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Panama City Beach CVBVisit Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is known for many things: spring break, campy fun theme parks (like the brand-new Swampy Jack's Wongo Adventure) and plentiful shopping at Pier Park, but the real draw is the kind of beauty that comes with Emerald Coast waters, white sand beaches and pastel sunsets. You can shore up anywhere along the area’s 43-kilometres of beach, but the best way to experience the wilder side of PCB (as the locals call it) is to head a little inland or to one of the state parks that bookend glitzy Front Beach Road. This is where you’ll get a taste of the pristine ecosystems which first attracted holiday makers. Woodlands, marshes and near-empty beaches invite travellers to swim, wander and daydream. Here are five places to take a walk on PCB's wilder side. 


Shell Island

Shell IslandVisit Panama City Beach

Just offshore from St. Andrew's State Park is Shell Island, a barrier island that’s perfect for enacting a desert island fantasy. Keep in mind that while there are no bathrooms, food vendors, nor shade on the undeveloped island, you may likely spot dolphins, turtles, deer, armadillos or even one of the resident alligators that live in the island’s lake. There’s even a rumour of buried treasure on Shell Island. St. Andrews Bay was once a favoured hideaway for pirates hoping to plunder passing merchant ships. Chances are, any digging you do will only yield buried shells, but it's all in good fun. A variety of tours and shuttles whisk visitors to and from the island.

Shell IslandVisit Panama City Beach


St. Andrews State Park

St. Andrews State ParkVisit Panama City Beach

A wide calm bay, undeveloped beaches and protected wetlands make St. Andrews State Park a perfect migratory stopover for birds and butterflies. In this sheltered wildlife oasis, it’s hard to imagine that soldiers once stood guard over the white sand. While some of the park’s Second World War military installations are still visible (they come and go as storms hit the region), the main draw for visitors are the recreation options: try snorkelling in the clear water, stand-up paddle boarding on the bay’s flat water or wander along the trails in search of birds or one of the inhabitants of Gator Lake.


Econfina Creek

Econfina CreekVisit Panama City Beach

Officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails, this winding creek offers 35 kilometres of natural adventure. The upper portion of Econfina Creek is a roller-coaster ride through narrow canyons that’s best suited to experienced paddlers. The enchanting, family-friendly lower section meanders through forests of longleaf pines, giant beech and magnolia. Here the clear, spring-fed water gurgles past ancient-looking honeycomb limestone—and if you look closely you might spot a gopher tortoise sunning itself.


Camp Helen State Park

Philips Inlet

Marking the northwestern end of the Panama City Beach strip, this resort-turned-state park feels wilder and somehow more ancient than St. Andrews. It could be the rare coastal dunes, salt marshes and wetlands, or perhaps it’s the presence of prehistoric middens which reveal that the area’s traditional inhabitants lived here for more than 4,000 years. Join a ranger-guided walk to learn more about the park’s unique history and its wildlife – you might even catch sight of a rare Choctawhatchee beach mouse. Camp Helen State Park is also a fine place to cast a line, picnic, paddle or bird watch. 


PCB Conservation Park

Picnicing family in Panama City Beach park conservationVisit Panama City Beach

This former pine plantation is gradually being reclaimed by native plants and animals making it a serene (and shady) option for beach break. Rent bikes to best explore the 38 kilometres of winding trails, some which lead to boardwalks through a cypress swamp. You’ll see lizards, frogs and birds. 

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Make plans to take a walk on the wild side
in Panama City Beach this year.

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