Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
Since 1966, Rocky Bayou State Park has welcomed visitors for daytime fun and overnight camping on the north shore of Choctawhatchee Bay. Within its 357 acres you’ll find old-growth long leaf pine trees, rare plants and animals, three hiking trails, and plenty of picnic spots to set up your base camp for a day full of adventures.
Originally part of the Choctawhatchee National Forest, the park became part of the region’s vast militarygunnery and bombing practice ranges of World War II when that land was deeded to the U. S. Department of Defense in 1940. During that time the range encompassed over 800 square miles of Northwest Florida beaches and coastline. Remnants of test bombs from Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle's B-52 squadron are believed to still exist here.
The park is named for Colonel Fred Gannon, Director of Civil Engineering at Eglin Air Force Base, who was instrumental in converting it to a public recreational facility. In the late 1950s, Gannon proposed designs for the new park and initial construction began under his direction. Shortly after completion of the road and trail work, the lands were leased from the U.S. Forest Service and became part of the Florida State Park system. In 2005, the state assumed ownership of the property through a State-Federal land exchange.
Although you can bike here, bicycles are limited to the paved roads and there are only three miles of them. However, if you’re camping, by all means bring bikes. It’s a great way to get around the park.
Water sports are what you’re really after here and there are plenty of them. A double boat ramp with twin docks lets boaters launch easily and there is plenty of trailer parking. The park’s location makes it easy to get to Choctawhatchee Bay and into the gulf in no time. Overnight docking is not permitted, so boats must be out of the water by sunset. Ramp fees are $5.00.
For canoeing and kayaking you can bring your own boat or rent one of the park’s for a few hours or a full day. Paddling the Rocky Bayou Aquatic Preserve is a great way to spot dolphins, otters, osprey, bald eagles, and brown pelicans.
Fishing is a popular activity. A freshwater stream feeds the bayou so many varieties of fish can be caught here. Saltwater fish may be caught in Rocky Bayou and freshwater fishing is available where Rocky Creek flows into the bay. Some of the more common fish found here are mullet, trout, and flounder. A fishing license may be required.
Click below for a quick video overview of activities at Rocky Bayou State Park.
There are three hiking trails in the park, one accessible from the picnic area and two from the campgrounds. The Red Cedar Trail is an easy loop through a forest of flowering dogwood, yaupon holly, Choctawhatchee sand pine, and southern red cedar. The Sand Pine Trail is a loop that follows the Eastern Shore of Puddin Head Stream, which is a rare habitat unique to this area. Here you’ll see several species of aquatic plants, including the rare pitcher plant and Florida Anise. The third trail is the Rocky Bayou Trail which borders the picturesque shoreline of the bayou.
If you’re ready to do some Florida camping, Rocky Bayou State Park is the perfect place. There are 42 secluded campsites with water and full 30/50 amp hookups for both tent and RV camping. Each of the shady sites accommodates an RV up to 40 feet in length and has a picnic table and a fire ring. There are four ADA sites and some sites have views of the bayou. There are also laundry facilities, vending machines, a dump station, and a heated and air-conditioned community bathhouse.
Camping reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Call (800) 326-3521 (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) or TDD (888) 433-0287.
Campers may also use the day-use facilities. There are picnic tables and pavilions with barbecue grills, a public shower, a children’s playground, and a fitness trail with various workout stations that are much better than the gym because they come with a bayou view.
With beautiful sunsets over the bayou, Rocky Bayou State Park is popular as a wedding venue. The pavilions are available to rent after sunset year round and daytime rentals are available September through May. For more information call Carolyn, the Events Coordinator, at (850) 269-1062. She is in the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park
4281 State Road 20
Niceville, FL 32578
Hours of Operation:
The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.
The park is located in Niceville Florida on State Road 20, five miles east of Highway 85 and about two miles west of the Mid-Bay Bridge to Destin.
$5.00 per vehicle for day use. Limit 8 people per vehicle.
$4.00 Single Occupant Vehicle
$2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass
$16.00 per night, plus tax. Includes water and electricity. Florida residents who are 65 years of age or older or who hold a social security disability award certificate or a 100 percent disability award certificate from the Federal Government are permitted to receive a 50 percent discount on current base campsite fees. Proof of eligibility is required.
Additional User Fees:
$5.00 Boat ramp fee
$75.00 per day, plus tax, for Pavilion rental.
Pets are permitted in designated day-use areas and the camping area. Pets are not permitted on beaches or the playground, or in bathing areas, or any park buildings. They must be kept on a hand-held leash that is six feet or shorter and be well-behaved at all times. Pet owners are required to pick up after their pets and properly dispose of their droppings. Available throughout the park are courtesy mutt mitts. Service animals are welcome in all areas of Florida State Parks.
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