There are five major parks in Panama City Beach and surrounding areas:
- St. Andrews State Park
- Aaron Besant Park
- Camp Helen State Park
- Conservation Park
- Frank Brown Park
Each of these parks have something different and unique to offer visitors, guests and locals. Many have venues where concerts, festivals and events are held and some are so close to nature you’ll almost feel like you’re interrupting the environment by just being there.
So, each Park has something different so it really depends on what you consider to be the best Park or amenity for the park and what you’re looking to do. First, let’s breakdown of each of these parks and what they offer.
St. Andrews State Park
This is one of the most popular and most visited state parks in the entire state of Florida. Several people call it one of the best beaches in America. It’s located on a peninsula at the far east edge of Panama City Beach. It’s bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, St. Andrews Pass and the Grand Lagoon. Whether you’re looking to get off road or explore a trail, there is a variety of wildlife, migratory birds, alligators and fishing spots just about everywhere you look. Fishing is popular along Tiller Pier which goes out into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s also a fishing pier on the Grand Lagoon and many jetties and deepwater fishing points bordering St. Andrews Pass.
If exploring is more your style you can rent a bicycle from the general store in St. Andrews State Park and explore some of the many roads, trails and pathways that loop throughout the preserve. You can even rent a canoe or kayak if you’d like to get out in the water or marshes and explore the coastline.
Shell Island is also an option while you’re visiting St. Andrew’s Park. There’s a shuttle that runs from the mainland to the island regularly but you want to call and reserve a spot if that’s what you plan on doing for the day.
Snorkeling, scuba diving and swimming are all popular along the jetties and some of the color waters offer a great pool for smaller children. Remember, there are no lifeguards in the state park so swimming and scuba diving should be done at your own risk.
St. Andrew’s Park has its own campground as well featuring 176 campsites complete with electricity, water, picnic tables and barbecue grills. They can accommodate tents or RVs up to 40 feet. There’s a larger camping area for scouts and larger groups.
Aaron Bessant Park
This is one of Panama City Beach’s newest and most landscaped parks. It’s the centerpiece of Panama City Beach and it features a state-of-the-art amphitheater ideal for venues, musical entertainment, performances and festivals. It is located adjacent to Pier Park and offers over 70 acres featuring a Veterans Memorial, trails, a grassy area and picnic tables throughout. You can bring your dog to the park but it must be kept on a leash at all times.
Bigger than three times the size of Central Park in New York City, Conservation Park features nearly 3000 acres ideal for wetlands, wildlife and natural preserve. This was originally developed as an innovative system to restore thousands of acres of protected wetlands. If you’re looking to get back to nature, conservation Park will definitely do it for you. Visitors can enjoy the parks 24 miles of unpaved trails and boardwalks perfect for hiking, running or bicycling. Trails range from one half a mile took to 12 miles and the paved gales trails connect the conservation Park trails with other trail systems throughout the beach and the city. There are no motorized vehicles of any kind throughout the park and horses are allowed on the trails as our dogs as long as they are on a leash.
Frank Brown Park
This is Panama City Beach’s ideal facility for sports featuring over 200 acres of sports courts, sports fields, jogging tracks and a children’s playground. This is also home to the Panama City Beach aquatic center. This facility offers a 50 m Olympic pool ideal for swim meets or pool training. It features a springboard Anna diving well ideal for master synchronized swimmers and national championships. There’s also a 5000 square-foot splash park ideal for the little kids. Frank Brown Park features a dog park with a fenced in, off leash play area. Fishermen enjoy the stopped fishing pond right on the park grounds. The park regularly hosts regional and national events for softball, baseball and tennis. Other fields and courts include softball and baseball fields, T-ball fields, soccer fields, multipurpose football fields, shuffleboard courts, basketball and tennis courts, indoor gymnasium, playgrounds, and of course the aquatic center.
Camp Helen State Park
This ecological gem sits on the Western border of Panama City Beach. It’s just over the Phillips Inlet Bridge close to the border of Walton County. Because it’s a beach Park it features pristine beaches, excellent trails, sand dunes and oak forests. There’s also are famous rare dune lakes located in Helen State Park.
The park is bordered on three sides by water making it a unique ecological wonder. Lake Powell forms on the eastern border and is one of the largest coastal dune lakes in the world. This freshwater lake mixes fresh and saltwater resulting in what is known as brackish water.
Camp Helen State Park has five distinct areas: the mesic flatwoods, scrub oak, basin Swamp, depression Marsh, and Marine unconsolidated substrate. Each of these ecosystems can be viewed through a short walk through the park but bring your hiking boots and flip-flops as you’ll probably be vacillating between the two throughout the walk. There’s no camping at the park but fishing, boating and fires are allowed in designated areas. Also, there’s no lifeguard so make sure you swim and fish at your own risk using good judgment when entering any body of water.
These are our areas five best beach parks. Each one offer something unique and different whether it’s a great venue for the latest rock concert or a quiet getaway fishing on a dock all your own. Get out there, and enjoy some of Panama City Beach’s best parks.