This is the second part of The Panhandle: The Part of Florida Most People Have Not Even Heard Of
Far Away From Everything Else: The Forgotten Coast and its Protected Areas
In Panama City, you reach the end of the Emerald Coast. Highway 98 continues along the coastline. Florida’s Forgotten Coast starts in Port St. Joe. Coming from the west, you can change routes and reach the interstate 10 up north in Panama City (highway 231) or Port St. Joe (highway 71). This is the option to drive directly to Tallahassee on the Interstate. On this northern route on I-10 and the little village Marianna, you can reach the Florida Caver State Park. These are the only cavers in Florida that are open to tourists. It only makes sense to do these caverns when you decide to stay on I-10 because you are now too far from the coast highway.
If you decide to not do that route, you can take the beautiful coastal highway 98 until St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. No matter how nice these coast routes are, you always need to consider that you cannot move fast at all. To do the entire route from New Orleans to Jacksonville on the coast highways, you need to plan several nights on the route. You can go from New Orleans to Jacksonville on the interstate in one or two days but you do not see get to see more than an interstate.
I liked all the retirement homes at the coast along that route, in particular for veteran homes. Spending your retirement like that is a dream, usually good weather and no cold winters.
There are many protected areas on route east of Panama City. For example the St. Marks I mentioned above (as the end point of the route) but also St. Joseph Bay and St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge. Further north, there is Walkulla Spring Park, a recreational area and common holiday destination for Americans with lots of flora and fauna. In Walkulla, the Tarzan Movie from 1938 was shot.
465 Wakulla Park Drive
Wakulla Springs, FL 32327
The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.
The Lodge is a full-service hotel facility, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Check-in time is 3 p.m. and check-out time is 11 a.m. Visit www.wakullaspringslodge.com for reservations.
The Edward Ball Dining Room is a full service restaurant, open daily at 7:30 am through dinner at 9 pm.
The Black Lagoon Parlour and Bar is open daily.
$6 per vehicle with between 2 – 8 occupants.
$4 per vehicle with single occupant.
$2 per extra vehicle occupant
$2 per pedestrian or bicyclist
GLASS BOTTOM OR RIVER BOAT TOURS
$8 (13 years old and up)
$5 (3 – 12 years old)
Free (under 3 years old)
Tallahassee as a Stop
Floridas capital Tallahassee is now close. Tallahassee is not one of the most spectacular cities I have ever seen. But it makes sense as a stop after several days at the coast. Tallahassee it the biggest city in Florida’s North (180,000 people) and has many hotel options. Interesting for tourists are two places: Goodwood Plantation and Museum (a former cotton plantation) and the Knott House Museum, that shows an exhibit about Florida’s history.
In Tallahassee you have temporarily left the coastline. You now have three options to continue your route.
You can go east to Jacksonville and the Atlantic Coast. Again on I-10, it takes 3 hours. You can continue your route further south from here.
A second option is to go north from Jacksonville to Savannah and Charleston.
We chose a third option which is to go from Tallahassee to the Okefenokee Swamp and to Savannah after that. We did not do Jacksonville at all to have more time in Okefenokee.
Some Information about the Panhandle
Don’t underestimate these routes. One example: driving along the southern peak of the forgotten coast (on highway 98 from Panama City to St. Joseph and St. Marks till Tallahassee) you need 5 to 6 hours for only 300 kilometers. The fastest route (highway 213, 20, and interstate 10) takes only 2 ¼ hours (180 km). That makes quite a difference. For these costal roads, you need time, rushing along these routes is pointless. You need to pick a few places that are important to you and decide what you want to do and what you can omit.
Anyone who enjoys crusing, stopping every now and then, seeing various nature preserve areas, watching birds or walking along a beach, has found the right place on earth in the Panhandle. Camping option are available and stopping is always possible. You can easily spend two weeks at the coast just doing that.
If you have less time, you are not able to see everything. You need to use the interstate 10 occasionally, just to make miles and drive a bit faster. Otherwise you would be spending your entire day in the car and you only have time for very shorts stops.
I prefer to mix these two options. In this case, that means: spending time outside, see the countryside, beaches and islands, with no rush there but also moving forward. I recommend this tour:
- Start in New Orleans
- First night somewhere between Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach. Depending on time and interest – 1 or 2 nights. Definitely stop in Perdido Key State Park. You can also camp here (or any other location from the Gulf Island National Seashore). Nature lovers and whoever wants to have more time for the countryside should plan to stay an additional 1- 2 nights
- If you like shopping – plan some time for the Silver Sands Premium Outlet in Destin. Depending on what you prefer – you can easily spend an entire day here; Drive to Panama City Beach – on the route you need some time to stop at beaches and swim if you feel like it. Two nights in Panama City to see the city and spend some time on the beach
- Next stop is Port St. Joe. Book a hotel somewhere close to the state parks. Now you have time to visit St. Joseph and St. Vincent and St. George Island
- Next Stop is Tallahassee – if you have time you can visit Walkulla Spring State Park on the way.
Is this the Right Holiday Destination For Me?
If you enjoy nature, like to be somewhere off the main tourist routes and don’t mind driving a bit longer, this is the right place for you. You find nature, coast, beaches and tranquility. Action and Entertainment are somewhere else, Orlando and Miami. I do like nature; it definitely looks different from everything I know from home. Bigger towns are everywhere; there you can get anything you need. You can visit these towns, but it’s not really necessary. Hotels and motels are everywhere, you always have many options. But you definitely need your own car and have to drive 2 – 3 hours per day. Depending a lot, of course, how much time you have and what you want to see. If you don’t mind that, the Panhandle is the perfect place for you.
This is Part 2.
Part 1 of this article can be found here: