By Lauren Tjaden

My husband and I decided to take the long way home from Pensacola last weekend. We started our journey driving east on Hwy 399 toward Navarre, a lonely stretch of road where the sand creeps out onto the pavement and blows into drifts that look for all the world like snow.

The highway hugs the beach, and when you enter Gulf Islands National Seashore, the horizon is unfettered by buildings or power lines. When you turn off your car you can hear the melody of the surf and the wind rustling through the sea oats.

A few miles past the park boundary, we found Opal Beach.

This secret gem was born in 1995 when Hurricane Opal flattened the dunes to create a smooth, glittering paradise of sugar-sand beach. It offers flush toilets, drinking water, outdoor showers, picnic shelters, great fishing – and plenty of opportunities to kick back and reconnect with nature.

For more information and directions, call 850-934-2600. For campground and pavilion information call 850-934-2622.