Located on the west side of Panama City Beach, Camp Helen State Park offers more than 180-acres of land that are home to some of Northwest Florida’s rarest geological features. It is surrounded by water on three sides: Gulf of Mexico, Philips Inlet and Lake Powell (one of the largest Coastal Dune Lakes). During various tides, water breaches the dunes of Lake Powell,mixing its fresh water with the Gulf’s salt water. This rare feature is one of the distinguishing features of Coastal Dune Lakes and found here at Camp Helen.
In addition to its stretch of beach that borders both lake and Gulf, five other ecological communities make up the land including mesic flatwoods, scrub, basin swamp, depression marsh, and marine unconsolidated substrate. Hiking on Camp Helen’s many trails will lead you through most of these climates. The main hiking trail, Oak Canopy Trail, winds through the dense maritime forest, past the Duck Pond and salt marshes.
The trail is just under one mile in length, and offers plenty of benches to rest along the way.A smaller trail loops around the historical remnants of Camp Helen, where you can learn about the history and explore the structures that once played a large role in Camp Helen: including the Big House, Rainbow Cottages, Kitchen, Stables and Maid House. In the 1920s, Camp Helen was a recreation park for the employees of the Avondale textile mill. From the 1940s to 1980s,this was home to a resort destination, and now it is one of Florida’s state parks.
What Makes It Great
Take the Oak Canopy Trail to either the dunes of Lake Powell or the open stretch of beach bordering the Gulf of Mexico to find sea oats and Gulf blue lupine, which add a pop of color to the sandy landscape. During sea turtle nesting season, loggerhead and green sea turtles can be seen in the dunes.
Fishing at Camp Helen offer both fresh and saltwater options due to its location on the peninsula. For saltwater fishing, wade into the Gulf of Mexico to surf fish. You may have a chance to catch pompano, red fish, or bonito. For a toss-up between fresh water or salt water fishing, you’ll never know what you can catch in Lake Powell including redfish, trout, pompano, sheeps head, and black drum.
Who is Going to Love It
The beach at Camp Helen, particularly in the dunes along Lake Powell, are a great spot for beachcombing. Take the Oak Canopy Trail extension to the beach side on the Gulf of Mexicoand wander along the beach. Least terns and snowy plovers can also be seen nesting in the shelly dunes between Philips Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico. As part of the Florida Birding Trail,both beach and trail are opportune spots to find several coastal species and birdwatchers enjoy coming the park. On the beach dunes and in the maritime forest, be on the lookout for piping plovers, black skimmers, brown pelicans and Caspian terns. The trails are shaded by towering oaks and Southern magnolias, and act as another place for birds to nest.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Camp Helen State Park is open year-round from 8 a.m. until sunset. A $4 fee is required for each vehicle, or a $1 fee for pedestrians or bicyclists.On the beaches, note that no lifeguard is on duty, so exercise caution in the water. While Lake Powell’s waters are always flat as glass, the Gulf can sometimes get rough in windy weather,causing rip currents. If you do choose to fish, note that you must have a Florida fishing license.Pets are not allowed on the beach, but can be taken in the park’s other areas as long as they are on a leash no more than 6 feet long.