Are you looking for wildlife? Fishing? Beach? History? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, St. Andrews State Park is for you! Though as of yet I’ve only visited the park once, I know I’ll visit many times in the future, for it’s impossible to take in all 1,260 acres in one day!
Luckily, you don’t have to. The first thing I did upon entering the park was check out the camping opportunities. Not one but two campgrounds line Grand Lagoon, with sites both on the shore and in the pine groves. There are 176 sites in all, complete with electricity, picnic tables, grills, and water. I stopped one woman who was camping at the edge of the lagoon, and she told me with a huge grin that it was the best campsite ever.
Continuing on towards the beach, my cousin Nina and I stopped at the Buttonwood Marsh Overlook. It’s no surprise to regular readers of the blog that I look for birds everywhere as I explore, and St. Andrews – a stop on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – did not disappoint. At the overlook alone I spotted multiple species of egrets and herons, resting atop the flowering buttonwood trees. My cousin however, had eyes for only one species - the American Alligator.
Though we didn’t see any at the overlook, our next stop held more promise: Gator Lake. Multiple signs warned us against swimming or wading in the lake, and we carefully followed the boardwalk and nature trail.
At first, we saw nothing, shielding our eyes against the bright afternoon sun. In the center of the lake was a small island, absolutely covered with egrets making a racket. While that impressed me, Nina sighed, disappointed.
Just as we were about to leave, a long, dark shape appeared from under the surface near the island – a distinct silhouette that could only belong to an alligator! It was huge, swimming away from us for a few moments before disappearing again. High-fiving, we were thrilled at our sighting. As I took more pictures of the lake, Nina peered over the railing at the shallow water below the boardwalk.
“Erika!” she cried, pointing, “I see another one!”
While we had been distracted by the larger alligator in the center of the lake, one had appeared right below our feet. Though much smaller than the first, our superior vantage point gave us great looks at its powerful snout, armored skin, and tapering tail. A mother and her son strode towards us down the boardwalk, and we quickly motioned them over to see it as well. Success!
Of course, we could not visit the park without walking the beach. Snorkelers and swimmers were busy exploring the jetties, while others relaxed under umbrellas and tents. With beautiful water and bright sand, there’s more than 1.5 miles of this coastline open to visitors.
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About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time.