SOUTH WALTON COUNTY, FLA — Near the lush beach front resort called WaterColor, a lone kayaker moves in near silence across a coastal dune lake, his oar rhythmically slicing through the calm water.
He paddles just a stone’s throw from the sugary, white-sand beaches which make this part of the Florida panhandle a must-visit destination for Memphians. For many of us, there’s nothing to do but lounge on the beach when visiting South Walton — 14 communities that stretch from the bustling Sandestin Resort to quiet neighborhood of Inlet Beach along Florida’s Highway 30A.
But there’s plenty of natural adventure waiting for those looking to dig a little deeper into South Walton’s charms.
Water, water everywhere
South Walton is home to 17 coastal dune lakes — extremely rare ecosystems found only in the Florida panhandle, the Pacific Northwest Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar.
While the lakes are protected natural areas, kayakers and canoes paddlers are absolutely welcome to explore them.
A variety of certified outfitters offer guided, environmentally sound kayak or canoe tours of the dune lakes, starting at $40, including equipment.
Guests of Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort can use canoes and kayaks free of charge to explore Choctawhatchee Bay, either on their own or with a guide. At WaterColor, guided tours of Western Lake and Grayton Beach are available for guests, as are sunset tours of the lakes.
Hiking / Biking
Throughout the state parks, resorts and simply along Highway 30A, hundreds of miles of hike and bike trails await those who want to use pedal and foot power to explore the natural beauty of the area.
The Eastern Lake hike and bike trail, located in Point Washington State Forest, offers three loops through a varied ecosystem that includes pine scrub and longleaf pine flatwoods, cypress ponds, wet prairies and swamps.
Bikers can take also take the scenic route, skirting along 30A on the winding Walton County Bicycle Trail. The trail is 18 miles long, and extends from Dune-Allen Beach to Inlet Beach.
Bikes are readily available for rent, whether by the hour or the week, from a variety of sport and bicycle shops along 30A, and many of the resorts have on-site bike rentals for guests.
Stay in nature
Both Grayton Beach and Topsail offer cabins and camping options. Grayton Beach’s 30 cabins can each accommodate up to six people and include fireplaces, air conditioning and central heating, screened porches with grills, and fully-equipped kitchens and linens. The year-round nightly rate is $110.
At Topsail, one-bedroom bungalows rent for $690 a week year-round, and include full kitchens and linens, as well as cable television, an option not available at Grayton Beach.
Camping options include RV and tent camping, with daily rates ranging from $19 to $68.
IF YOU GO: The Beaches of South Walton
South Walton County is about an 8-hour drive from Memphis; the area is serviced by the Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola and Panama City airports.
For general information, including activities and accommodations, visit www.beachesofsouthwalton.com or call 800-822-6877.
Information for the state parks mentioned in this article is available online at www.floridastateparks.org or by calling 850-245-2157; cabin and camping accommodations for Topsail Preserve State Park and Grayton Beach State Park are also available through each park’s Web page on this site, or by calling Reserve America at 800-326-3521.
Kayak and canoe rentals and guided tours, as well as bicycle rentals, can be arranged through a number of vendors listed on the Beaches of South Walton Web site, including:
Blue Sky Kayak Tours
Big Daddy's Bikes & Beach Sport
30-A Bike Rentals