State Parks & Forests in South Walton, Florida
August 15, 2016 by SoWal Staff
The State Parks and State Forest Lands in South Walton are spectacular. Protected lands make up about 40% of the land south of the bay.
We are so blessed to have such treasure all around us. The lakes, bayous, creeks, forests, dunes and beaches in our parks make SoWal a very special place. Incredible landscapes with coastal dune lakes, lake outfalls kissing the Gulf, flowering dune magnolias, soaring pelicans, dancing dolphins, flower-covered dunes - the wonders of coastal nature are everywhere you turn.
If we had only the beach and Gulf we'd still love living here and have plenty of visitors, but our parks are what set us apart from any other beach destination. Our parks are quite close together also, which makes visiting them all a breeze (even though it's hard to leave once you enter the gates). Our parks let us get in touch with nature, and ourselves, and we should visit them every chance we get. We also love and appreciate our neighbors and park professionals who maintain and protect our lands, serving as good stewards so that we can enjoy nature's finest.
Be sure to check out the SoWal Parks Guide for all of our South Walton parks - State Parks, County Parks, Beach Accesses, and more - we've even highlighted some of the best State Parks in the Florida Panhandle near South Walton.
Here's our latest SoWal List for your park pleasure. Which is your favorite park?
Camp Helen State Park is bordered on three sides by the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell, one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare worldwide; in the United States they occur only along the Gulf Coast. Prehistoric middens and mounds indicate that humans lived in the area more than 4,000 years ago. From 1945 until 1987, Camp Helen was a company resort for employees of an Alabama textile mill and some of the buildings are now being restored. Natural areas range from coastal dunes and salt marshes along the Gulf to freshwater wetlands and sand pine scrub along the lake. Activities include swimming, beachcombing, nature study, hiking, and both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Camp Helen is located on the eastern border of Inlet Beach, just before the Lake Powell bridge.
Deer Lake State Park is a 1,920 acre park which shares its name with the coastal dune lake within its boundaries. Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare worldwide and in the United States they occur only along the Gulf Coast. Southern magnolias, golden asters, woody goldenrod, and scrub oaks can be seen in this coastal dune habitat. Rare plants such as gulf coast lupine, spoonflower, pitcher plants, and Curtiss' sand grass-one of the largest populations found in Florida-are found in the park. Visitors may see splashes of color from summer wildflowers or some of the many species of resident or migratory birds and butterflies.
Eden Gardens State Park consists of 124 upland acres just north of Seagrove Beach, across highway 98 in Point Washington, along the shores of Tucker Bayou and the Choctawhatchee Bay. Gracing Eden are gardens everywhere, the beautiful legacy of the many gardeners and master gardeners who belong to the Friends of Eden Gardens State Park, and give lovingly of their time and labor. The focal point of the park is the Wesley house, a beautifully renovated, two-story house with elegant white columns and wraparound porch complete with rocking chairs. Surrounded by moss-draped live oaks and ornamental gardens, the Wesley house inspires visions of hoop skirts and landed gentry. It's a favorite place for weddings and other events, and includes a covered stage for performances, a large screened pavilion, and bricked areas under the oaks for giant event tents.
Grayton Beach State Park is among the most popular in Florida, with massive dunes, winding trails, abundant wildlife, and shimmering 100-acre Western Lake, one of many coastal dune lakes gracing Scenic Highway 30A along the Beaches of South Walton. Grayton Beach consistently ranks among the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the United States, providing an idyllic setting for swimming, sunbathing and surf fishing and is the backdrop for golden sunrises and silver moonlit evenings. The 2,200-acre park features a boat ramp that provides access to the lake's brackish waters for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Visitors can paddle a canoe or kayak on scenic Western Lake to get a closer look at a salt marsh ecosystem.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park offers a wide variety of natural resources including 3.2 miles of secluded, white sand beaches with majestic dunes over 25 feet tall. Three rare coastal dune lakes provide excellent freshwater fishing. Although boats are not allowed, fishing from the shoreline yields bass, bream, panfish, and catfish. Lakes, pristine beaches, old-growth long leaf pines, sand pine scrub, and a variety of wetlands offer a bird-watching and hiking paradise. Visitors may bike, walk, or enjoy a quick ride to the beach on the tram service to swim, fish, sunbathe, or beach comb. A full-facility campground features a swimming pool, tennis courts, and shuffleboard courts. Furnished bungalows are available for weekly stays. A camp store offers a variety of camping items, as well as snacks and drinks. Located in Santa Rosa Beach on the West end of Scenic 30A.
Point Washington State Forest is a 15,000-acre forest which is home to more than ten miles of trails to challenge bikers, hikers and nature lovers. One of the most popular is the route from Eastern Lake to Cassine Gardens, where visitors to Point Washington may spot an endangered red-cockaded woodpecker or a gopher tortoise, a species of special concern to environmentalists. Access to Point Washington State Forest is available at 9 designated public entrance points. Vehicular travel is allowed throughout the forest on open forest roads.