Henderson Beach State Park is an oasis in the middle of the crowded, noisy Destin resort area. It includes over 6,000 feet of sugar-white sand beach, 30-foot sand dunes, 60 highly groomed campsites, immaculately clean restrooms, showers and laundry area and a large day-use area. It is definitely the most well-maintained campground we have ever seen. We were thrilled to see our near-perfect campsite with a fair amount of foliage around it for privacy. Later, we realized ours had the least amount of privacy, but it was still very nice and we knew that we were lucky that we were able to get a reservation.
The walk out to the beach was at least a quarter of a mile, on a paved walkway and boardwalk. The walkway was very much like the beach access paths on Maui, making us feel instantly at home. With only 60 campsites, the beach was uncrowded and was initially very quiet, with occasional military aircraft and a few tourist helicoptors. After our first week there, the helicoptor traffic became constant and was actually becoming quite annoying.
As we were planning our trip, a year ago, we were both anxious to see Destin again and to visit The Back Porch. We had both been to Destin over 30 years ago (long before we knew eachother) and remembered miles and miles of quiet beach and having lunch at The Back Porch. It was nothing more than a two-story shack, with large open windows, serving fresh fish sandwhiches and bottled beer. Now the main two-lane road is very much like Gratiot Avenue or Woodward Avenue during rush hour. The beach is lined with massive high-rise condos and hotels. We went to the The Back Porch, which is now an upscale restaurant and bar, with prices equivalent to prices in Wailea or Kapalua (more than what we are used to in Lahaina or Kihei, Maui). We enjoyed a couple of good but expensive beers and did not return. I had to make an effort to not be sad about the changes.
The park is located just off of the main road, Emerald Coast Parkway. Though it was fairly quiet in the middle of the night, traffic noise was pretty loud most of the time. It seems that even though Florida has noise limits on vehicles, the authorities do not enforce them in Destin. On the upside, we were able to take advantage of the Walmart (RV gear), the Vitamin Shoppe (stocked up on supplements) and an excellent shoe store (new Hoka running shoes, as my foot issues are evolving).
The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is one of the main tourist attractions. We went on a weekday, near the beginning of our stay. It was easy to imagine the crowds during peak season. Dave refers to this place as “the ten dollar parking lot” and “the place with ten dollar light beers”. It was worth seeing once.
We drove through Topsail Beach State Park and Grayton Beach State Park, while we were in the area. These parks are less groomed with less desireable campsites, but much more quiet. We also took our mountain bikes to Point Washington State Forest to ride the Eastern Lake Trail. One review of the trail said it was 25% sand. We found it was about 75% sand, which is challenging to ride in. At one point, the trail was completely flooded, so Dave decided to do a “recon” walk through some dense woods, around the trail. I immediately had a vision of a large snake and soon after, heard Dave gasping loudly. He saw a very large snake. We back-tracked, found a road and took another route to get back on the trail. For the remainder of the ride I was constantly looking for snakes and pedaled as hard and fast as possible past any standing water. My heart was pounding until we were back at the trailhead.
We were at this park on St Patrick’s Day. By then, spring break seemed to be ramping up, resulting in more people and traffic in the area. We spent the entire day at the park, rather than venture out to celebrate. By chance, a young woman at the campsite next to us was playing Irish music on her fiddle periodically throughout the day. She was quite talented. We were able to start the day listening to “Danny Boy”. What are the odds? I decided it was a sign of good luck for us.
The highlights at this location were walking, reading and flying Sharkey on the stunning beach and a couple of visits for a cold beer at The Crab Trap tiki bar. We didn’t surf or paddle because it was too windy, every day. We also really enjoyed to newly renovated showers, which we referred to as “the spa”. They were quite an improvement over those in our previous campground at Fort Pickens. As the area was becoming more busy and noisy, we were happy to have been there, but also happy to head to the more remote St George Island.