For a Popular Summer Tonic Why Not Head to Santa Rosa Beach Florida?

Caroline de Braganza

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Sunset at Santa Rosa BeachSandcloud/wikimedia commons

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As June is Great Outdoors Month, it’s the ideal time to switch off and travel further than your backyard for your summer vacation.

If you journey between Sandestin and Panama City Beach, you’ll unwittingly pass through Santa Rosa Beach.

Why not stop off along Country Road 30-A, declared a National Scenic Byway in February 2021, to explore this 31-mile paradise in South Walton? Then return home and share your Great Outdoors excursions on Twitter using hashtag #EscapeTheIndoors.

History

This 7-minute video by The 30A Company explains the origins and location of Santa Rosa Beach, so you don’t confuse it with Santa Rosa Island.

Now you know more, let’s explore these four State Parks and the Point Washington State Forest, which offer plenty beaches too!

Grayton Beach State Park

The park measures nearly 2,000 acres, and borders the township of Grayton Beach on three sides, with the Gulf of Mexico to the south.

The large dunes behind the beach contain a variety of plants such as bluestem and sea oats, which hold the sand in place. Snowy plovers and least terns make their nests directly on the beach, as do loggerhead and green sea turtles.

Throughout the park, you’ll find bald eagles, osprey and other bird species, Florida black bear, white-tailed deer, and gray foxes.

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On the trail at Grayton Beach State ParkPhil’s 1stPix/flickr

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There’s a 4.5-mile hiking/biking trail. The 9-mile round trip takes you through the coastal forest of scrub oaks and magnolias, then around the backwaters of Western Lake.

At the beach parking site, a 1-mile nature trail takes you through the dune ecosystem, along the salt marsh and circles back through the pine flatwoods.

The park has a campground for tents and RV’s (maximum length 40 feet), or you can hire a cabin.

They allow surf fishing and fishing on Western Lake.

Bring your canoe/kayak, or rent from the ranger station. (Call the park office at 850-267-8300 for rates.)

Picnic pavilions are on a first-come, first-served basis, three at the beach day-use area and two at Western Lake.

Point Washington State Forest

Next door to Grayton Beach State Park, this 15,400-acre forest is home to ten natural communities including sandhill, cypress swamps, wet flatwoods and wet prairie.

The public can visit for hunting, off-road biking and hiking. (Fees and Rules here.)

The Eastern Lake Trail System starts at the parking lot on County Road 395. It has three double-track loop trails. The hiker or biker can travel the 3.5-, 5- or 10-mile loop.

The forest is host to several plants and animals listed as threatened, endangered or species of special concern, including the American kestrel, gopher tortoise, flatwoods salamander, white-topped pitcher plant, and Curtiss sandgrass.

Primitive overnight camping is available at Eastern Lake Campground on the Eastern Lake Trail, with four campsites. (Bookings here.)

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Wesley Mansion at Eden GardensJR P/flicker

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Eden Gardens State Park

Eden Gardens is on Tucker Bayou off the southeast section of the Choctawhatchee Bay, inside Point Washington.

Formerly the estate of lumber baron William Henry Wesley, the focal point is the Wesley Mansion, built in 1897.

Eden Gardens reopened on May 21 and visitors can again enjoy a guided tour of the mansion.

(The cost is $4 per adult and $2 per child under 12. Exact cash only!)

A true Eden with moss-draped oaks, manicured lawns and landscaped gardens stretching to the Choctawhatchee Bay. Meander through the heritage rose garden, butterfly garden, and a reflection pond filled with water lilies and koi.

You can fish off the dock in Tucker Bayou or launch your own canoe/kayak.

A Living Shoreline Trail meanders through the gardens, highlighting particular trees. You can access the natural areas west of the gardens via one mile of hiking trails.

(Detailed trail maps at the park office.)

Eden Gardens is perfect for weddings and picnics. Bring your blanket or use one of the many picnic tables in the gardens. Four picnic pavilions cater for larger groups, each with four tables and a grill - two are ADA accessible with a restroom nearby.

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Deer Lake State Park with Deer Lake in the backgroundPhil’s 1stPix/flickr

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Deer Lake State Park

Southeast of Point Washington, Deer Lake shares its name with the coastal dune lake within its boundaries.

(Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare. In the U.S. they occur in Florida and Oregon - elsewhere in New Zealand, Australia and Madagascar.)

Here you’ll find Southern magnolias, golden asters, woody goldenrod and scrub oaks. Rare plants include Gulf coast lupine, spoonflower, pitcher plants and Curtiss' sandgrass. In summer you’ll catch splashes of color from wildflowers or the many species of resident or migratory birds and butterflies. Florida black bears, coyotes, and deer live here too.

A boardwalk across the dunes gives easy access to the beach. You can picnic, swim and enjoy the sandy white beach. The park allows surf fishing.

You’ll find the trailhead of Deer Lake’s nature trail opposite the park entrance, on the north side of County Road 30-A. The Orange Trail is a mile loop giving you a view of pines, deer moss and other fauna. The Blue Trail takes you a half-mile to the scenic overlook of the northern part of Deer Lake.

A short walk west along the beach gives you another view of Deer Lake and the endangered shorebird nesting section of snowy plovers and least terns. Sea turtles nest on this beach too.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

I’ll be brief as I’m running out of space!

Traveling west along the A-30 toward Destin, this 1,600-acre preserve is a birdwatching and hiking paradise, with 3.2 miles of beaches and 15 miles of marked trails.

The park’s namesake, Topsail Hill, is a dune that rises 25 feet above sea level.

(More info here.)

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Topsail Hill boardwalkJeff Goddard/flicker

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Other useful information

You'll find info on Henderson Beach State Park,15 miles west of Santa Rosa Beach, toward Destin in this article.

Grayton Beach State Park, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and Point Washington State Forest form part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT).

Details on State Park reservations here.

Check fishing licenses here.

Every Florida State Park allows domestic pets. Check rules for parks here.

Swim at your own risk—the park beaches don’t have lifeguards.

...

In the Proclamation on Great Outdoors Month, 2021 from the White House, President Biden says,

“During Great Outdoors Month, we celebrate our Nation’s natural wonders, and rededicate ourselves to conserving nature’s splendor for all Americans and safeguarding our environment against the existential threat of climate change and other challenges.”

Hello National Scenic Byway 30-A!

Though this story focuses on nature’s splendor, if it gets too quiet for you, Santa Rosa Beach offers plenty of live music, restaurants, and shopping.

Enjoy!

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