Gulf Coast Beach Camping

I love the beach. The first time I went to the beach I was an infant, maybe three weeks old, and since then I’ve been hooked. I love mountains and desert too, but the beach is always my favorite place to visit. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to visit the beach as often as I want to. Seriously, I’d go every weekend if I could.

So two years ago my husband and I, with friends, tried beach camping in the Gulf Island National Seashore area in Florida. Wow. Did we learn some things. I had been to the area camping with a friend’s family once before and knew it was a TREK when you had too much stuff.

First of all, we brought WAY too much stuff, including a kayak. This “beach” camping was actually a mile or so hike in, on the sand, from where you drop off all your stuff at the trailhead and move your car down the road into a lot. I kept warning my husband it was more strenuous than it seemed, but of course he always likes to overpack when we car camp, and did not think it would be that big of a deal. I also warned our friends, but everyone kept saying, one mile, that’s no big deal, etc. But – it’s one-plus miles on sand, in the hot sun. Have you ever tried to drag a cooler with wheels over sand? NOT FUN. Of course we all brought coolers, bins of camping stuff, chairs, umbrellas, and everything we usually did when car camping.

Never again. Everyone was super exhausted after making multiple trips back and forth from the trailhead, hauling all our extra stuff, which literally took hours. After that it was beautiful of course, but we were exhausted just thinking about the walk back. I haven’t been able to entice any of my friends to camp there again yet.

The next time we went, it was just my husband and I, for one night only. We did waaaay better the second time around, knowing the amount of junk we brought before that was seriously unneeded. First of all, we stayed at the day-use area with bathrooms, pavilions, grills, and easy access to the car for our day time beach use. This made it easier to haul chairs, umbrellas, and a cooler out to enjoy a day at the beach, but not have to drag it all the way down a 1+ mile stretch. After enjoying a relaxing day at the beach, we put all the junk back in the car and walked to our campsite much less burdened.

For the night we brought one backpack filled with a few clothes, dry food, water, and toiletries, and small folding chairs. (*This is primitive camping, meaning no bathrooms!) The one item I wanted, but is not at all a necessity, was cold beer. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy an ice cold beer on a warm beach? So we brought a small collapsible fabric cooler with some beer and ice in it, that I could carry on my shoulder instead of dragging over the sand.

Another item that weighed us down before was wood. Before we had brought mounds of it, which of course we used but didn’t necessarily need. This time we decided to only bring one piece. I know, I hear you saying, “ONE piece? How is that possible??” Well, have you ever heard of something called a swedish log? It’s an amazing invention. They sell a smaller version of this at many grocery/hardware stores; the one we used was called a “Light N’ Go Bonfire Log”, sold at Home Depot. It’s one piece of log (stump really) that is cut into six sections, but not enough to cut the log into separate pieces. The great thing is it lasts for HOURS, as well as offering a flat surface to put a pot on top to cook in. So just going for one night camping, we experimented and brought one bonfire log as our only wood, and it worked! We tied it onto the outside of our backpack, as it came with a piece of cord stapled onto it for easy carrying. It lasted a long time, was easy to transport, and burning it lessened our load on the hike back.

Results of our one-night backpacking experiment? Amazing. Beach camping on the gulf coast of Florida can be magical, as long as you don’t over-pack. It was a beautiful evening, cool enough to sleep with a constant breeze off the water even in july, and a lovely sunrise over the water to wake up to.


10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Key West

1. Completely FREE museum about the Florida Keys ecosystems, it holds a 2,400 gallon reef aquarium, and has free parking which is rare in Key West.  Unfortunately is was closed Sunday and Monday, the days we were in Key West, as it was going to be our first stop. We’ll just have to visit it next time!

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