 19th-century system of forts that guarded the American seacoast.
  • Take a passenger ferry to Ship Island, Mississippi, that operates March-October, weather permitting.
  • Hike on one of the many designated trails that cover more than 34 miles in the Seashore.
  • Enjoy a beautiful sunrise or sunset at the beach.
  • Visit the wilderness islands, Horn and Petit Bois, off the Mississippi coastline.
  • Picnic with friends or families at the covered pavilions.
  • Camp at the Davis Bayou Campground in Mississippi or the Fort Pickens Campground in Florida.
  • Kayak or canoe in the quiet coastal marshes.
    Boat on your own or hire a licensed boat operator to take you out to the Mississippi islands.
  • Try your luck at fishing.

Gulf Islands Trivia

  • Gulf Islands is the country’s largest national seashore and is one of the top ten most visited National Park areas.
  • Eighty percent of Gulf Islands National Seashore is underwater.
  • The Naval Live Oaks Area, purchased by the federal government in 1828 as a tree farm for shipbuilding timber, is the oldest protected property in our National Park System.
  • The famous Chiricahua Apache leader, Geronimo, and his band were held at Fort Pickens, Florida, from 1886-1888.
  • Presidio Isla de Santa Rosa, the largest colonial presidio on the Gulf Coast of Spanish Florida, was established in 1722 and was destroyed by a hurricane in 1752.
  • Twenty endangered and threatened animals, including the tiny Perdido Key Beach Mouse, make use of habitat at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
  • Over 300 species of birds have been sighted.
    During the Civil War, the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards, one of the first all-black regiments in the US Army, guarded Confederate prisoners sent to Ship Island. The 2nd regiment became the first black unit on the Gulf Frontier to meet the Confederates in battle.
  • The British occupied Ship Island during the War of 1812. From there they grayed their invasion of Louisiana in a failed attempt to capture New Orleans.
  • Your last seafood meal may have had its start in the park. The Seashore’s salt marshes shelter and feed many kinds of shrimp, crab, and fish.

Final Word

We hope you enjoyed learning about the unspoiled beauty of Gulf Island National Seashore in our blog post. This hidden gem offers a breathtaking escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. From the pristine white sandy beaches to the vibrant marine life, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you are a nature enthusiast, a beach lover, or simply seeking tranquility, Gulf Island National Seashore is a must-visit destination. So pack your bags, grab your sunscreen, and get ready to immerse yourself in the unparalleled beauty of this coastal paradise.

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