Florida's Canoe Capital
The little town of Milton, the official "Canoe Capital of Florida" (by an act of the state legislature, no less), is about 20 miles northeast of Pensacola via U.S. 90. Its title is well earned, as the nearby Blackwater River, Coldwater River, Sweetwater Creek, and Juniper Creek are perfect for canoeing, kayaking, tubing, rafting, and paddleboating.
The Blackwater is considered one of the world's purest sand-bottom rivers. It has remained a primordial backwoods beauty, thanks chiefly to Florida's largest state forest (183,000 acres of oak, pine, and juniper) and Blackwater River State Park, 7720 Deaton Bridge Rd., Holt, FL 32564 (tel. 850/983-5363; www.floridastateparks.org/blackwaterriver), where you can observe plant life and wildlife along nature trails. The park has facilities for fishing, picnicking, and camping. Admission is $4 per day per vehicle with driver, $2 per extra vehicle passenger, $2 per pedestrian or bicyclist. Campsites cost $20. For camping reservations, call tel. 800/326-3521 or go to www.reserveamerica.com.
Adventures Unlimited, 8974 Tomahawk Landing Rd., Milton (tel. 800/239-6864 or 850/623-6197; fax 850/626-3124; www.adventuresunlimited.com), is a year-round resort with canoeing, kayaking, and tubing trips. Canoe trips start at $25 per person with a two-person minimum charge per canoe. Kayaking adventures are from $30. Tubes start at $18. There are 12 furnished cabins, including five riverfront cabins, three creekfront cabins, and several bungalows in the woods. Cabin prices range from $99 to $249 a night. Some cabins have fireplaces and tubs. Two-night minimum stays are required, 3 nights on holidays and from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Rustic cabins range in price from $49 to $59 per night and do not have indoor kitchens or bathrooms. There's also the School House Inn (eight rooms, all with private bathroom), whose rooms range $89 to $129 per night. Campsites are priced from $20 per night and one- and two-room camping cabins are $39 to $59. Call for reservations.
Blackwater Canoe Rental, 10274 Pond Rd. in Milton (tel. 800/967-6789 or 850/623-0235; www.blackwatercanoe.com), also rents canoes, kayaks, floats, tubes, and camping equipment. It has two kinds of camping trips by canoe or kayak: a day trip, ranging from $20 to $28 per person, and an overnight excursion, ranging from $30 to $40 per person. Tents, sleeping bags, and coolers are all available for rent.
Red snapper, grouper, mackerel, tuna, and billfish are abundant off the Panhandle. The easiest way to drop a line into the Gulf is off the new Pensacola Beach Gulf Fishing Pier, on Fort Pickens Road in Pensacola Beach (tel. 850/934-7200; www.fishpensacolabeachpier.com). At 1,471 feet, it's the longest fishing pier on the Gulf Coast. The pier is open 24 hours a day, year-round. Fees for fishing are $7.50 per day for adults, $6.50 for seniors, and $4.50 for children 6 to 12. Bait and equipment cost extra. Observers can watch for $1.25 per person.
Fishing-charter services are offered at Pensacola by the Beach Marina Fishing Fleet (tel. 877/650-3474 or 850/932-0304), and at Pensacola Beach by Reel Eazy Charters (tel. 877/733-5329 or 850/932-8824; www.reeleazy.com). Expect to pay between $300 and $2,200 for 1 to 10 passengers, depending on the length of your trip. You may be able to save by driving to Destin, where party boats charge less per person. Sightseeing and evening cruises here go for $50 to $225 per person.
The Pensacola area has its share of Northwest Florida's numerous championship golf courses. Look for free copies of South Coast Golf Guide, an annual directory describing all of them, at the visitor center and in many hotel lobbies. Reasonably priced golf packages can be arranged through many local hotels and motels.
For course information, go to www.golf.com or www.floridagolfing.com, or call the Florida Sports Foundation (tel. 850/488-8347) or Florida Golfing (tel. 866/833-2663).
Among this region's best courses is Marcus Pointe, on Marcus Pointe Boulevard, off North W Street (tel. 800/362-7287 or 850/484-9770; www.golfmarcuspointe.com), which has hosted the Nike Tour, the American Amateur Classic, and the Pensacola Open. Golf Digest described this 18-hole course as a "great value," and that's not far off: Greens fees with cart are about $25 to $50, depending on the season.
Other courses worth considering are the Lost Key Golf Club, on Perdido Key (tel. 888/256-7853 or 850/492-1300; www.lostkey.com), one of the area's more difficult courses; Scenic Hills, on U.S. 90 northwest of town (tel. 850/476-9611; www.scenichills.com), with rolling fairways unique in this mostly flat area; the 36-hole Tiger Point, 1255 Country Club Rd., east of Gulf Breeze by Santa Rosa Sound (tel. 850/932-1330; www.tigerpointclub.com), overlooking the water (the 5th-hole green of the East Course sits on an island); Hidden Creek, 3070 PGA Blvd., in Navarre, between Gulf Breeze and Fort Walton Beach (tel. 850/939-4604; www.hiddengolf.com); Creekside Golf Course, 2355 W. Michigan Ave. (tel. 850/944-7969; www.creeksidegolf.com); and Osceola Municipal Golf Course, 300 Tonawanda, off Mobile Highway (tel. 850/456-2761; www.osceolagolf.com).
The renovated Perdido Bay Golf Club, 1 Doug Ford Dr. (tel. 866/319-2471 or 850/492-1223; www.perdidobaygolf.com), on the mainland north of Perdido Key, has accommodations available for visiting golfers. It was the home of the PGA Pensacola Open from 1978 to 1987. Greens fees range from $29 to $79.
Visibility in the waters around Pensacola can range from 30 to 50 feet deep inshore, to 100 feet deep 25 miles offshore. Although the bottom is sandy and the area is too far north for coral, the battleship USS Massachusetts, submerged in 30 feet of water 3 miles offshore, is one of some 35 artificial reefs where you can spot loggerhead turtles and other creatures. Among the other military-oriented reefs: the Russian freighter San Pablo, a Navy barge, an A-7 Corsair that fell off the deck of the carrier USS Lexington, Vietnam-era tanks, and the USS Oriskany, a retired aircraft carrier. There are also good snorkeling sites just off the beach; get a map from the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Scuba Shack, 711 S. Palafox St. (tel. 850/433-4319; www.scubashackpensacola.com), offers sales, rentals, classes, and diving and fishing charters on the Wet Dream, moored behind the office. MBT Divers (tel. 850/455-7702; www.mbtdivers.com) has rentals, instruction, and trips to several sites, including the habitats of sea turtles, manta rays, and nurse sharks.
Key Sailing Center, 500 Quietwater Beach Rd., on the Quietwater Beach Boardwalk (tel. 877/932-7272 or 850/932-5520; www.keysailing.com), and Radical Rides, 444 Pensacola Beach Blvd., near the Bob Sikes Bridge (tel. 850/934-9743; www.radicalrides.com), rent Hobie Cats, pontoon boats, WaveRunners, jet skis, and windsurfing boards.