South Walton Nature Walks
October 19, 2014 by SoWal Staff
Nothing is better for your body and your mind than getting back to nature among the trees and flowers, wind, water and wildlife. South Walton's natural beauty is astounding, and the reason folks flock to our coast. The beach is the main draw, but just off the beach some of our favorite spots feel like a world away.
The nature trails and parks in South Walton are great places to spend time outdoors with family and friends, or getting some solitary time in one of the world's most incredible ecosystems. Do yourself a favor and take time out to appreciate our natural blessings - listening to the wind in the trees, the birds singing, the waves crashing - or just sit in silence to clear your head.
Here is our latest SoWal List, with just a few of our favorite places around SoWal to connect with nature. Ecotourism is a buzz word. Let's not be ecotourists. Let's just get outside and live!
Barrier Dune Nature Trail If you can only take one walk in South Walton - this is it! The trail begins and ends at the Gulf front parking lot in Grayton Beach State Park. It's one of the few places in Florida where walking in the dunes is allowed and encouraged (top photo). You'll be amazed as you enter a sheltered hideaway under an oak canopy between dunes (be sure to stop and read the "Prayer of the Woods"). The trail loops along Western Lake, and through a towering pine forest. Before you know it you're standing under the famed "umbrella pines" of Scenic 30A.
Point Washington State Forest At more than 15,000 acres and miles of trails, you’ll marvel at the variety of trees including pines, cypress, magnolias, oaks and hickory trees. You might luck up and see a Gopher Tortoise or catch a glimpse of an American Kestrel or Red-Headed Woodpecker - endangered and threatened species that coexist in the forest. With nine trail access points and markers along the way, spend an hour or spend the day exploring the diversity of South Walton’s ecosystems. One access point to the Longleaf Pine Greenway portion of the Point Washington trail can be accessed in Blue Mountain Beach at the end of Satinwood Drive, where you’ll find plenty of parking, picnic tables and restroom facilities. Visit HERE for a trail map.
Eastern Lake Trail System Part of Point Washington State Forest, the Eastern Lake Trail System has three loop trails with 3.5 miles to 10 miles of hiking through the forest. The Eastern Lake trailhead is located at the parking lot on the east side of County Road 395, between Scenic 30A and US Hwy 98. Other trails in the forest can be accessed at Grayton Beach, on the north side of Scenic 30A near Uptown Grayton, and yet another trailhead is located in Seagrove Beach on Scenic 30A, across from Clay Garden & Gifts. All trails are mostly packed surfaces and have wooden bridges over wetlands and streams for easy walking.
Cassine Trail Located in the heart of Seagrove Beach, this little-known walking trail offers wonderful opportunities to observe local flora and fauna among the cypress trees. It’s an easy walk on soft, pine straw covered ground and wooden bridges over Cypress swamps. The trailhead is in the Cassine Gardens privately-owned neighborhood at the end of Cypress Street. It is accessible by bicycle or on foot. Since Cassine is privately owned, you’ll need to park your car outside the neighborhood which is located about 1.5 miles east of County Road 395 on Scenic 30A. If it’s too warm to be on the beach, visit the Cassine trail and enjoy a nice, shady walk where about halfway through, you’ll find a turnaround point with lovely views of Eastern Lake. Keep in mind that if it has recently rained, parts of the trail take you through wetlands so wear appropriate shoes. Visit HERE for Map of Eastern Lake Trail and Cassine Trail.
Alys Beach Nature Trail Tucked away on the north side of Alys Beach is a boardwalk trail that winds around through the untouched wilderness of the 20-acre nature preserve. It’s a short, easy walk but you’ll feel like you’re away from it all, among the tall pines and singing birds. You'll marvel at the cypress swamps as you walk along the elevated boardwalk. Down below in the wetlands you might spot a water moccasin or turtle. On higher ground you might spot a rare carnivorous Pitcher Plant nestled among the natural flora along the trail. Keep an eye out for the collection of birdhouse gourds and the bathouse. You might even see a dragon!
Eden Gardens State Park Eden Gardens State Park is located off US 98 on the north end of County Road 395. A walk through Eden Gardens is an easy stroll, about one mile, and arguably the most picturesque - with towering, moss-draped oaks and magnolias. The Tucker Bayou Trail is a short, easy stroll - both scenic and fun with several benches along the way to stop and birdwatch or take in the view. You might see deer or dolphins! The park also offers observation decks that are wheelchair accessible. And while you’re there, be sure to check out the ornamental gardens, a highlight of the park. Depending on the time of year, you’ll find colorful varieties of azaleas and camellias in bloom October through May, a butterfly garden with a reflecting pool, and a stunning Heritage rose garden. The trailhead starts at the north end of the new picnic area and is well marked. Detailed trail maps are available at the ranger station or click HERE to view a map.
For any wilderness walkabout be sure to wear comfortable shoes, take water with you and insect repellent, and always be mindful of critters whose habitat you’re walking through.
South Walton has some of the most stunning natural settings on the planet so get outside and take a nature walk!
Visit the SoWal Parks Guide for information about all the parks and trails in South Walton and the surrounding area. There's so many places to explore nature in SoWal. Is it ecotourism or is it just living? We'd like to know what special places you've found...