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Grayton Beach State Park Showcases South Walton's Best

June 28, 2017 by Manny Chavez

Grayton Beach State Park has showcased the best natural environment South Walton has to offer for nearly 50 years. 

The park encompasses 2,200 acres of pristine rolling dunes along the Gulf and Western Lake, and a magnificent coastal forest habitat with unusual scrub oaks and magnolias twisted by winds and time. Western Lake is the centerpiece of the park, one of our rare, freshwater coastal dune lakes.

The popular park is at the centerpoint of Scenic 30A (main park entrance is just west of Grayton Beach). There is an array of outdoor activities including swimming, hiking, fishing, kayaking & canoeing, biking, snorkeling, and good ol’ lazy-day sunbathing.

Open year-round, the park hours are from 8 am to sunset. Once inside the park, ample parking exists with covered picnic tables, a boat ramp, and a beach walkover just steps from your vehicle or bicycle. Taking the boardwalk to the beach, first-timers often gasp at the beauty. They know they’ve arrived at the right place when they see the emerald waters lapping SoWal’s sugar-white sandy beaches. Kids squeal, parents squeal, and even their feet make squeaky noises in the sand as they set-up for their day in paradise.

Whether you bring your own kayak, paddleboard, or canoe with you or you rent one from Grayton Beach State Park, flat-day gulf waters are a real treat—especially since the artificial reefs were deployed (October 2015) by the South Walton Artificial Reef Association. The Turtle Reef (from the air, this reef is in the undeniable shape of a sea turtle) is located only 750 feet from shore and is teeming with marine life. Snorkeling the reef is a real treat and paddling or swimming to them is well worth the effort.

If hiking is more your forte, a short “Hobbit Hole” walk can be accessed right from the parking area. This interesting walk will take you through a canopy of scrub oaks that exit onto the dune walk that meanders along the southern edge of Western Lake. The one-mile loop is currently under repair and has been shortened to a one-half miler, but the mostly-shaded (tall pines), trail is still fun and a must-do during your Grayton Beach State Park outing. A longer (4.5 mile) hiking/biking trailhead is located across from the park entrance and heads north to straddle the northwestern edge of Western Lake.

Fishing in the brackish waters of Western Lake or in the salty waters of the Gulf often yields a wide assortment of fish. Catches include Redfish, Pompano, Flounder, Mackerel, Mullet, Whiting, Catfish, Pan Fish, Ladyfish, Speckled Trout…. heck, even a little Shark or two.

Camping is a HUGE draw at Grayton Beach State Park. “Our 60 campsites pretty much stay booked,” says Park Services Specialist Slade Ward. “People can stay up to two weeks. We have two campground loops that have bath houses and laundry facilities (clothes washers and dryers). We also have primitive camping here for tents.”

Thirty cabins (15 that are duplexes) are also rentable.  Located 1.1 mile west of the Grayton Beach State Park entrance, the cabins are built into the woods and have most of the amenities of home except for television or Wi-Fi connectivity. “This is a great opportunity for parents to meet their kids,” jokes Slade. The cabin area also has its own beach boardwalk so it is not necessary to go “off -campus” to access the beach.

Interactive programs are offered throughout the year and are conducted by rotating Park Rangers. A very popular event held recently was a Stargazing Night Under the Stars. An upcoming event is a Run/SUP race coming up in September. Volunteers are essential to the daily operation of the park and for the successful coordination of the various events. “Grayton Beach State Park, along with all the other Florida State Parks, can no longer function without the volunteers in the system anymore,” emphasizes Slade. He oversees the volunteer system and welcomes new blood…give him a call at 850-267-8300.

Grayton Beach State Park is a true jewel right here in SoWal. Families can spend a few hours or a few days or weeks at the park and go back home with a renewed sense of nature and an appreciation for good old QUIET…the sound of a mockingbird doing an excellent rendition of a cardinal or the lapping of the surf waters is as noisy as sit gets.

Thanks to a reimbursement program administered by Visit South Walton, regular day-use admission fees will be waived from May 29-Sept. 4, 2017. For additional information about the park, call 850-267-8300. Visit www.graytonbeach.com. Reservations can be made by calling 800-326-3521 or by visiting www.floridastateparks.org or www.reserveamerica.com  Location: 357 Main Park Road (off Scenic 30A, one-half mile east of Hwy. 283 South.

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Manny Chavez

Manny and his wife Kris moved to the Emerald Coast in 1992. After 16 years as staff photographer for The Houston Post, Manny has successfully transitioned to creative weddings and beach portraits.

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