Florida’s Emerald Coast
When you think of the Florida Panhandle, there’s a decent chance that images of the Emerald Coast are top of mind. The Emerald Coast spans four counties from Gulf Breeze to Panama City. This area has convenient access from numerous nearby airports and it is a short drive from many parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, the Carolinas and Tennessee.
From the perfect family vacation to a quaint weekend getaway, the Emerald Coast can accommodate any itinerary. With ample outdoor activities, pristine beaches, cozy towns, and history dating back thousands of years, this unique stretch of shore offers something for everyone.
If you love fishing in crystal clear waters, then you will absolutely love fishing on the Emerald Coast. Whether you are looking to target inshore species, wet a line just off the beaches, or make a run offshore, the Emerald Coast is full of opportunity. There are over 2,300 miles of tidal shoreline here making the inshore, beach fishing, and nearshore opportunities countless and productive. Redfish, Trout, Black Drum, Sheepshead, and a variety of other inshore species abound in these gin-clear waters, which can provide for excellent sight fishing with light tackle or fly year-round.
Just off the beaches you can target Spanish and King mackerel, Cobia, and several species of Jack. Early Summer will also bring the Tarpon migration through the Emerald Coast’s nearshore waters. Calm and protected conditions make these fishing grounds atypically accessible by smaller vessels, and it is not uncommon to see kayak anglers among the motor boats off the beaches.
A bit further off, and you’ll start running into some serious bottom fishing. There are numerous Snapper and Grouper Species that frequent the nearshore reefs and wrecks. Some typical species along the Emerald Coast include: Red Snapper, Vermillion Snapper, Black Snapper, Mangrove (Gray) Snapper, Gag Grouper, Scamp, Amberjack, and Trigger Fish.
Moving into the deep waters off the coast, you will find some more uncommon bottomfish like Lane Snapper, Cubera Snapper, and deep water grouper species. For those who like to troll the depths, the Emerald Coast is known as a great place to catch Blue Marlin, with Mahi, Blackfin Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, and some Sailfish also frequenting the area. If you’re feeling lucky, you might consider entering the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic.
Species: Redfish, Seatrout, Sheepshead, Black Drum, Sheepshead, Tarpon, Trigger Fish, Snapper, Grouper, Pelagics, Billfish, King Mackerel, Blackfin Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, Blue Marlin, Amberjack,
Waterfowl hunting in Florida’s Gulf Coast is world-renowned. The Emerald Coast hosts large mirgrations of diving ducks like Redheads, as well as dabbling ducks, who migrate down in late fall and can be hunted from November through January.
For big game, the state’s massive WMAs feature some of the best deer and boar hunting spots. In Gadsden County, Joe Budd WMA covers 11,133 acres, northwest of Tallahassee. In Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties, the Blackwater complex stretches across 191,651 acres. One of the most popular hunting areas is Camp Blanding, which combines large hardwood swamps with creek bottoms. Apalachee and Spring Creek have excellent habitat and provide ample opportunities, and these parks are very popular with bowhunters.
In the south, the Osceola Turkey is king of the inland woods and is the only subspecies native to west Florida and south Florida. Both Eastern and Osceola Turkeys can be found in the general Emerald Coast area, although we recommend heading over towards the Nature Coast and Central Florida if you’re targeting gobblers in the state.
Species: Whitetail Deer, Eastern Wild Turkey, Osceola Turkey, Wild Boar, Waterfowl, Redhead, Bufflehead, Bluebill, Canvasback, Pintail, Gadwall.
If you love wildlife, the waters along Florida’s Emerald Coast are perfect for kayaking. Spectacular scenery and abundant fauna makes this region a great place to spot fish, birds, and other critters.
If you’re feeling like an adventurous paddle, try kayaking from Destin Harbor to Crab Island, one of the most popular local destinations for paddlers. You can also visit the Coastal Dune Lakes, which are among the most picturesque lakes in the Southeast. For more paddling adventures, consider exploring the panhandle’s various lakes and rivers that can be found adjacent to most towns. No matter where you kayak along the Emerald Coast, you’ll find a place that suits your skill level.
Hiking, Biking & Nature Trails ★★★★★
If you are looking for some amazing hiking trails, you can find them on Florida’s Emerald Coast. From the serenity of dune lakes to the murmuring Gulf of Mexico, you can have the best of both worlds. The Emerald Coast has something for everyone, whether you are interested in birdwatching, hiking, biking or simply being in nature.
- The Eastern Lake Trail System offers multiple loops, including an 11-mile circuit. Hiking the trails in this park is a great way to get a refreshing workout while exploring the diverse habitats of the Emerald Coast’s forest ecosystems. Located southeast of Panama City Beach, St. Andrews State Park is home to a variety of eco-tourism attractions, including beautiful coastal scrub and scenic hiking trails.
- The Timpoochee Trail is a great way to get your bike fix. This nearly 20-mile paved path parallels the coast and includes rest stops along the way. It passes through coastal communities and dune lakes and also intersects Highway 30A. The trail is flat and relatively easy to navigate, making it a great activity for families.
- The Alys Beach Nature Trail is another popular destination. This 20-acre nature preserve features elevated boardwalks, cypress trees, and wildflowers. You can even see pitcher plants, which are carnivorous plants that feed off insects. If you love birds, this trail is a must.
The Emerald Coast is home to over 300 bird species. Birdwatchers can view the myriad species up close on the beaches or on many of the nature trails referenced above. Be sure to take some time to hike alongside coastal dunes, discover the local wildlife, and explore hidden state parks that shelter flocks of shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors. In addition to strolling along secluded trails to get your fill of birding, try bringing out your binoculars at the Panama City Beach Wildlife Refuge–it’s a must see for any birder.