Panama City Beach can appeal to anyone year round. Beyond the high-rises and Thomas Drive, there are lots of places that are not as well known, but are just as fantastic. This first in the Secrets of PCB series is a magical, but not well known place called Camp Helen State Park. Camp Helen, a state park located a few minutes’ drive West from Panama City Beach is quite a find.
This hidden state park provides one of the area’s best day trips, for a single person or a whole family. With a four dollar entry fee, per car, it is one of the most affordable things to do in the area. The park offers it all: fishing, paddle boarding, hiking, swimming, bird watching, canoeing, kayaking, picnicking and the neatest thing of all, a rich history of the area.
I recently spent time in the park learning about the rich heritage. Not being a native of the area, I got to enjoy learning with a visitor’s perspective. The park was originally settled in the 1920’s, purchased by private owners, but as evidenced from the many archaeological sites on property, the park was inhabited as far back as 100 AD. Throughout the years, private owners built a variety of cottages on the property, many of them still standing today as historical buildings.
The cottages are unique as the park itself. Sitting quietly under the shade of the many oak trees, the cottages invoke a sense of peace as they overlook Lake Powell. I highly suggest taking the Walking Tour and learning about the history of this piece of Northwest Florida. If you are looking for a bit of adventure, ask one of the staff to tell you about the resident ghost!
The park is open daily from 8am to sunset and while it’s a smaller park, it offers a large variety of upland, wetland and shoreline vegetation. If you’re looking to fish, Camp Helen is surrounded by water on three sides and allows for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Lake Powell has brackish water, allowing fishermen to get the best of both worlds.
Camp Helen also offers great beach access for a full day of play in the sand and a nice walk through the sand dunes and marsh as you make your way to the Gulf of Mexico. If you enjoy bird watching, the park has nine protected species of birds and is on the Florida birding trail. Being a pet lover myself, I was excited to learn that my four legged friends can join me in the park. Pets are welcome on leashes and in all areas but the beach.
With its abundance of things to do, and a laid back attitude, Camp Helen will easily allow you to enjoy everything that makes Panama City Beach a one of a kind vacation.