If you’re looking for a free campsite that’s not far from Pensacola and the beaches, this might fit the bill. The Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area has a lovely little rustic campground beneath the live oaks and right on the east shore of Blackwater Bay.
Note: There are a few potential downsides that you’ll want to consider also (see the end of this post.)
As far as free camping goes, this is one we’d come back to. The site is removed from the hustle and bustle, but near enough that an easy 15 minute drive puts you near whatever you might need. The campground is several miles from the road, so there is absolutely zero road noise. You’re surrounded by a beautiful Florida forest of live oaks, pines, and palmettos. What’s more, the campground borders the bay with a small shoreline beach. (Or, if you end up on the “Bayou Side” campground, it’s smaller and is on the marsh.)
The campground is well maintained, and the sites are all clearly marked. Each site is clearly defined also, with split rail fence between you and your neighbor. The campsites are all partly shaded from the strong sun by the live oaks. This is dry camping, so there is no running water and no bathhouse. There are a couple of porta-potties. And there are bear-proof trashcans about also. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit.
You can fish, swim or kayak the bay. There are also a few hiking trails near the campground. The Blackwater River State Park’s within an easy driving distance.
The free public beach (Navarre beach) is only a 20 minute drive. Besides just the sheer enjoyment of a day at the beach, swimming in the emerald colored Gulf, there are showers of sorts at most of the beaches. They’re out in the open, so swim suits are required! But, it provides a handy way to get a shower in when you’re dry camping. The cool water from the shower feels heavenly after a swim in the Gulf. Plus, with a little effort and creativity, you can use the showers to fill your camping water jugs.
There’s also a man-made snorkeling reef near Navarre. And Navarre Beach has a lovely pier that extends way out over the beautiful gulf. It’s $1 daily entrance fee for spectators and $7 for fisherman, but that price buys you access to the pier all day. Pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it!
The town of Navarre is only 15 minutes away from the campground, and has nearly all the conveniences you might need, including: fast food restaurants with Wi-Fi, Winn Dixie (grocery), Walmart, etc. On the way to Navarre you’ll pass an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts and a Laundry also. There are plenty of gas stations around as well.
Some important things you’ll want to consider:
- This campground is by reservation only. It is patrolled several times a day, so if you try to squat on an unclaimed site, you will be asked to leave. As a positive, you can know that, if you have a reservation, your site will be available for you.
Note: If you make a reservation, but end up not coming… please cancel your reservation. Otherwise, you’re keeping others from enjoying the park.
- Besides being a “dry” campground in terms of potable water, it is also a “dry” campground in terms of alcohol. No alcohol is permitted in sight (or technically, in possession). Did I mention that the campground is patrolled regularly? If caught, they can ask you to leave.
- The reservation website promotes some of the campsites as waterfront. They are more like “water-view” than waterfront, with a fenced walking area for all the campground guests between you and the bayshore. Sites 1-8 are along the waterfront, but with a greenbelt that all campers share between you and the water. Sites on the perimeter away from the bay (#9 & #10) have a little more privacy, but the greenery blocks the slight (but oh so needed) night breezes off the water. The sites along the bay seem to get more of the breeze. Here’s the (bayside) campground map:
- There is a solar streetlight over the porta-pottie area. If you happen to end up in site # (11), your camp will be VERY well lit at night.
- The campground is surrounded (literally) by the nearby Air Force base. While the landing strip is on the other side of the main road, it’s enough of a distance away that you don’t feel like the airplanes are landing on your head. However, frequently (at night) you’ll hear them practicing their drills. It sounds like fireworks. Also, they have some sort of a rifle training range back in the woods. You don’t see it, but you can sometimes hear them practicing drills at night.
- There are restrictions about running generators on campers overnight.
- It is Florida. Be prepared for bugs, and lots of tiny little biting ants.
Lastly, DO NOT follow your GPS’s advice to find this campground. It’ll try to take you off on unmaintained sand roads (on Air Force property) to parts unknown. Stay on Wolf Choctaw Road until you get to Choctaw Field Road (you’ll have to turn, as the road is otherwise barricaded). Stay on that road until you get to the campground.
To make your reservation: http://myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/lead/escribano-point/camping/