Northwest Florida is often referred to as “The Last Undiscovered Florida Coast,” due to a unique combination of environmental elements and Panama City Beach is a key region. Here are just a few of the hidden gems there.

Photo Credit: Melinda Shelton

Panama City Beach Conservation Park

The newly opened 2,900-acre Conservation Park offers dozens of miles of hiking and biking trails, complete with boardwalks reaching across cypress ponds and wetland areas. Educational signposts make this area a must-see for families, and trail loops range from half a mile, to 12-miles in length, making finding the right trail for your group easy. Great for bird-watchers, nature enthusiasts, joggers, bicyclists, and hikers.

St. Andrews State Park

One of the most popular outdoor recreation spots in Florida, the park is characterized by rolling, white sand dunes separated by low swales of pinewoods and marshes. Visitors are encouraged to hike the Blue Heron Trail that winds through myriad plant communities. Here, freshwater and saltwater marshes teem with wildlife and birds.

Shell Island, a pristine barrier island situated just across the ship’s channel from the mainland, is a 700-acre undeveloped island that provides a peaceful spot to relax in nature, explore, or snorkel. The area surrounding the island is also home to one of the largest concentrations of bottlenose dolphins in the country. Shuttle boats are available to bring guests to the island in the spring and summer months.

Pine Log & Point Washington State Forests

Pine Log State Forest is a popular spot for picnicking, hiking, off-road bicycling, horseback riding, fishing and hunting. There are 23 miles of hiking trails winding through the forest, yielding great wildlife and bird viewing opportunities. Visitors are invited to camp, offering facilities that can accommodate RV’s or tents. Self-guided tours and interpretive programs help visitors get the most from their experience in Pine Log State Forest. Point Washington State Forest is less developed than its counterpart, and is used for hunting, off-road bicycling and hiking on its 19 miles of trails. Point Washington is also a favorite location for wildlife and bird watching.

Camp Helen State Park

Camp Helen State Park is bordered on three sides by the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell – one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. Natural areas range from coastal dunes and salt marshes along the Gulf to freshwater wetlands and sand pine scrub along the lake. Activities include swimming, beachcombing, nature study, hiking, and both freshwater and saltwater fishing.

Florida Trail at Econfina Creek

The Florida Trail, designated a national scenic trail in 1986, was developed along Econfina Creek. The Econfina is a beautiful, swiftly flowing 22-mile creek with high limestone walls, sand bluffs, lush vegetation and abundant wildlife. The upper portion is characterized by narrow waterways, tight curves and several fast water chutes, while the lower portion is spring-fed and slower moving. Canoeing Econfina Creek is a great way to explore this ever-changing waterway.