With miles of sugar white sand, this park is one of the top rated beaches in the United States. Sunbathing, snorkeling, swimming and fishing are popular activities. A boat ramp which accommodates most trailered vessels is located at Eagle Harbor. Some of the highest dunes in the nation are found here as well as some of the last remaining habitat of coastal sand pine scrub. St. Joseph Peninsula State park has an abundance of wildlife and provides excellent opportunities for bird watching and wildlife viewing. The park offers two nature trails, picnic area, playground, 119 family camp sites, youth group camping or primitive camping and hiking in the 1900 acre wilderness preserve, which encompasses the northern end of the peninsula. A permit is required to access the wilderness area and nature trail. Eight cabins overlooking St. Joe Bay offer alternative accommodations. Camping and cabin reservations may be made by visiting ReserveAmerica.com or by calling ReserveAmerica at (800) 326-3521, TDD (888) 433-0287. Primitive and youth group camp reservations can be made by contacting the park. The park is extremely popular during scallop season. Ranger programs are available. Located west of Port St. Joe on Cape San Blas, take State road 30 off of highway 98 to Cape San Blas road.
HISTORY & NATURE
Native Americans were the first to enjoy the beauty and bounty of St. Joseph Bay. The peninsula was settled by hunter-gatherers of the Weeden Island and Mississippian, Fort Walton Cultures. Remains of shell tools and pottery of these cultures have been found in the park.
Spanish explorers named St. Joseph Bay in the early 1500’s, but did not settle here until 1701 when they built a fort, Presidio San Jose, and a mission at the tip of the peninsula. After a few years the settlers abandoned the fort and returned to Pensacola. Nothing remains of the settlement today. As the Florida Panhandle became an important part of shipping routes in the 1800’s, settlers from Apalachicola moved here hoping to establish a competing port. St. Joseph’s Point Lighthouse was built on the peninsula in 1839 to serve the shortlived town of St. Joseph across the by. After the town’s population was decimated by yellow fever in 1841, the lighthouse was dismantled.
In 1868, the Stone family purchased much of the land surrounding the bay, including the peninsula. They sold it to the U.S. Government in 1940 to use for military training. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park opened in 1967. It was dedicated to the former owner, T.H. Stone, a respected community leader in Gulf County.