Monday, January 1, 2018

Camp Helen State Park

Live Oak Landing
December 30, 2017
Freeport, FL

What a real treat and surprise Camp Helen turned out to be !  Joe and I both agreed, we saved the best for last...maybe its because we had visited Grayton and Topsail State Parks on previous visits. Don't misunderstand, both those parks should be on anyones list of absolutely gorgeous places to visit when planning a trip to South Walton Beaches.  But, Camp Helen (actually in Bay County with a Panama City Beach address) had a charm all it's own.  It is surrounded by water with Lake Powell on the east and north, a salt marsh on the west and the Gulf on the south.  

Lake Powell is the largest of the 15 named coastal dune lakes.  In an earlier post I had stated Western Lake at Grayton SP was the largest...and it is in Walton County.  But Lake Powell takes the trophy for being the largest of all at 767 acres (it is actually in both Walton and Bay counties).  Hwy 98 runs right over the shimmering blue water. 

 The trail that meanders through the park is called the Oak Canopy Trail. It is divided into 2 sections...the north trail that runs under the Hwy 98 bridge to a marsh and the south trail that leads to the beach, a marsh, and an oak canopy forest.  We opted for the south section.   

After following the lake, we enjoyed the marsh area.  One lonely duck is all we saw.  

At the intersection we went left towards the beach.  There wasn't a wooded walkway like in the other parks...just lots of rope and signs designating "protected areas" for dunes and nesting.
The first thing that caught our eye was the old pier.

But the most exciting thing that caught our eye was an outfall.  Yes ! Lake Powell and the Gulf of Mexico had a mixing of waters and oh was it a beautiful sight to see.  Lake Powell winds it's way to the gulf...


 Shorebirds were having just as much fun as we were.
A Willet

A couple of banded snowy plovers
 We spent a long time walking the beach and looking for sand dollars.  Joe found one about the size of a quarter but I forgot to get a picture.


The next section of  trail actually took us under the oak canopy.  Do you see the entrance?   

Saw Palmetto lined the way.

The sharp teeth along the stem give the plant it's name.
We heard a lot of birds, but it was hard to find them among the thick branches. 

Camp Helen has history.  Robert Hicks purchased 185 acres in 1928 where he built a summer home for his wife Margaret.  Avondale Mills (of Sylacauga, AL) bought the property from the Hicks family in 1945 as a resort camp for employee families (1945-1987).  In 1996, Florida purchased the park and opened Camp Helen in 1997. 
The horse stable became the Camp Director's office and a place for the employees of the mill to make their own beds and linens.

Camp Helen SP is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The last section of trail is a walk/tour of the historic grounds.  

Some buildings that have been renovated like the stable, the water tower and pump house and the rainbow cottages.

The Hicks family built the tower in the 1930s.  


The Rainbow cottages were built in the 1930s by the Mills for employees.

Other buildings, like the kitchen, are definitely showing their age.
This building was a general store and gas station for guests visiting the Hicks property.  It became the kitchen for the Mills employees.  A dining hall was attached to the back.  The belfry was originally on the stable, but moved to house the bell to announce meal times. 

 We had such a leisurely, pleasant day...a sunny day in-between rainy and yep, cold days.  Florida takes great pride in their state parks and it shows.  There are 175 award-winning state parks, state trails, and historic sites in the Sunshine State.  Other state parks in this area include Henderson and St. Andrews in Panama City Beach, Henderson in Destin, and Eden Gardens in Santa Rosa.  Also Point Washington State Forest offers primitive camping and trails to walk, bike or drive.

So, until next time...



  1. Happy New Year to a couple fellow vagabonds :)
    Box Canyon Mark

  2. The sand in this area is so beautiful. I love the deep, pure white sand that sings. Looks like a lovely time. Great park! It's so much fun exploring around old camps with history. Thanks for sharing:) Happy New Year to you, Joe, and the Tan Clan!

  3. Happy New Year you sure are enjoying your time there.

  4. Such a beautiful location!! I love the variety of scenery and colors. So glad you're having great weather.