Camp Helen State Park Panama City Beach
Camp Helen State Park is truly one of Northwest Florida’s hidden gems. The park encompasses more than 163 acres and is located on the border of Bay and Walton Counties in Inlet Beach. It’s situated at the easternmost end of Inlet Beach on the southwestern shoreline of the largest of the rare 30A coastal dune lakes… Lake Powell. Camp Helen extends all way south to the Gulf of Mexico where you’ll find a pristine public beach.
We were honored to interview Lynn Cherry and Wesley Myers on an overcast day in late June 2017. Lynn is a big part of Friends of Camp Helen State Park which is a Florida Citizens Support Organization. The organization assists the Florida Park Service in the preservation, restoration, and improvement of Camp Helen. Friends of Camp Helen State Park was the Citizen Support Organization award winner 2016 in the state of Florida which is truly a great honor! Wesley Myers is the Park Manager of both Camp Helen and Eden Gardens State Parks. The 30A Prime team was lucky enough to get an interview with both of them and for that, we are extremely grateful.
Camp Helen State Park Kayak Rental Program
Our early morning interview started on the shoreline of Lake Powell. Wesley mentioned that plans are in the works for the construction of a brand new handicap accessible pier which will be great for everyone when it comes to fruition. It will be the perfect place to soak in the sun and wet a line for those that love to fish. As it is now, Camp Helen’s Lake Powell beach is already an awesome place to relax and beat the Florida summer heat so a new dock will only add to its mystique.
The lakeside beach is also where you’ll find the Camp Helen kayak rental program. For a nominal fee, you can rent single, tandem and even fishing kayaks. They offer hourly, half day and full day rates that cannot be beaten by anyone else in the area. It’s the perfect way to get out on the water and explore the worlds largest coastal dune lake! The fishing kayaks are quite impressive as they have compartments that will hold all your gear and you can even stand on them without fear of tipping over. Fishing in Lake Powell is fantastic year round. The lake water is brackish so you can expect to catch redfish, speckled trout and sheepshead under the Phillips Inlet Bridge.
For more information on their kayak rental program, you can go to their website here… Friends of Camp Helen Website
History of Camp Helen State Park
After spending a good half hour testing the extremely comfortable single kayaks we moved our interview into the historic Camp Helen State Park Lodge. We walked through the entire building which you’ll see in our full interview video below and then sat down with Wesley to dig deeper into its history. He explained that the Lodge was built in the 1930s by the Hicks family who were the original owners of the land that Camp Helen resides on. The lodge has an elegant log cabin type feel and is rented out for weddings, family reunions and all types of events. The lodge is available for rent 365 days a year at the daily rate of just $421.00 which is an amazing deal for this area. The only catch is you cannot have alcohol on state property – sorry no open bar, but it’s still an impressive and inexpensive set up for a gorgeous wedding.
We also learned that the Hicks family sold the land to an Alabama textile company named Avondale Mills and from the 1940s to the 1980s they used the park for their company vacation retreats. It was their party spot for more than forty years. In 1996 the State of Florida purchased the property. In 1997 Camp Helen State Park was officially opened to the public.
Camp Helen State Park Trails System and Abundant Wildlife
Camp Helen has a 3.5-mile trails system that covers the north and south end of the park. The northern trail system takes you under the Phillips Inlet Bridge and hugs Lake Powell as you move back into the forest. It’s a great way to go if you’re looking for paved trails and total serenity. The trails on the south side of the park are fantastic as well and will lead you all the way down to the Gulf waters.
Some of the wildlife you might see while hiking includes but are not limited to; deer, snakes, protected birds and sea turtles. Wesley said that he checks the beach daily to account for the turtles’ safety. Occasionally black bears are spotted but they typically are just passing through the park.
Alligators are rarely seen at Camp Helen as the brackish water isn’t their favorite. However, Wesley did say they spotted a three-foot gator recently in the marsh area off the path that leads to the Gulf of Mexico. That was the first alligator sighting in over 3 years!
After our sit down interview in the lodge with Wesley, Lynn took us out along the trails and showed us Camp Helen’s Rainbow Cottages which are really cool. They date back to the Hicks family and were built in the 1930s. They are furnished with items from that time period which can be seen by looking through the windows. The ghost of Rose is said to reside among the Rainbow Cottages which is spooky but also really intriguing.
From Ponies to Pillows at Camp Helen State Park
Our tour of Camp Helen with Lynn ended as we walked through the old horse stable. Originally a horse stable built by the Hicks family, it was later converted into a pillow and linens building by the folks at Avondale Mills. It has been preserved and is open for the public to walk through.
Camp Helen is a truly amazing place that should be on your short list of To Do’s if you’ve not yet been there. Again, we want to give a big Thank You to Lynn, Wesley and the entire staff for letting us come out and speak with them. We had a fantastic time learning about Camp Helen State Park and all the incredible things it has to offer the public. Camp Helen is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of 30A and simply enjoy being in nature.