Northwest Florida is known for its sugar-white beaches, emerald-green waters, pristine natural springs, and millennia old cave systems—all of which offer adventurers ample opportunities to explore the natural wonders. Canoeing, paddle boarding, kayaking, spelunking, scuba diving, and snorkeling are all easily accessible in the Florida Panhandle. You'll also find great food, historical interests, and easy lodging that help make a trip to the Florida's Northern Gulf Coast even more desirable for outdoor enthusiasts. But how much do you really know about the area? Here are 7 interesting facts that about the Florida Panhandle that may surprise you.
1. Historical Settlements
St. Augustine, Florida, was previously thought to be the first United States settlement, but thanks to the archaeology department at the University of West Florida, there’s now an overwhelming amount of evidence suggesting that the title actually belongs to Pensacola, the westernmost municipality in the panhandle.
The city of Pensacola and its surrounding areas are home to a rich military history that can still be found at Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, and Fort McRee. Pickens and Barrancas are still maintained and available for touring, while most of McRee was destroyed by a combination of Confederate forces and erosion. These forts were all built after the War of 1812 in an effort to fortify the coastline, and Fort Barrancas, now a part of the city’s current Navy base, once held famed Apache prisoner Geronimo.
2. A Difference in Sand
One of the panhandle’s calling cards is its sandy beaches, all a stark white color found almost nowhere else in the world. The Appalachian Mountains can be thanked for these pristine sections of coastline: Quartz eroded from the mountains and flowed down the Apalachicola River until finally deposited all along the coast.
A sign of a clean, healthy beach is the characteristic “squeak” the sand makes while sunscreen-lathered visitors tromp along the shores. Thankfully, most of the beaches in Northwest Florida have that clean squeak of health. Folks checking out these immaculate sands are instructed not to walk on the dunes or pull their sea oats, and fines for both offenses are strictly enforced, as the life of the beach depends on the dunes.
3. Emerald Coast
The waters that earned the Emerald Coast its well-deserved name are a brilliant emerald hue that often stretches out well past the first few sandbars. And while anyone can see these beaches are downright gorgeous, not everyone knows why. The answer is rather simple: The Mississippi River dumps so much sediment into the Gulf of Mexico that its mouth can be seen via satellite as a muddy, brown spill that often extends well beyond the Mississippi state line.
But further east, starting near Perdido and Pensacola Beaches, the sediment tapers off and what’s left is crystal clear water given its characteristic emerald glow thanks to the sun’s reflection upon harmless, microscopic algae. On a cloudy or rainy day, the waters can appear more blue or brown, but thankfully, the green always prevails.
4. The Largest National Forest in Florida
The beaches may be the panhandle’s biggest draw, but the forests of Northwest Florida make up the majority of this stretch of land. In fact, the panhandle is home to the state’s largest national forest, the Apalachicola National Forest, which sits just southwest of Tallahassee. It’s Florida’s only national forest, and it boasts plentiful hiking, canoeing, wildlife viewing, and the recently viral phenomenon of sinkholes. Hikers are welcomed and encouraged to visit this truly wild segment of Florida.
5. Falling Waters
Falling Waters State Park is home to another state record: Florida’s tallest waterfall. The catch? No one actually knows how tall the waterfall is, as it falls directly into a sinkhole. We can say that the falls plummet a visible 73 feet before vanishing into the unknown. Aside from viewing the falls, a butterfly garden, picnic area, swimming lake, nature trail, and birding opportunities make this little park a hidden gem not to be missed.
6. Natural Springs
Northwest Florida is home to an abundance of natural springs, including Morrison Springs, Vortex Springs, Jackson Blue Springs, Madison Blue Springs, and more. These stunning, clear waters typically hover around a chilly 72 degrees, but swimmers in bikinis and divers in scuba suits alike brave the chill for experience these incredible Floridian features. Wildlife viewing and hiking throughout the areas surrounding each spring are popular activities, and at Wakulla Springs, a boat-led alligator tour. Worry not swimmers, as the gators prefer the surrounding waters versus the spring itself.
7. Dolphin Watching
Few animals are as majestic to encounter in person as Atlantic Coastal bottlenose dolphins, and Destin, Florida, is one of the best places to spot these strong and peaceful creatures in abundance. Locally owned and operated, the Southern Star Dolphin Cruises are known for its family-friendly excursions into the Gulf of Mexico, during which pods of dolphins swim up alongside the boat and put on a playful display. The comfortable two-hour cruises take place on 80-foot double-decker glass-bottom boats. Just kick back and relax on the bright green water as you enjoy the antics of this amazing creature.
Originally written for Wyndham Vacation Rentals (FL).