Explore the natural beauty of St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve

January 26, 2021

Preserving our watersheds for future generations

As we explore Florida’s beautiful coastlines, we often take for granted the pristine areas that remain intact. With ever expanding urban and commercial growth, it is comforting to know some of the best of our coastal landscapes have been set aside for protection as aquatic preserves.

In the State of Florida, there are 41 of these special places with more than 2.2 million acres preserved by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas (OCAMA).  OCAMA manages these aquatic preserves in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, three National Estuarine Research Reserves and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

A pair of Southern bald eagles perched over the St. Joe Bay Buffer Preserve. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

One of these special areas is the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve (SJBSBP) in Gulf County. With 5,019 acres along the eastern and southern shore of  St. Joseph Bay near Port St. Joe, and Cape San Blas, the preserve boasts an incredible natural inventory; 425 documented species of plants and 250 vertebrates. It is also home to one of the Southeast’s highest concentration of rare plants including  Chapman’s rhododendron (Rhododendron chapmannii), as well.

In addition, the Preserve incorporates a wide variety of natural communities including xeric, mesic, and wet pine flatwoods, wet prairies, freshwater marsh, cypress wetlands, and a tidal creek.

A rare pine lily in bloom at the Preserve. Prescribed burns help keep a healthy forest floor so native species can thrive. Lori Ceier/ Walton Outdoors

The preserve provides protection for native species habitat and archaeological and historical sites, as well as opportunities for natural resource-based recreation.
Exploring the preserve during spring/fall bird migration seasons can provide fun recreation along the hiking and biking trails. Wildflowers are best viewed in the spring and fall as well, particularly after a prescribed burn.  Swimming, snorkeling, scalloping and boating are available in St. Joseph Bay.

SJBSBP is located in Gulf County, Florida near Port St. Joe on C-30 just 5 miles south of US 98.  The preserve boats a small educational center operated by the Friends of St. Joseph Buffer Preserve. Click here for hiking map information.

Learn about natural history and unique environmental features in Gulf County during monthly tram and walking tours hosted by the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve and Friends of the Preserve to introduce outdoor enthusiasts and all visitors to the 5000+- acre public wilderness areas.

The third Thursday of every month, the Buffer Preserve offers a tram tour through the preserve.  Due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, the visitor center is closed again, and this tour will not include a separate history talk.  Attendees will meet directly at the Main Gate parking lot (across the street from the visitor center) at 9:30 a.m.

The tram moves slowly, and our Environmental Specialist Sophia Fonseca will interpret the surroundings while you ride down Treasure Road and Sandridge Road.  Remember to bring anything that will make your ride more comfortable: hat, sunscreen, water, insect repellent, raincoat, camera, binoculars, etc.  The tram has no roof so be prepared for sun or possibly a light shower.  We will not cancel if the rain is light and no lightning is present.

To reserve your spot please email Sophia at sophia.fonseca@floridadep.gov.  Include the names and number of people in your party.

PLEASE NOTE: Since the visitor center is closed, our bathrooms will not be available. As well, masks are suggested on the tram.

St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Center, 
3915 State Road 30-A 
Port St. Joe, FL. 32456 
(850) 229-1787. To learn more, click here. Please note that the Center is temporarily closed due to spike in COVID cases.

Interested in becoming a friend of St. Joseph’s Bay Preserves? Click here to learn more.