With more than 50 miles of white sands and emerald waters, you don’t want to miss exploring the Corridor by this historical Panhandle city!
Best known for its award-winning beaches and rich history, “The City of Five Flags” is just a few miles away from some of the rarest and most diverse nature in the Corridor. From paddling along coastal dune lakes to tubing down one of the cleanest rivers in the U.S., a weekend in Pensacola’s part of the Corridor guarantees adventures you can’t experience anywhere else in the world.
What to Pack:
- Hiking or tennis shoes
- Bathing suit and towels
- Change of clothes
- Sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses)
- Bug spray
- Water bottles
- Lunch (for Sunday)
- Bike and helmet (optional)
- Camping gear (optional)
- Fishing gear (optional)
- Overnight bag (optional)
Saturday: Topsail Hill Preserve Park (~1 hour, 40 min drive)
Any weekend that starts with donuts is bound to be a good one. Start your day early with donuts in the park at Le Dough, a vegan mobile bakery located at 1100 North Avenue on Saturday mornings. The menu changes constantly, but recent items include taco pop tarts and Taylor Swift-inspired fall donuts, such as chai latte and lavender chamomile.
Once you’ve gotten your donut fix, take a mini road trip to Topsail Hill Preserve Park. This park displays the diverse nature of Florida you won’t find anywhere else, with 3.2 miles of beaches surrounded by 25-foot-high rolling dunes, three coastal dune lakes and 15 miles of trails, featuring untouched pine forests, wetlands and scrublands.
Begin your adventure by renting a paddleboard, kayak or canoe and paddling along the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico or at Campbell Lake, an expansive coastal dune lake.
Live Wildly Fact: Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare; they only exist in Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, Oregon and right here in Florida’s Panhandle!
At Campbell Lake, bald cypress trees shoot up toward the blue sky and bright green water lilies rest on the surface. On the Gulf, you may spot dolphins playing near the shore. You can even fish from a kayak, with pompano, redfish and Spanish mackerel available to catch from the ocean.
Live Wildly Tip: Canoes, kayaks or paddle boards from outside the park are prohibited, as it risks introducing non-native species.
After paddling, pick up lunch at Kith + Kin, a coffee shop and café located at the entrance of the park. They serve locally sourced coffee, pastries and sandwiches. While eating, think about which adventure you want to do next — you have a few options.
You can sunbathe on the snowy sands of the beach and wade or snorkel in the clear, teal waters. Look out for green sea turtles or the rare Choctawhatchee beach mouse. Or you can hike or bike along the paved 5-mile Campbell Lake Trail, which takes you through longleaf pines and dunes to Campbell Lake.
Live Wildly Tip: Trams shuttle visitors to the beach from the day use parking lot, or you can walk one mile along the paved Beach Tram Trail.
If you don’t feel quite ready to head home, spend the night at one of the traditional campsites or fully-furnished cabins and bungalows, or “glamp” at Fancy Camps — a stress-free camping experience. Fancy Camps sets up and furnishes a tent for you, complete with AC and heating, so you can enjoy nature without totally “roughing it.”
Camping — or glamping — isn’t for everyone. If you decide to trek home, make sure to stop by O’zone Pizza Pub for dinner. Located in the former morgue — ahem, basement — of the historic Sacred Heart Hospital, this allegedly haunted restaurant offers pies with unique toppings, such as cream cheese, pickled onions and cashews. This might sound cheesy, but their pizza is to die for.
Sunday: Blackwater River State Park (~45 min drive)
For day two, fight off your “Sunday Scaries” with a trip to Blackwater River State Park, less than an hour drive from the city. Despite the misleading name, the river is clear and one of the cleanest in the nation. The water’s golden-brown hue comes from the nutrients that leak out of leaves.
Live Wildly Fact: Blackwater River State Park is the only pristine sand river left in the U.S. and contains the largest continuous longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystem in the world, which is rarer than a tropical rainforest!
Begin by picking your paddling adventure — the park offers canoe, kayak or tube rentals. For tubing, Blackwater Canoe Rental will transport you to the starting point so you end your trip back at the parking lot where there are bathrooms, outdoor showers and a picnic pavilion. While you tube, take advantage of the sandy banks and shallow waters, ideal for swimming with young kids. Keep an eye out for beavers, river otters and one of the oldest and largest American white cedar trees along the riverbank. At the end, enjoy your packed lunch under a shaded pavilion.
After lunch, stretch your legs with a hike along one of three natural trails. The Chain of Lakes Nature Trail takes you on a 1.75-mile loop through a sandhill community and longleaf pine trees (look for the endangered Panhandle lily!). The 7.5-mile Juniper Creek Trail traverses through floodplain swamp, where you may see “rainbows” from the oils that leak through fallen cypress cones. This trail travels all the way to Blackwater River State Forest, which has even more trails and access to the 107-acre Bear Lake. Throughout your hike, search for wild turkeys, deer or maybe even a black bear — but don’t get too close!
Live Wildly Tip: The trails can be soggy, especially during the rainy summer months, so bring shoes you don’t mind getting wet!
Close out your weekend with an ice-cold brew from Pensacola Bay Brewery on your way home. A local favorite, this pet-friendly brewery serves ciders, wine and more than 20 beers on tap. Although they don’t offer food, you can bring in takeout from several nearby restaurants. If you arrive before 5 p.m., you’ll catch some live music!
We hope you enjoyed your weekend exploring the rare and wonderful Corridor outside of Pensacola. Do you have other favorite Corridor spots near the city? Let us know on social using #LiveWildlyFL so we can share your finds!