Perdido Key, Florida is an unincorporated community in Escambia County, Florida, United States, between Pensacola and Orange Beach, Alabama. “Perdido” means “lost” in the Spanish language. The community is located on and named for Perdido Key, a barrier island in northwest Florida and southeast Alabama. The Florida district of the Gulf Islands National Seashore includes the east end of the island, as well as other Florida islands. No more than a few hundred yards wide in most places, Perdido Key stretches some 16 miles from near Pensacola to Perdido Pass Bridge near Orange Beach.
From the beginning of the 17th century, Spanish and French explorers, imagining riches in the New World, began colonizing the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. A Spanish expedition from Vera Cruz, Mexico had settled on what became known as Santa Rosa Island on Panzacola Bay, named after the indigenous people, later known as the Pensacola Indians. Panzacola means “the village of hairy people.” The French developed a settlement along the coast near Maubila (Mobile). They were competing in this area. Explorers from both countries had heard of a great mysterious body of water to the west of Pensacola, but they were unable to find the entrance.
In 1693 noted cartographer and scientist Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora was sent by the Spanish government to locate the entrance. Even after he located the mouth of the bay, he was unable to find a waterway deep enough to sail through. According to legend, Siquenza’s ship had been blown off course as he was again searching for the pass into the deep inland waters. The ship was spotted by an Indian chief camped with his tribe at Bear Point. As the chief was walking next to the water, he spotted Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora attempting to reef his sails. He offered to guide Siquenza and his men to a connecting deep water channel from the Gulf of Mexico into the more tranquil bay. When the search party finally located the elusive bay, they called it Perdido, which in Spanish means “lost” or “hidden”.
Early maps indicate that, at the time, the pass was located on or very near to today’s official State boundary between Alabama and Florida. Hurricanes and other forces—natural as well as man-made—have moved the pass back and forth several times to where it lies now in Orange Beach, Alabama, approximately 3 miles from the Florida boundary.
Perdido Bay is said to have once had an estimated 300 natural springs bubbling up from the sandy bottom. There were so many around the site of the Lillian bridge that when construction began, bridge engineers were appalled to see pilings sinking down below the surface, following the soft course of a natural spring. They had to devise a solution, which was building cofferdams to shore up the pilings to prevent them from sinking.
Circa 1933 Perdido Key became an island. Before then, the area was a small peninsula just to the west of Pensacola. It was crossed by a large ditch that was narrow enough to jump across, and sometimes filled with alligators. This ditch was improved and widened to become part of the Intracoastal Waterway in 1933.
The Intracoastal Waterway connecting Pensacola to Mobile Bay, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, was started during 1931 during the Great Depression. The digging that would connect Pensacola, Big Lagoon (also known as Grande Lagoon), Perdido Bay, and Mobile Bay was completed in 1933. Perdido Key Island is now about 16 miles (26 km) long with almost 60% of it (9.5 miles) protected in federal or state parks.
In 1978 the National Park Service completed purchase of over 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of land on Perdido Key from Johnson Beach to Pensacola Pass for about $8 million. For years this area was called Gulf Beach, and it evolved into being called Perdido Key. Many “old timers” still slip and call the area Gulf Beach.
Environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy Perdido Key because it is one of the few remaining areas of protected wilderness in the Florida Panhandle. Miles of preserves offer opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and bird watching. Dolphin watch excursions and sailing tours are popular with tourists, as are moonlight cruises on the bay. Perdido Key’s two state parks and an expanse of National Seashore offer chances to spot gray foxes and blue herons in the wild. Local outfitters offer guided tours, and self-guided nature trails at Big Lagoon and Johnson Beach allow solitude.
To the south of Perdido Key is the Gulf of Mexico, with its white sand beaches and clear blue waters. North of Perdido Key are Old River and the Intracoastal Waterway. Just north of Old River is the private Ono Island. North of Ono and separated by the Intercoastal Waterway is a small area called Innerarity Point and Innerarity Island. This small, private gated island community has mostly single-family homes with a few townhomes at the entrance.
Almost all of these waterways are accessible by boat. They lead to the Gulf of Mexico via the Alabama Pass in Orange Beach or the major harbor entrance of Pensacola Pass. These waterways are: Old River, Intercoastal Waterway, Perdido Bay, Pensacola Bay, Escambia Bay, Black Water River, Perdido River, Styx River, and a myriad of boatable canals, bayous and lakes. The inland waterways have historically given protection from the storms and hurricanes which have occurred in this area. This area has many homes lining the waterfront.
Gulf Islands National Seashore / Rosamond Johnson Beach (National Park Service)
Located on the eastern end of Perdido Key, it is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. It has picnic shelters, restrooms, showers, and seasonal lifeguards. The site of Fort McRee is located at the eastern tip of Johnson Beach and is accessible by boat or foot only. On the Sound side, there is a .38 mile self-guided nature trail that winds past a salt marsh and through a maritime forest. The nature trail is wheelchair accessible. The Johnson Beach Road is an enjoyable place to walk, jog, bike and view beautiful sunsets. A jet ski, kayak and small fishing boat launch is available on the sound side as well.
The environment in this area can quickly become extremely dangerous and inhospitable. Intense sunlight reflecting off the white sand beaches can temporarily blind visitors if they do not wear good quality sunglasses. Insects such as midges and other biting flies inhabit the areas around Langley Point and Redfish Point during certain times of the year, especially at or near dusk. The sand along the Gulf of Mexico side of Johnson beach is loose and difficult to walk in. Winds can reach 40 mph at night and can blow over tents and scatter items left unsecured. At night the temperature can drop to an uncomfortable cool level even during midsummer. In the event of inclement weather, it can take campers up to an hour to reach the parking area or other shelter due to having to walk in loose sand.
Visitors should make every effort to observe surf warnings posted in the park. Two red flags means the water is closed to the public. A purple flag means dangerous sealife such as sharks or jellyfish are present. Rip tides are common due to shifting sands, especially after tropical storms. Visitors with small children should stay in the main pavilion area under the supervision of the lifeguard.
Big Lagoon State Recreation Area
This area is named for the bordering body of water called Big Lagoon. The Park of 678 acres upland was opened in 1978. The Cookie Trail is maintained by the Girl Scouts. Natural habitat includes numerous birds and animals: gray foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, great blue herons and other waterfowl, in addition to a variety of other birds. The park has more than 75 campsites; five picnic areas with shelters, a 500-seat amphitheater; boat ramp with dock; boardwalks and nature trails; and an observation tower offering a panoramic view of Big Lagoon, the park, and Gulf Islands National Seashore across the Intracoastal Waterway. it is located at 12301 Gulf Beach Highway, Pensacola, just north of the community of Perdido Key.
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Perdido Key Real Estate Listings
Active Listings in Perdido Key
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