There’s no doubt that South Walton is known for its pristine beaches. The emerald green water and sugar-white sand that stretches along the Emerald Coast would make anyone travel miles upon miles just to soak up the sun any day of the year. Not to mention, the quaint coastal towns filled with eclectic shops, local art galleries, and award-winning dining. But, South Walton also features a handful of exquisite state parks and forests, some even right on the beach, that many people tend to overlook. In fact, more than 40% of the land in South Walton is state-protected or part of a private reserve.
Whether you’re looking to go camping, hiking, biking, or to explore the rare coastal dune lakes and diverse ecosystems in South Walton, our state parks and forests are an ecological treasure just waiting to be discovered.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Known for its towering sand dunes and a multitude of unique plant communities, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park has been hailed as the most pristine piece of coastal property in Florida. In addition to the 3.2 miles of secluded beach, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park also features 1,600 acres of bald cypress swamps, nature trails through sand dunes and two rare coastal dune lakes. Visitors are invited to spend the day soaking up the sunshine, biking and hiking through the old growth longleaf pines or catching bass and catfish. However, if one day isn’t enough, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park has over 200 campsites and cabins to make your stay in South Walton one-of-a-kind.
Grayton Beach State Park
With winding trails through pine flatwoods and around small freshwater ponds that are home to several native bird species, Grayton Beach State Park has been named the “Best Beach in the U.S.” by Dr. Stephen Leatherman (Dr. Beach) and ranked as a top four beach in the nation on numerous occasions. In addition, Grayton Beach State Park is home to two nature trails that wind through acres of pristine landscapes. The park also features a boat ramp, a plethora of camping space, and unlimited options for sunbathing and exploring by foot, bike, or even paddleboard. In fact, Western Lake, which is located right in Grayton Beach State Park, is the perfect spot to go for a paddle or kayak adventure.
Deer Lake State Park
Bursting with a rainbow of colors from the wildflowers, plants, and the array of birds and butterflies that call this home, Deer Lake State Park is the perfect place for fishing, a picnic, or just taking it easy on the beach. In addition, Deer Lake State Park features a pristine coastal dune lake, southern magnolias, woody goldenrod and scrub oaks, and rare plant species such as the Gulf Coast lupine and spoonflower pitcher plants. If you’re up for a little hike, journey along the 1.5-mile Deer Lake Trail and explore the dune ecosystem and other natural communities throughout the park.
Eden Gardens State Park
Home to the Wesley Mansion that belonged to lumber baron William Henry Wesley and his family in the 1800s, Eden Gardens State Park is a 163-acre park that’s perfect for a serene lunch, an afternoon stroll, fishing in Tucker Bayou, or even an ideal location for a wedding. In addition, visitors can take a tour of the historic mansion and see the largest collection of Louis XVI Court furniture found in any one room in the United States. With gorgeous moss-draped ancient live oaks, camellias and azaleas scattered throughout the park, there are plenty of sights to soak up at Eden Gardens State Park.
Point Washington State Forest
Boasting 15,000 acres and more than 27 miles of trails that wind through coastal scrub, wet prairies, swamplands, and longleaf pine flatwoods, Point Washington State Forest is the place to be for any outdoor enthusiast. Moreover, it’s a prime location for bikers and hikers who can traverse trails that vary in length from the 2.5-mile Western Trail to the 11-mile Orange Loop. There are also four primitive campsites in Point Washington State Forest where visitors can stay the night. While at Point Washington State Forest, you may even see several species of plants and animals like the gopher tortoise, flatwoods salamander, and white-topped pitcher plants that are either threatened or endangered.
For more information on things to do in South Walton, visit www.visitsouthwalton.com.