Bordered on three sides by water, Camp Helen State Park is an ecological wonder that should be on everyone’s must visit list.
Situated to the west of Panama City Beach, this 180-acre day-use state park is split between Lake Powell to the east and the Gulf of Mexico.
Featuring one of the rarest and largest coastal dune lakes in the world, it is the perfect place to visit for kayaking, paddling, swimming, fishing and nature study, birding, hiking and picnicking.
An area with a rich history, prehistoric mounds and middens determine that humans lived in the area over 4,000 years ago. Today the only permanent residents of this Florida state park are the diverse flora and fauna that inhabit it all year round.
As there are no onsite camping facilities at Camp Helen State Park, visitors looking for overnight accommodation need to base themselves at other campgrounds. Luckily, there are lots of options available within an easy driving distance.
A big drawcard of this park is that guests can enjoy a range of outdoor recreational pursuits.
Here is a small selection of some of the many activities you can do during your time there.
Water activities at Camp Helen State Park
Flanked on three sides by water, the picturesque peninsula provides guests with direct access to both Lake Powell.
This renders it an excellent destination for kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming.
If you did not bring a watercraft with you to the park, they can be hired onsite.
Before swimming, it is recommended you check out the colored flags on the beach and welcome stations as they denote current conditions.
Should you venture into the water you will do so at your own risk as the area is not lifeguarded.
Fishing at Camp Helen State Park
If you love fishing then you will love the opportunities available to cast a line at Camp Helen State Park.
Down by the surf, saltwater fishing is popular, while you will find both saltwater and freshwater fish at Lake Powell.
At either place there are lots of suitable areas of shoreline for fishing. However, before you do so, check with the Florida Wildlife Commission to see if you require a license.
Hiking at Camp Helen State Park
As well as the beach which runs along both the gulf and the lake, the park boasts five additional ecological communities. These include scrub, marine unconsolidated substrate, depression marsh, basin swamp and mesic flatwoods.
These communities are best explored via the park’s system of scenic hiking trails. The main one of which is the Oak Canopy Trail, which meanders for a mile through a landscape that includes lush maritime forest, a duck pond and salt marshes.
Another trail, the Oak Hammock Trail North is a wheelchair accessible route that follows along Lake Powell’s shoreline. It showcases stunning views that also incorporate pine flatwoods and a coastal hammock.
Picnicking at Camp Helen State Park
Throughout the park there are several picnic tables available for guests to enjoy a spot of al fresco dining.
Many of these tables have access to grills as well, which allows you to cook up hot food for lunch.
There is also one covered, albeit fairly small, picnic pavilion available for visitors to use too.
Please note, the consumption of alcoholic beverages is strictly not permitted at these picnic tables.
Birding at Camp Helen State Park
Birding is also a popular activity at the park on account of the many different species that reside within it.
The park is home to a number of breeds, many of which live there all year round. Others only appear during the migratory season of spring or fall.
Irrespective of what time of the year you visit, you will want to bring your binoculars and camera with you. Some of the species you might see include osprey, Cooper’s hawk, kingfisher and bald eagle.
You should also be able to spot several shorebirds as well including snowy and piping plovers, as well as least terns.
If you didn’t bring binoculars with you to the park, they are available to borrow at the visitor center.
Nature & Wildlife
For those into wildlife viewing, Camp Helen State Park provides nice opportunities to do this.
During your time at the park you might be able to spot the likes of opossums, white-tailed deer and squirrels. All of which reside permanently here.
If you are lucky, (or unlucky!) you might even get to see the occasional black bear too.
Pets at Camp Helen State Park
Fixing to bring your dog with you on your visit? Then you will be pleased to read that pets are welcome at Camp Helen State Park.
They are not allowed on the beach however, and they will need to be kept on a hand-held leash of no more than six feet in length at all times.
Please note, service animals are welcome to join you in all parts of the park.
Camping at Camp Helen State Park
As the park is a day use only there are no camping facilities available within it. However, just a 20 minute drive away you will find the Grayton Beach campground.
If you need somewhere to base yourself for a night or two in order to visit Camp Helen State Park, this is one of the nicest of all camping areas that reside along the Gulf Coast.
Overall this state-run, pet-friendly campground has 59 camping sites, each of which come with hookups for water and electricity as well. Some of them even have hookups for sewer too, while 4 are ADA accessible.
For those who want to stay here, the maximum length for RVs is 40 feet.
Camp Helen State Park
23937 Panama City Beach Pkwy
Panama City Beach, FL 32413
Here is a short YouTube video showcasing several attractions at Camp Helen State Park: