We love the Florida state parks. That being said, we are on a quest to visit them all. This week we had the pleasure of visiting Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park located in Niceville, Florida.
A Little History
Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park is the former site of a WWII gunnery and bombing practice range that was transformed into a state park with longleaf pines. Some of these longleaf pines are over 300 years old!!!
There is a guard booth/camp store you will need to stop at as there is a fee to enter. You can drive up to a window or go inside the camp store to pay the entrance fee. We drove up and the ranger we spoke with was friendly and very helpful. He answered our questions and provided us with pamphlets and maps of the park and other Florida state parks. He even had some good suggestions for us which were very much appreciated. The camp store sells things like firewood, ice, and souvenirs.
A Fork In The Road
After driving past the guard booth/camp store, you will come up to a fork in the road. If you go straight you will enter the campground. If you go left you will enter the day-use area. We checked out both but this article will be about the day-use area. A campground review will follow shortly.
There is one road that takes you through the entire day-use area. Along the way, there will be small parking areas that you can park at for each section. The first section you come to is on your right side. This is the canoe/kayak rental area. To rent a canoe/kayak you will pay at the camp store and you will be informed of the prices and rules. I will not include prices here as they can change at any time. There is an area you can park at while you are out kayaking/canoeing.
This area also has picnic tables, a trail entrance that leads to the campground area, and the start of a fitness trail. The trail that takes you to the campground area can be used to access two more nature trails. More on that later. The fitness trail is a trail that you can walk that has fitness stations along the way. It has areas that you stop and perform different types of exercises. For example, there are sit-up areas, a pull-up area, and a push-up area to name a few. We decided to pass on the fitness trail and just do the nature walks…lol. If you decide to pass on the fitness trail and/or canoeing/kayaking activities, you can continue to the next section.
The Main Section
The next area you come to along the road is what we would call the main area. Here you will find many picnic tables, a playground, beach access, and covered pavilions. The covered pavilions can be rented for the day or used by anyone if not rented. The playground area is the perfect area for small children. You and your family could spend the day in this section alone. There are BBQs located throughout this section. Across the street from this section are the bathrooms. We found the bathrooms to be very clean and well maintained.
Next to the restroom building is the entrance to a nature trail. The Red Cedar Trail is approximately .75 of a mile long and loops around back to the main road. The trail is an easy access trail with signage along the way explaining the vegetation you will see. There are also benches along the way if you need a rest or would just like to sit and enjoy nature. Oh yeah, one more thing, if you like to Geocache you just may find one along this trail…hint…hint.
Our Lunch Section
Ok, you have just been through the first two sections of the park. Continuing along the road will bring you to the third section. This section has covered pavilions, picnic tables, beach access, and a parking area. This is where we decided to stop and eat lunch. We always bring our own lunch and this spot was perfect. We had a great view overlooking the Bayou.
If you continue on a little further you will come to the end of the road which loops back around. This is the boat launch area. It features a building with bathrooms, large parking spots for vehicles with trailers, a boat ramp, and dock. It is very well laid out. While we were there we saw someone entering the bayou with there kayak. You will need a Florida state fishing license if you want to fish here.
Paved Roads/Dirt Parking Areas
All the areas you have passed to this point have their own parking. It had been raining the prior two days and to our surprise, the park was not flooded or that muddy. The main paved road only had one section with a small puddle and this road runs from the guard booth/camp store to the boat ramp. The parking spaces are grass/dirt. We mention this just in case you come by motorcycle as we did. If you do, you might want to bring something to put under your kickstand.
Looping around and heading back towards the camping area, we parked near the canoe/kayak rentals. There was a sign that stated there was a trail to the camping area. When we originally entered the park the ranger told us we could either use that trail or drive into the campground area to access the other two nature trails. We chose to walk the trail.
Puddin Head Stream
The trail led into the campground section near a building that housed the restrooms and showers. We walked the road to the other side of the campground to access the trails. The trail entrance is well marked with signage. There is a small covered picnic table area and a footbridge that leads over the now dried up (well almost dried up) Puddin Head Stream.
The Sand Pine Trail
Once you cross the footbridge you will be standing in an area that serves as an entrance to the two trails. We chose to do the Sand Pine Trail first. It is the longer of the two coming in at about 1 mile. It’s a loop that features signage explaining the vegetation and has numerous benches along the way. It’s an easy to navigate flat trail (except for one small section that’s slightly downhill) and even features a Geocache!!!
The Rocky Bayou Trail
As you loop around and come to the end, you’ll find yourself back at the footbridge. We then headed out on the other trail. The Rocky Bayou Trail is only about a half a mile and loops a little closer to the water. It’s an easy to navigate flat trail that will loop you around back to the footbridge. This trail also has benches and some placards explaining the different types of vegetation.
By the time we completed both trails, it was starting to get late. We still had an hour ride back to the campground we were staying at so we figured we should be moving on. It was about a one-half mile walk back to the parking area where our motorcycle was parked. It took us a little longer to walk back than it should have because we stopped to chat with some campers along the way. Everyone there was super friendly.
This park was another one of Florida’s awesome parks. It offered a little bit of everything. A boat launch, picnic areas, playgrounds, beach access, nature trails, a fitness trail, camping area, and canoe/kayak rentals. The people we met were all friendly and the surrounding views were beautiful. We feel it’s well worth the entry fee.
One thing to note. We were there in the offseason on a weekday. We’re pretty sure this park would be much busier in the middle of summer on a weekend so plan accordingly. All in all, we enjoyed our day here and we would definitely recommend this park to anyone who was in the area and looking for something to do.
We also noted that while on the trails the informational placards showed most of the trees in bloom with flowers. Visiting the park as we did in January, unfortunately, we did not get to experience the trees in bloom. It was also a lovely 65 degrees and no bugs! During the warmer months, it will be much warmer and many more bugs with be in the park so bug spray or another alternative to keep the bugs at bay are suggested.
Date of Visit: January 24th, 2020
Entrance Fee: $4 (Motorcycle)
If you have been to this park before let us know in the comments below. If you have any questions about this article you can leave them in the comments below or contact us by clicking the link below: