Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida) | PERDIDO KEY AREA

Johnson Beach on Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Johnson Beach on Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore


Johnson Beach

Johnson Beach Boat Ramp

Battery 233

Paddling Big Lagoon


Perdido Key is the westernmost island of Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida. The National Park Service owns the eastern portion of the island, whereas the rest is either private land or part of Perdido Key State Park. As part of the National Seashore, the beaches remain free of development (other than a small area at Johnson Beach) and are as pristine today as they were a thousand years ago.

The Perdido Key Area is open 5 AM to 9 PM from March 1st through October 31st, and 5 AM to 6 PM the rest of the year. Times can always changes, so be sure to get the latest schedule on the National Park Service’s official Perdido Key Area web page before heading out to the park.

There is an entrance fee for Perdido Key (National Park passes are welcome). Once paid, you will be issued a seven-day pass that gets you into all areas in the park. For the current prices, visit the National Park Service’s official Entrance Fees web page for Gulf Islands National Seashore.


Upon entering the Perdido Key Area, the first place you will come to is Johnson Beach, the only beach with lifeguards, facilities, and a parking lot. As you drive farther down the road you will pass a number of additional beach access points, all identified by letters A through J. These offer a primitive beachgoing experience, so no restrooms or other facilities are available.

Perdido Key is very narrow, and as you drive down the road you can see water on either side. There are three beach access ramps on the bay side of the island (Big Lagoon), two of which allow handicap access. There are seven access ramps on the Gulf side, three with handicap access. “Handicap access” means there is a wheelchair ramp on both ends of the boardwalk. Of course, how you get your wheelchair from the ramp to the water is another story because there is a lot of deep sand in between. The National Park Service has a limited number of beach wheelchairs available for free at Johnson Beach, but not at the rest of the beach access points. Ask the Ranger at the entrance station about how to get one (or any Ranger you see once inside the unit).

Standard entrance ramp to the beaches at Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Standard entrance ramp to the beaches at Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Handicap entrance ramp at the Perdido Key beaches, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Handicap entrance ramp at the Perdido Key beaches, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Typical distance from ramp to beach at Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Typical distance from ramp to beach at Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Except at Johnson Beach, which has its own parking lot, parking at beach access points is done along the side of the road. The largest crowds will be at Johnson Beach, so these roadside access points are for people who want a little more solitude. Cars may line the road for quite a ways beyond the boardwalk entrances, so on a busy day you may have a long walk from where you eventually park. Also, the roadside access points are the only way to get to Big Lagoon (as far as swimming is concerned).

Roadside parking at Perdido Key beach access points, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Roadside parking at Perdido Key beach access points, Gulf Islands National Seashore

The park road only runs a few miles past the entrance before ending, and no parking is allowed on the last half mile—signs mark the cut-off point. The road ends in a cul-de-sac, and it is here that you can drop off passengers who are going hiking to the end of the island, a 5.5-mile, one-way journey along the shoreline. Of course, if you are the driver and also part of the expedition, you must drop off your friends and return to park in the permitted area, then walk the half-mile back to the drop off point.

For the most part, beach is beach, so any of the Gulf-side access points, including Johnson Beach, will yield the same quality of sand. The only difference will be the number of people in the area.

Gulf-side beaches of Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf-side beaches of Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf-side beaches of Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf-side beaches of Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

While the Gulf-side beaches attract the biggest crowds, don’t discount the beaches along Big Lagoon. This is a great place for those with small children because the waves are not very big. On calm days the bay is more like a lake than an ocean. Kids will also have a good time finding small crabs and other sea creatures that they can play with. Every kid I saw had a crab zoo.

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the bay. For adults who want to avoid the crowds and who find no thrill in bigger waves, Big Lagoon is the place to be.

Big Lagoon beach at Gulf Island National Seashore's Perdido Key

Big Lagoon beach at Gulf Island National Seashore’s Perdido Key

Beach at Big Lagoon on Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Beach at Big Lagoon on Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Big Lagoon is also a great place to launch a paddling trip down to the east end of the island where the remains of Batteries 233, Slemmer, and Center are located. Battery 233 is a World War II-era battery that was built on the foundation of the other two. There used to be a fort from the mid-1800s, Fort McRee, but due to shifting sand and erosion it fell into the ocean many years ago and can only be seen by those diving or snorkeling. There is a boat launch on the bay side near Johnson Beach, so you don’t have to park at one of the beach access ramps and haul your boat from the road to the water. From the ramp it is approximately a 14-mile, round-trip paddle to the end of the island and back.

Kayaking in Big Lagoon at Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Kayaking in Big Lagoon at Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

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Last updated on April 28, 2022
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