The Florida Panhandle is a place of sparkling white sand beaches and turquoise water. It’s also a place of high-rise condos, traffic jams, arcades, honky-tonks and maybe 763 Jimmy Buffett wanna-bes. You’ll find all of the former and none of the latter at T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
The park has 10 miles of white sand beach with nary a condo in sight, making it easy to find a quiet, private spot to soak up some sun and swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park has some of the tallest sand dunes in the state where the endangered St. Andrews beach mouse lives amid the sea oats.
The family of T. H. Stone bought the peninsula comprising the park and much of the land surrounding St. Joseph Bay in 1868. The federal government bought the property for military training in 1940. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park opened in 1967.
Things to do
If you can do it on, or in, the water, you can probably do it at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. You can swim in the surf and snorkel in St. Joseph Bay where you’re likely to see sea horses, brittle stars and horseshoe crabs.
There is fishing, of course. Lucky anglers will reel in speckled trout and flounder, bluefish and whiting. You can complete your seafood feast with fresh scallops. From July 1 to Sept. 10 you can harvest scallops in the clear water of St. Joseph Bay.
A boat ramp and a small boat basin provide access to explore the surrounding waters by motorboat, canoe and kayak.
Anyone looking for a serious hike will find it here. The Wilderness Preserve Trail cuts through the center of the peninsula for seven miles before reaching open water.
Why you’ll want to come back
You need to spend a couple of warm nights from May to October on the beach to observe loggerhead sea turtles lumbering ashore to nest.
Flora and fauna
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a birders’ paradise — more than 240 species have been observed in the park. You’ll see pelicans, gulls and shore birds such as the piping plover and snowy plover. The park is along the migration route of thousands of raptors traveling south for the winter. In late September and October, you’re likely to see sharp-shinned hawks and broad-winged hawks. You may also see kestrels, peregrine falcons, Mississippi kites, ospreys and red-tailed hawks.
Raccoons are common in the park, but they’re more cooler-thieving pests than attraction.
By the numbers:
- Website: Florida State Parks
- Park size: 2,716 acres or 4.2 square miles
- 2010 visitation: 175,361
- Funky fact: The park is one stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2,000-mile highway trail connecting nearly 500 birding sites.