Get Out and Explore on Your Next Emerald Coast Vacation

Get Out and Explore on Your Next Emerald Coast Vacation
The Emerald Coast is known for its squeaky white-sand beaches, but around the corner from those famous shorelines are longleaf pine forests, rare coastal dune lakes, crystal clear springs, and a man made island waiting to be explored. So on your next beach escape, why not plan a non-beach day and inject fresh energy into your vacation?

Hiking and Mountain Biking a Longleaf Pine Forest

Northwest Florida is home to endangered longleaf pine forests, a fascinating biome that depends on fire to thrive. Characterized by towering pines and open grasslands, longleaf pine forests are home to more than a 100 types of endangered or threatened plants. The Longleaf Pine Greenway Trail in South Walton is an 8-mile trail that cuts across the Point Washington State Forest. This sand path is also great for mountain biking. A trailhead has parking and a bathroom.

Scuba, Swim, Kayak, SUP, or Take an Eco-tour to a Local Natural Spring

Spring water is not nearly as warm as the Gulf, (think 68 degrees versus the Gulf’s 82 degrees in the summer), but those brilliant turquoise waters are worth it! 

Captain Andy Coleman began his eco-tour business, Backwater Tours, to share his love of the Choctawhatchee River with others. He offers an all-day private tour of the river that snakes into the natural springs. You’ll learn about the flora, fauna, and hear local lore along the way.

If you feel like touring the springs yourself, here are three to consider:
Morrison Springs in Walton County is a 161-acre county park with parking, restrooms, a boat dock, diving platform, and elevated boardwalks. This natural spring produces 48 million gallons of crystal clear water each day! The brilliant blue water is surrounded by stately oaks and cypress trees on the surrounding banks, evoking memories of an Old Florida that feel a bit primordial.

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park in Holmes County is a convergence of two water systems that produces 14 million gallons of water each day. The state park has a nature trail along the river, a low diving platform, multiple picnic areas, restrooms, and parking.

Blue Spring on Ecofina Creek in Youngstown offers a variety of options for visitors. Kayak or SUP down beautiful Ecofina Creek to Blue Spring for a refreshing dip, or enjoy the surrounding hiking trails.

Explore Rare Coastal Dune Lakes on a SUP

There’s absolutely nothing like the sensation of standing above the calm waters of a rare coastal dune lake. This ecosystem is special and unique to the United States, and is reportedly only found in Walton and Bay County (Lake Powell spans the line of Walton and Bay County), New Zealand, Australia, and Madagascar.

Coastal dune lakes were formed by winds that carved out shallow basins which open intermediately to the Gulf. When this happens, water stained from tannin-rich longleaf pine needles pushes out into the Gulf’s blue saltwater. For hours, and sometimes days, waves the color of sweet tea crash onto the white-sand beach as the salt and brackish water mix. It’s an unforgettable sight to witness. 

Western Lake is South Walton’s most popular lake to SUP. The Boathouse in WaterColor and Grayton Beach State Park both rent kayaks and SUP boards. Explore South Walton’s largest dune lake and paddle over to Grayton Beach. If the lake is open, paddlers can go straight from the lake out into the Gulf! 

Visit Crab Island

Did you know Crab Island is man made? It’s true! When the East Pass was being dredged, coastal engineers opted to take the sand being removed to form a passageway to the deep Gulf waters, and place it on the other side of the Destin Bridge. Crab Island has eroded from the island it once was, but each summer it’s swarmed with locals who love to anchor their boats and swim in the shallow water. Inflatable playgrounds and even floating hot dog stands can be found making daily appearances on Crab Island during the summer. Make new friends, look for dolphins, or watch boats go by. It’s a fun way to spend the day.

Please visit to learn more about visiting the Emerald Coast.