Camp Alongside The Gulf Coast At This Beautiful Florida State Park

What comes to mind when you think of Florida's Gulf Coast? For us, it's powdery white-sand beaches set against calm emerald waters, and endless sunshine followed by mesmerizing sunsets. Nowhere is this vision more evident than in the Florida Panhandle. 

The Panhandle isn't some hidden vacation spot, of course. Southerners have been vacationing here for decades. Many visitors love the thriving resort towns of Destin and Panama City. But, if you're a camper looking for a quieter place to pitch your tent on the Panhandle, T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a dream vacation spot.

The peninsula is a little more than an hour drive south of Panama City. It's a thin piece of land that juts out 20 miles into the Gulf and features glorious beaches, abundant wildlife, and plenty of spots to camp. It's the kind of place that offers a throwback beach vacation filled with outdoor adventures. And, according to one reviewer on Google, it's among the top 10 state parks in the U.S. — high praise indeed.

Beachside camping on the Gulf

Imagine unzipping your tent in the morning and being just steps away from some of the world's best beaches. On the St. Joseph Peninsula, that dream is a reality. There are currently 14 primitive campsites in the state park for you to choose from, all in spectacular spots along the peninsula. Primitive means no water or electricity and a pack-out policy for trash. You can't access any of the campsites by vehicle, which adds to the serenity. Though, you can get to some by kayak, making this a real adventure. 

The area suffered damage during Hurricane Michael, and the regular campsites are unavailable, though the park is working on opening two camping loops. So, if you don't fancy primitive camping, there are eight cabins available for vacationers. These cabins are on the bay side of the peninsula and offer stunning views of St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve. 

You don't need to take our word for how wonderful the park is to stay in. Visitors who left reviews on Google call the cabins "awesome" and say this is their favorite area for beach camping. Both sides of the peninsula have beaches, and both are excellent places to relax in the sunshine or look for seashells. However, because of the damage caused by Hurricane Michael, there is construction happening in certain areas of the park — some visitors found the noise distracting, so consider checking what's happening before you visit if you think that will be an issue for you.

What to do in the park

The park is ideal for water lovers. Both sides of the peninsula are lovely for swimmers, though be aware that there are no lifeguards. You can snorkel, canoe, and kayak in the park, too. Kayak rentals are available at the small general store on the peninsula. There's a ton of wildlife (and marine life) in the park, including stingrays, dolphins, nesting sea turtles, and deer. The waters around the park are teeming with fish, and therefore it's little surprise that fishing is a popular pastime here. You can catch fish like flounder, bluefish, and shark — just be sure to check if you need a license before casting a line. 

The park is a wonderful place to have a picnic, too. In fact, it's best to bring your own food, as there aren't a ton of places to buy anything in the area. One Google reviewer, writing in September 2023, stated that the shaded picnic areas in the park looked brand new. After the sun sets in a blaze of colors, the stars really come out to shine over the park. Florida Trippers lists the area as one of the best places to stargaze in the state. This is just one more reason to pitch your tent here and enjoy the wilderness.