Saint Andrew Bay

/ routes / north america / Florida

route overview


7Mi / 9Km

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Gulf Coast Bay
Contributed by
Trip Smith

Sometimes all it takes is a casual Google Maps bombsighting tour of your local waterways to inspire some weekend kayackpacking greatness. It also helps if your backyard happens to be the Gulf Coast of Florida and you have an aptitude for crabbing and taste for fresh caught speckled trout.


Shell Island is a small barrier island at the north western tip of Spanish Ante in the Florida Panhandle's Saint Andrew Bay. If summer temperatures in the 90's scare you off consider making this trip in mid to late October when gulf water temps still hover in the 70's and balmy south/southwest winds prevail.  Any later and we stand by the 120 degree rule (if the sum of the water and air temperature <120 then consider adding a neoprene wetsuit or drysuit to your kit).

From your put-in (30.136599, -85.720392) at Panama City your camp at Shell Island (30.1210688, -85.7165498) is a straight 1.25m (2km) shot southwest across St. Andrew Bay. Sting Ray, dolphins (the Flipper variety) and blue crabs will keep you company in the grass shallows.  The welcoming white sand beaches soon give way to a shaded canopy of native spanish moss covered oaks and an undergrowth thick with sabal palmetto. But don't give in to your coastal campsite too soon or you'll miss some of the highlights of this mini kayak adventure.

An inlet to the clear open waters of the Gulf is accessible if you'd like to test some open water navigation and paddle skills as most of the time the water is very calm and forgiving. Keep to the leeward side for ample opportunities abound for snorkeling (see our locations mapped below), crabbing and fishing if you are so equipped.

Route + Camping notes

The preferred camping location is on Shell Island. From our research it is legal to primitive camp on the island but it isn’t advertised so if you do camp on the island, take care of it please so this can continue. It’s a very large “island” with lots options to camp but if you have a hammock and need trees you are limited to a point but still have great spots to camp. This spot is close to all of the fun stuff and the beautiful waters around the pass.

  • The beauty and clarity of the water in the pass and around the jetties
  • Paddling and snorkeling with dolphins
  • The bountiful waters where can easily catch fresh dinner
  • Mosquitoes won't bother you on the water but we experienced a good number after nightfall at camp. Come prepared if you plan this trip in the summer months. They will present less of a problem In the fall and winter.
  • Shell Island has been our go-to camp. If you hammock you'll need to hunt around for a good location
  • At the state park camping sites can be had for $28 per night as of April 2017. This puts you at a good location that is central to everything near the pass as well. Steer away from stealth camping within the park as there are lots of people walking the beaches and through the woods
  • St. Andrew’s State Park Camp Store – limited camping items. Can be accessed by beaching your kayaks near the boat ramp.  Plan on buying all of your provisions before you head out.  There are plenty of grocery stores in Panama City
  • If you are a good crabber or fisherman then you can plan on making meals of the wild variety. Blue crabs, spekled trout and flounder abound
  • The available water is brackish at best and unfilterable. Bring at least a gallon per person per day - more in the summer months June - August
  • Pelicans Restaurant - open seasonally - (near 30.135996, -85.724831) is a real treat if you are looking for some local flavor.  You can paddle up to the small beaches to the north or south.  The have a dockside bar as well featuring local brews and seafood.
  • Snorkeling – The pass is the best spot for snorkeling in this area. Try to catch it at high tide if possible, this is when the clearer gulf water is pushed inshore making your visibility better. Pay attention to the tide and current as it can get pretty swift in the pass and could take you out to sea.
  • Hiking – In the state park there are some hiking trails where you can often times see the deer that are in the park. They are pretty calm deer and I’ve seen where people can just about feed them by hand.
trip smith

TRIP SMITH hails from South Alabama and adventures all over the Southeast United States. He enjoys everything that has to do with outdoors. When he's not on or planning an adventure he is a full-time fireman, husband and father.

He is the host of Out There, a popular outdoor channel on Youtube.


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