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Gulf Islands National Seashore Report

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Report By:  ed    Date: 4/22/2007 
Rating:Trip Rating     Photos: See 10 photos     Map & Directions: View

Looking to paddle a barrier island? On this trip we explore 5 miles of Okaloosa Island at the extreme eastern end of Gulf Islands National Seashore. This spot is a perfect blend of sand, saltwater and fun!

My Report:

It’s time to hit the nation’s largest national seashore – Gulf Islands. On this trip we explore a stretch of water between the National Seashore’s day-use area at Okaloosa Island and city of Destin in Northwest Florida. Most of this portion of barrier island is owned by the federal government and reserved for military training so you’ll find little development after leaving the launch site. The shallow aquamarine colored waters is teaming with fish big and small so bring along a fishing pole if you’re so inclined.

A word of caution: This trip is best suited for someone with moderate to advanced paddling skills since current, tides, wind and boat traffic can be a little much for beginners. The trip is 5 miles each way (Destin Bridge to NPS Boat Ramp) or 10 miles roundtrip.

I started at the west end of Destin Bridge and immediately turn north into Choctawhatchee Bay. Near the bridge is a Coast Guard / FWC Marine Patrol station. Across from the Coast Guard facility is Crab Island, a hot spot for the motorboat party crowd. It’s not uncommon to see over 100 boats anchored in the one to three foot deep water on weekends.

Continuing west from the launch at Destin Bridge, the landscape changes from pine trees to salt marsh grasses. The beach is narrow in most places, never more than 10 feet wide. At about two miles from the Destin Bridge you’ll first encounter a line of tall sand dunes. These dunes reach (my estimate) 30 feet high and make for interesting exploring and a great place for lunch.

Past the dunes you’ll eventually reach US-98. The water becomes even shallower and it is necessary to paddle 300 – 500 yards offshore to keep enough water under the boat. Still continuing west for another 3 miles and following the shoreline you’ll spot the Gulf Island National Seashore Okaloosa area. The day-use only area has a swim beach, picnic area, restrooms and outdoor showers (oh do they feel great after paddling in the hot sun!). Turn in when you see the boat docks. Access to the area is free of charge.

The boat ramp at the National Seashore is closed (as of this writing – April 2007) and the docks nearby are non-functional, probably due to the hurricanes of 2004/2005. You can still launch a kayak or canoe from the sand beach.

The return trip is same way back as you came, making this a good 9.5 to 10 mile trip depending on how much exploring you do.

Here are a few GPS coordinates for the gear heads:

Destin Bridge - N30 23.475 W86 31.300
Sand Dunes - N30 23.696 W86.32.926
National Seashore Boat Ramp - N30 23.870 W86.34.971

Get Map & Directions for this trip

Location Data:

Difficulty: Moderate
Location Type: Saltwater
Boat Type: Kayak
Distance (miles): 10
Fees/Costs $: Free

Photos from Gulf Islands National Seashore:    (Click image to view full size)

Gulf Island Seashore No Comm
Gulf Island Seashore

This sign welcomes you to Gulf Islands National Seashore. Facilities include picnic area, swim beach, restrooms and launch area for kayaks and canoes.

Destin Marker 5 No Comm
Destin Marker 5

Channel Marker 5 just north of the Destin Bridge.

Is it waterproof? No Comm
Is it waterproof?

My handy deck cam. Heck no, it's not waterproof, but I like living on the edge.

Okaloosa Dunes No Comm
Okaloosa Dunes

Sand dunes on Okaloosa Island.

Okaloosa Dunes 2 No Comm
Okaloosa Dunes 2

Large sand dunes on Okaloosa Island. This place makes for great exploring!

Perfect Lunch Stop No Comm
Perfect Lunch Stop

A perfect lunch spot on Okaloosa Island. Where exactly? Read the trip report and look for GPS coordinates!

View from the Top No Comm
View from the Top

A view from the top of some dunes on Okaloosa Island.

NPS Boat docks No Comm
NPS Boat docks

Ruined boat docks at the National Seashore.

Destin Jumper No Comm
Destin Jumper

Jumping from the Destin Bridge. 30 seconds after this pic the next heads to poke over the railing was Okaloosa deputies who quickly rounded up the kids.

Gulfarium Dolphins No Comm
Gulfarium Dolphins

Of course dolphins enjoy a good game of basketball between shows. They also like football. Play tourist and visit the Florida Gulfarium (west of Gulf Isl NS).

Special Interests and Comments:

Special InterestsLike Destin, there’s no shortage of excitement on Okaloosa Island. One of my favorites is the Gulfarium – "The World's Oldest Marine Show Aquarium". Other fun haunts include Howl at the Moon Piano Bar and Floyd’s Shrimp House.

Post Date: 4/23/2007

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