This often overlooked ecological gem sits on the far western border of Panama City Beach, just over the Phillips Inlet Bridge and close to the border of Walton County. Offering pristine beaches, excellent trails that wind through dunes and scrub oak forests, and a rare dune lake, Camp Helen State Park is truly one of Florida’s most special state parks.
Purchased in 1928 by Robert E. Hicks, the original 185-acres that is now Camp Helen State Park was used as a family summer retreat before being purchased by the Alabama company, Avondale Textile Mills, which renamed the park Camp Helen and used it as a resort destination for vacationing employees. The historic lodge and associated buildings still stand today and have undergone recent renovations.
Camp Helen State Park is bordered by water on three sides, and the unique combination makes it the ecological wonder that it is. Lake Powell forms the eastern border, and is one of the largest rare coastal dune lakes found only a few places in the world. At times, this freshwater lake will breech the spit of land that separates it from the Gulf of Mexico, and the resulting channel causes fresh and salt water to mix, resulting in what’s known as “brackish” water.
The park is home to five distinct natural communities, including mesic flatwoods, scrub oak, basin swamp, depression marsh, and marine unconsolidated substrate. Each of these ecosystems can be viewed in only a short walk through Camp Helen State Park, but you might want to have both your hiking boots and your flip-flops handy, as you’ll spend time both in the woods and on the beach here!
There is no camping at Camp Helen State Park, but fishing, boating and fires are allowed in designated areas. No lifeguard is on duty, so exercise caution and use good judgment when entering any body of water.
Camp Helen State Park
23937 Panama City Beach Pkwy.
Phone: (850) 233-5059