Alligators in Pensacola: 3 Spots You’re Most Likely to See Them

Written by Ava Peluso
Published: October 26, 2023
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American alligators are one of the most well-known wild animals in Florida. While they are most common in central and southern Florida, some alligators also reside in northern Florida. Here are three places where you can find alligators in and around Pensacola.

Pensacola is a city in the Florida Panhandle, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, near the Alabama border. Some people call it the “City of Five Flags” because, throughout history, five different countries have governed it. Pensacola has miles of beaches and busy metropolitan areas, making it a popular tourist destination.

Are there alligators in Pensacola?

Alligators do live in and around Pensacola. However, it is rare to find them on the city’s famous beaches, because they prefer freshwater. They can be found in the upper part of Pensacola Bay where the salt water is diluted by freshwater from the rivers flowing into it. However, it is more common to find them inland, in ponds, rivers, and swampy areas north of the city.

University of West Florida

John C. Pace Library at University of West Florida

The University of West Florida has several walking trails from which visitors can observe wildlife, including alligators.

©Original file ‎(2,560 × 1,709 pixels, file size: 1,023 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg); ZoomViewer – License

The University of West Florida (UWF) is home to several trails that are open to the public for walking, biking, and horseback riding. These trails provide the opportunity to observe the natural areas surrounding the campus as well as their wildlife, including alligators. The trail on which you are most likely to see alligators is the Edward Ball Nature Trail. This walking-only trail consists of a half-mile-long boardwalk over a Thompson’s Bayou swamp. It is a good place to observe wildlife including songbirds, waterfowl, and, of course, alligators.

UWF even has its iconic alligator. In 1981, the university had a contest to name a 5-foot alligator living in Thompson’s Bayou. This alligator was observed to have a crooked tail and an injured front leg. The winning name, submitted by student Lucinda Ellis, was “Captain Thunder of the University Marine Patrol.” Alligators can live for 30 to 50 years in the wild, so Captain Thunder may be still out there.

Blackwater River State Forest

A curious endangered Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) walks on the grass in Florida.

In addition to alligators, Blackwater River State Forest is home to many other wildlife species, including the endangered gopher

tortoise

.

©Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock.com

Blackwater River State Forest is one of the largest state forests in Florida and is located northeast of Pensacola. It is named for the Blackwater River which flows through the forest after starting in Alabama and before flowing into the Blackwater Bay. The area offers numerous activities to visitors including biking, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) riding, canoeing, picnicking, and swimming. Aside from these activities, the forest is known for its rich diversity of plant and animal life. Plants in the forest include a variety of trees and shrubs, resulting in several distinct ecosystems within the forest. The forest is also home to several types of carnivorous plants, plants that capture and consume insects. Animals in the forest include gopher tortoises, white-tailed deer, opossums, great blue herons, wild turkeys, and a wide variety of other bird species.

Alligators are not particularly common in Blackwater River State Forest, but there are places in the forest where you might spot them. Two of the park’s lakes, Bear Lake and Hurricane Lake, do not allow swimming due to alligators. Canoeing is permitted in Bear Lake, and both lakes have hiking trails and campgrounds nearby. If you do spot an alligator in one of these lakes, be sure to keep your distance for your safety.

Big Lagoon State Park

black-bellied plover at water's edge

As well as being home to alligators, Big Lagoon State Park is a winter stop for many migratory bird species, including the black-bellied plover.

©Elliotte Rusty Harold/Shutterstock.com

Big Lagoon State Park is located southwest of Pensacola. It is home to several ocean lagoons, including the Big Lagoon from which it gets its name. It offers a variety of activities to visitors, including biking, birding, boating, camping, fishing, geocaching, hiking, kayaking, picnicking, stargazing, swimming, and wildlife viewing. The park is a hotspot for wildlife, especially birds. It is a gateway site for the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a network of over 500 sites across Florida that are ideal for bird and wildlife viewing. Several parts of Blackwater River State Forest are also part of this trail.

Sometimes you can find alligators in the lagoons, but since they prefer freshwater, you’re more likely to spot them in the lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams of the marsh farther inland. You can observe this marsh from the park’s observation tower and some of its trails. Alligators also inhabit Long Pond, a large manmade freshwater pond accessible by the park’s Estuary Trail and crossed by a bridge. Unfortunately, in the past, several alligators were removed from the park because people fed them, enticing them to come too close to humans. Feeding alligators poses a risk to both park visitors and the alligators themselves. That is why it is important never to feed alligators or other wildlife.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © J.A. Dunbar/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Ava Peluso is a writer at A-Z Animals where her focus is on wildlife and locally relevant topics. She has a Bachelor's degree in Communication from DeSales University, which she earned in 2021. She also has experience volunteering with animals and caring for numerous personal pets. A resident of Pennsylvania, Ava enjoys reading about animals and watching birds and other wildlife.

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