This year, spring break was anything but ordinary. Without any concrete travel plans, we defaulted to a “staycation” where we visited different sites and establishments in our hometown. With Panama City Beach being a top beach destination, we have always found a lot of options to recreate and entertain closer to home. I was therefore not surprised to find TripAdvisor named Panama City Beach as the No.2 “Emerging Destination” in the world as its Travelers Choice 2021 Best of the Best Awards. Naturally, most tourists come for the emerald-green water on the sugar white sand beaches but not to be forgotten are nearby state parks which provide a wonderful break for an early or late afternoon walk or bike ride away from the crowds. One of my favorite of these is the Panama City Beach Conservation Park.
This park is perfect for cyclists, nature lovers, bird watchers and trail seekers with over 24miles of trails on 2900acres. With 12 different trails as short as 0.6miles and as long as 11miles, it provides a family friendly option to accommodate physical activity for all ages including furry family members 😊. Located off Panama City Beach Parkway also known as Back Beach Road, is easily accessible to tourists and locals. There is no entrance fee at the park and there is ample parking on arrival at the visitor’s center. The visitors center is located at the southeast corner of the park and has public restroom facilities, garbage disposal and drinking water station. It does not have attendants, but the park rangers and staff are available and often seen maintaining the grounds. There are maps available at drop boxes and a larger map on the wall with pictures which tell the history of the park.
Conservation Park was established by the city of Panama City Beach in cooperation with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Made up of mostly pine tree and cypress domes, it was founded with the dual purpose of protecting and balancing the natural resources while providing outdoor recreational opportunities. In the 1920s and 1930s, the park site was used for turpentine production with resin from the pine trees. A poster collage of several pictures illustrating the process with written detailed explanations can be found at the visitor building. There are also pictures of common park wildlife, plants, and vegetation and we took photographs of these so we could identify any we would come across during our walk. After reviewing a few trail options, we decided on the “green” trail which was approximately a 1.7mile loop.
Our trail started from the building and led us past the picnic and “classroom area” of the park which is designed for presentations to large groups with multiple benches for seating but of course this is out of use at this time. There was a charcoal smell in the air and we immediately noticed throughout the park burned vegetation. It was a great opportunity to discuss the practice of prescribed burning. There are signs along the trail which have detailed descriptions of the plants and wildlife. The trails have boardwalks that lead through cypress dunes and over wetlands. Even though some part of this trail were narrow compared to others, there was still enough space for two way traffic. It was nice to see couple of families walking the park and a few cyclists and some people walking their dogs. Of note, there is a dog waste station behind the visitor building at the end of the green trail.
As we walked through the park, it would seen this part was spared most of the destruction of Hurricane Michael (CAT 5) in 2018. With our youngest in a baby carrier and pacing the younger children along the trail, we completed the walking trail in approximately 45minutes. We carried water bottles in our backpacks which I highly recommend considering how unusually hot it can get on a spring afternoon in Florida’s panhandle.
At the end of our trail our younger two children were fairly exhausted but so pleased they completed the trail by themselves. It was just fitting that we got in the car and headed for nearby Pier Park for a well deserved lunch!