Perdido Key, Florida is an unincorporated community located in Escambia County, Florida, between Pensacola, Florida and Orange Beach, Alabama. “Perdido” means “lost” in the Spanish language, and Perdido Key is sometimes called “Lost Key” by local residents and businesses.
The community is located on Perdido Key, a barrier island located in extreme northwest Florida and southeast Alabama. The Florida district of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is located at the east end of the island. No more than a few hundred yards wide in most places, Perdido Key stretches some 16 miles (26 km) from Perdido Pass Bridge near Orange Beach, Alabama, to just across from Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola, Florida.
From the beginning of the 17th century, Spanish and French explorers, recognizing the potential riches in the vast New World across the sea, began colonizing the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Spaniards had settled on Panzacola Bay. Some sources translate Panzacola as meaning “the village of hairy people, referring to the Spanish. The French were located above Maubila (Mobile). A natural boundary was needed for their unsettled relationship so that the groups from the two thriving seaports could live in this region in relative peace and harmony. 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 Don Carlos Siquenza was sent by the Spanish government to locate the entrance. Even after he located the mouth of the bay, he was still 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 along the water he spotted Don Carlos Siquenza attempting to reef his sails and 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 near where the FloraBama Lounge and Package Store stands today. 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 (4.8 km) from the Florida boundary.
Perdido (BAY) key is said to have once had an estimated 300 natural springs bubbling up from the sandy bottom. There were so many around the Lillian bridge that when construction on the high-rise bridge began, bridge engineers were appalled to see pilings sinking down below the surface, following the soft course of a natural spring. They had their work cut out to build cofferdams to shore up the pilings to prevent them from sinking. It was not until about 1933 that Perdido Key became an island. Before that time, the area was a small peninsula just to the west of Pensacola, crossed by a large ditch that was narrow enough to jump across, and sometimes filled with alligators. This ditch would become the Intracoastal Waterway in 1933.
An Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that would connect Pensacola to Mobile Bay, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, was started during 1931 during the height of 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) located in federal or state parks. In 1978 the National Park Service completed purchase of over 1,000 acres (4 km²) of land on Perdido Key from Johnson Beach to Pensacola Pass for about $8 million. For years this general area was called Gulf Beach, and slowly 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 unblemished stretches of wilderness in the Florida Panhandle. Miles of preserves offer a wealth of 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 are ripe for spotting gray foxes and blue herons in the wild. Local outfitters offer guided tours, but self-guided nature trails at Big Lagoon and Johnson Beach are perfect chances for solitude.
Perdido Key Beach Dune Habitat
The azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico frame the white beaches. These beaches and their dune habitat play host to a variety of visitors and residents throughout the year.
The beach dune habitat of Perdido Key is characterized by several rows of wind built sand dunes. “Frontal” or “primary” dunes are vegetated with grasses including sea oats, bunch grass, and beach grass. Among other plant species growing in primary dunes are Florida rosemary, railroad vine and beach morning glories. “Secondary” dunes, further inland, support saw palmetto, slash and sand pines, and scrubby shrubs and oaks. Growing among the dunes are cordgrass, salt-grass, pine trees, purslane and, among others, pennywort.
The scrub and grasses growing on dunes are vital to the health of Perdido Key’s beach habitat. The roots of plants are the “fingers” which hold sand in place, preventing it from blowing away in the wind or washing away in the tidal surge of Hurricane or other storms. Without the critical holding power of dunes and their plants our beaches would blow and erode away.
- sea oats (Uniola paniculata)
- saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens)
- coastal panicgrass (Panicum amarum)
- turtle grass (Thallassia testudinum)
- salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
- black needle rush (Juncus romerianus)
Perdido Key is home to the endangered Perdido Key Beach Mouse. The small white and gray mouse, weighing only 13-16 grams, blends in well with the white quartz sand of northern Gulf coast beaches. While the Perdido Key Beach Mouse feeds primarily on the seeds of sea oats and bluestem, it will occasionally eat insects.
The Perdido Key beach mouse was listed as an endangered species in 1985. Loss of habitat to development is considered to be the main factor which led to the decline of the species. Hurricanes have also taken their toll on the endangered mouse.The beach mouse population at Perdido Key was nearly wiped out in the mid-1990s when hurricanes Erin and Opal ravaged Perdido Key’s beaches. Numbering less than 40 after the storms, the mice have regenerated quite well, with current population estimates near 500. While populations appear to be growing, the Perdido Key Beach Mouse will probably never make it off the endangered species list because of continued habitat loss and degradation.
The Perdido Key Beach Mouse isn’t the only endangered animal to call Perdido Key’s dunes and beaches home. Other species find the white sands attractive as seasonal homes or for nesting before returning to sea. Two such visitors are the piping plover and the sea turtle.
The sea turtle is another endangered visitor to Perdido Key. Loggerhead, Leatherback, Ridley, and Green sea turtles arrive between May and September to dig nest cavities in the sand into which 100 or more eggs are laid. About two months later, provided the nest hasn’t been washed away, uncovered by high winds, or disturbed by predators or beach visitors, turtle hatchlings emerge. Following the brightest spot in the sky, which is usually the horizon over the water, hatchlings scramble for the sea. Unfortunately, as development on barrier islands has occurred, lights of convenience stores, hotels and businesses (see Light pollution ) have made the trek to the sea a confusing and dangerous challenge. Few hatchlings are successful in their live’s first adventure. Less than 1% of hatchlings survive their first year and grow old enough to return to Perdido Key to begin the cycle again.
Shorebirds including black skimmers, gulls, terns, and brown pelicans are among the many different species of birds which rest on the island, nest, or feed offshore. Neotropical birds, such as warblers and Cedar Waxwings, live in the tropics and travel to North America to breed, stopping-over to feed and rest at Perdido Key. Monarch butterflies migrating to and from South America stop-over, finding refuge on the swaying stalks of sea oats growing within the dune habitat of Perdido Key.
 Local attractions
To the south of Perdido Key is the Gulf of Mexico with its white sand beaches and clear blue waters. North of Perdido Key is Old River and the Intercoastal Waterway. Just north of Old River is the private Alabama island of Ono Island. North of Ono and separated by the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) is a small area called Innerarity Point and Innerarity Island, a small private gated island community of mostly single family homes with a few townhomes at the entrance.
Almost all of these waterways are accessible by boat and can give passage 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 (ICW), 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
Located on the eastern end of Perdido Key. It is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Picnic shelters, restrooms, showers, and seasonal lifeguards. Fort McRee is located at the eastern tip of Johnson Beach and is accessible by boat or foot only. Sound side Nature Trail is a 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. There is a park fee of about $8 per car, which is good for 7 days and gets you into Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island and the Naval Live Oaks located in Gulf Breeze. Front Gate 850-492-7278.
If you plan to visit this area please be aware that the environment can quickly become extremely dangerous and inhospitable. Intense sunlight can temporarily blind visitors who elect not to 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. Wear sunscreen, bring insect repellent bring drinking water. The sand along the Gulf of Mexico side of Johnson beach is loose and difficult to walk in. Winds can reach 40 mph (64 km/h) at night and can blow over tents and scatter items left unsecured. At night the temperature can drop to an uncomfortable level even during midsummer. In the event of inclement weather you should also be aware that it can take up to an hour to reach the parking area or other shelter due to walking 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 currents are common due to shifting sands especially after tropical storms. Visitors with small children should remain in the main pavilion area under the supervision of the lifeguard.
 Big Lagoon State Recreation Area
Derives its name from a bordering body of water called Big Lagoon. The Park of 678 acres (2.74 km2) upland was opened in 1978 and beckons visitors with all the recreational opportunities expected at a Florida State Park. Follow the Cookie Trail, 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. More than 75 campsites; five picnic areas with shelters, 500-seat amphitheater; boat ramp with dock; boardwalks and nature trails; and observation tower offering a panoramic view of Big Lagoon, the park and Gulf Islands National Seashore across the Intracoastal Waterway. Located at 12301 Gulf Beach Highway, Pensacola, just north of Perdido Key.
Perdido Key State Recreation Area
Perdido Key State Recreation Area encompasses 247 acres (1.00 km2) on a barrier island, which buffers the mainland from winds and threatening tides and provides habitat for shore birds and other coastal animals. Saltwater fishing licenses required. Occupied shells are alive and should be left alone. The wide white sand beaches and the rolling dunes covered with sea oats make this a pristine oasis along the rapidly developing panhandle. Picnic shelters are between the Gulf and the Old River, which bounds Perdido Key on the north.