Self guided eco adventures

Four scenic locations to paddle up an appetite and enjoy a great lunch in Walton County

Paddle Basin Bayou and enjoy a meal at Nick's Seafood Restaurant. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Self guided
Some of Northwest Florida’s most scenic natural landscapes can be found right here in Walton County. Kayakers, canoeists and stand up paddle boarders have many locations to enjoy nature’s delights just a few paddle strokes away.

If you are interested in venturing on a paddle excursion but can’t afford to spend the entire day, our area boasts several short excursions you can top off with a great lunch afterward.

Here are four great pairings for a short, there and back paddle you can top off with a great meal.

Basin Bayou / Nick’s Seafood Restaurant

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Basin Bayou is approximately 1 mile long and a ½ mile wide. Located off of SR 20 east of Niceville and west of Freeport, the bayou is easily accessed via a boat ramp next to Nick’s Seafood Restaurant. The folks at Nick’s don’t mind if you launch from their ramp, especially if you plan to indulge in some great eats there before or after your paddle.

The area surrounding the bayou is on Eglin Air Force Base Reservation property, however, the waterway is public. As long as you do not disembark your vessel, you do not need an Eglin Recreation pass.

Walton County.

Once you launch, head north under the bridge. Basin Bayou is virtually an untouched forest landscape. This paddle offers picture perfect mixed scenery with hardwoods and pines.

The folks at Nick’s don’t mind if you launch from their ramp, especially if you plan to indulge in some great eats there before or after your paddle. Click to continue

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Fish, hike, paddle and enjoy birding on the coastal dune lakes of South Walton

Self guided, guided or rentals available

Recreational activities abound on these rare coastal dune lakes

Walton County Florida is well known for its beautiful beaches and great fishing. Less known to those that have never visited the area, are the unique and scenic coastal dune lakes that dot the coastline along the area’s beach dune systems.

Nestled along Scenic Highway 30A, Walton county’s coastal dune lakes are rare geological features that only occur in the Florida Panhandle, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand and the northern Pacific coast of the United States.

Walton County.

Streams, groundwater seepage and rain are the sources that feed the coastal dune lakes. Storm surge creates intermittent connections to the Gulf of Mexico, called outfalls. This periodic connection empties lake water into the Gulf, and, depending on tides and weather, salt water and organisms from the Gulf flow back into the lakes. Click to continue

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Explore the trail along Bruce Creek

Bruce Creek. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Hiking this beautiful creek is an easy trek

A great way to explore the Choctawhatchee River basin is taking a hike along Bruce Creek in Northeast Walton County. Located off of State Road 81 south of Ponce De Leon, this shallow creek runs west to east through the center of the county and eventually empties into the Choctawhatchee River.

The trail is not maintained, however mostly clear and easily to navigate. This area within the river basin is accessible when water levels are normal to low. If the water levels are up, the creek offers any opportunity for a pleasant kayak or canoe paddle.

Locals Susan Petro and Joan Vienot enjoy a hike along the Bruce Creek trail. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

A high canopy of hardwoods and pines provide pleasant shade for most of the journey through the swamp forest. Large oaks, magnolias, red maple, hickory, black gum, tupelo and cypress tower above; fetterbush and hollies abound below the tall giants. The wetlands slope gently towards the river, boasting an abundance of saw palmetto, lichen, fungi, and moss.

The Bruce Creek trail is far off the main road offering a quiet, undisturbed journey in nature. About a mile along the trail the path becomes uncertain, however it is easy to keep your bearings if you hike creek side.

You never know what you may see along Bruce Creek. The area is abundant with wildlife viewing opportunities. Ducks, otters, turtles, snakes, white tailed deer, feral hogs are all common inhabitants of this diverse area. Click here to continue

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Head up Highway 79 to Vernon for a day of paddling fun on Holmes Creek

Self guided canoe/kayak, guided or rentals available

Holmes Creek is one of the most diverse paddles in the Northwest Florida Panhandle area.

As part of Florida’s statewide system of Greenways and Trails, Holmes Creek flows through a variety of diverse habitats. The upper and lower portions pass high sandy banks while the majority of the trial is through low-lying swamplands.

As part of Florida’s statewide system of Greenways and Trails, Holmes Creek flows through a variety of diverse habitats. The upper and lower portions pass high sandy banks while the majority of the tail is through low-lying swamplands.

Washington county.

Rich with flora and fauna, the creek is abundant with turtles and birds, including blue, green and white heron, ibis, warblers and woodpeckers.

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Holmes Creek Livery – Holmes Creek Livery and county park is located just south of Vernon off of SR 79 in Washington County. The park is located just north of the bridge across Holmes Creek.
Picnic area and Portable restroom available.
Holmes Creek Canoe Livery offers tandem aluminum canoes for rent. The livery will drop you off and pick you up at a variety of locations depending on how long a journey you wish to take. ::MAP::
To learn more about Holmes Creek Livery: Click here

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Econfina Creek a natural wonder

Spring on Econfina creek. ©Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Self-guided

Part of Florida’s Greenways and Trails, the Econfina Creek in Bay and Washington counties is many a paddlers’ favorite journey in the Florida Panhandle.

Pack a lunch and bring your snorkel, for you are about the enjoy the paddle of a lifetime as you explore the creek and its many crystal clear springs along the popular seven-mile trip down the creek. Econfina Creek in Bay and Washington counties is many a paddlers’ favorite journey in the Florida Panhandle.

Pack a lunch and bring your snorkel, for you are about the enjoy the paddle of a lifetime as you explore the creek and its many crystal clear springs along the popular seven-mile trip down the creek.

Washington and Bay counties.

Cabbage palms drape over the water’s edge along with blooming wildflowers scattering the banks with color during your journey in the spring and summer months. Steep, fern-covered limestone walls prevail along the second half of the paddle, where the creek slices into the ancient limestone of the Floridan Aquifer. ::MAP::

 

For more information about Econfina, Click here

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Four-mile paddle on Peach Creek offers views of native flora and fauna

Self guided
Located in the historic Point Washington area of Walton County, Peach Creek offers a pleasant paddle exploring nature.

The enjoyable, four-mile journey takes you along a wetland forest shoreline of black titi, red maple, and slash pine trees along with highbush blueberries and saw palmetto. Coastal water birds such as pelicans, gulls, cormorants and seagulls are abundant along with raptors such as osprey and swallow-tailed kites. You might also discover an alligator or two along the way.

Walton County.

You will head north towards the Intracoastal Waterway, and pass homes nestled along the marshy grass shoreline. Traveling about 700 yards, you will turn east for a short jaunt on the Intracoastal Waterway for about another 700 yards where you will turn south unto Peach Creek. Peach Creek is about 1.25 miles to the U.S. Hwy. 98 bridge. The creek continues further, however gets quite narrow and difficult to navigate.

Parking and launch area is located at the north end of CR 395. Limited parking is available along the county easement area on each the side of the road. Click here to continue

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Explore Seven Runs creek in Walton County

Self guided, guided

Small scenic creek near Bruce a quiet journey of natural beauty

Seven Runs creek, located off of State Road 81, just north of Bruce, in northeast Walton County is a scenic paddle through hardwood wetlands and cypress swamps.

A short, 2-3 mile paddle, this fairly swift moving creek provides a few twists and turns before it flows into the swampy cypress tree filled forest of extraordinary beauty. Twisted cypress roots bellow out of the bottom of the forest floor, and with a little imagination, the shady canopy and trees provide a backdrop to a fairy tale.

Eventually emptying into the Choctawhatchee River, you can take out before you reach the river at a county boat launch off of Dead River Road.

Walton County.

This location makes for an easy shuttle with two vehicles. The boat launch offers a picnic area and portable restroom facility.

This area is part of the Choctawhatchee River Wild Management area and slated for inclusion in the Florida Forever Conservation program, which goals include acquiring strategic habitat areas and protecting groundwater resources. During the hunting season, you may happen on a hunter or two camping out at the Dead River boat launch area.

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Wildlife abounds on Section 1 of the Chipola River Paddling Trail

A barred owl perched along the Chipola River.

A barred owl perched along the Chipola River.

Self guided, guided

Part of Florida’s Greenways and Trails, the 51-mile Chipola Paddling Trail is the largest tributary of the Apalachicola, and boasts 63 fresh water springs, the largest number of any river shed in Northwest Florida. The trail runs from just south of the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna in Jackson County, south to just east and south of Clarksville in Calhoun County, Florida.

Diverse in flora and fauna, the river cuts through limestone rock and boasts caves and springs accessible for exploration. A cave nicknamed “The Oven” along Section 1 of the river can be easily explored with a headlamp or flashlight.

Trees provide a comfortable canopy of shade for a good portion of the journey and provide excellent habitat for wildlife.

Bald cypress, green ash, loblolly bay, swamp gum, sweet bay, tupelo gum, water hickory are some of the species that line the river, with bluestem palmetto abundant beneath.

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Enjoy an early morning paddle along the Chain of Lakes in Ebro

    Cypress trees tower above as you paddle the Chain of Lakes.

Cypress trees tower above as you paddle the Chain of Lakes.

Self guided, guided

If you are looking for an extraordinary paddle to explore the Choctawhatchee River’s tributaries without the powerful current of the river, there is a little known place of incredible beauty near Ebro called the “Chain of Lakes.”

This pristine paddle offers a dreamy experience through a canopied corridor of wetland forest. Pileated woodpeckers hammer on the old growth cypress trees which tower above the waterways in grandiose beauty.

To explore these lake areas takes about 2 hours as you meaner through the narrow paths and openings. There are no places to take out, leaving this area pristine for the true nature enthusiast.

Washington county.

Note: Be careful getting too close to the opening to the river as strong eddies can be dangerous in high water river level situations.

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Morrison Springs offers spectacular scenery both above and below the water line

Nothing better than a rope swing into 68 degree clear water on a hot summer's day.Self guided tour

Walton County offers many places to explore. In the summertime, the one that can’t be beat is Morrison Springs in the Northeastern part of the county.

Just south of Ponce De Leon, the 161-acre park is well known in the area, and popular with divers and nature enthusiasts across the south. Cypress trees abound around the spring with their crisp, bright green needles defining the landscape. The spring provides an aqua color inviting everyone in for a dip.

Walton County.

You will head north towards the Intracoastal Waterway, and pass homes nestled along the marshy grass shoreline. Traveling about 700 yards, you will turn east for a short jaunt on the Intracoastal Waterway for about another 700 yards where you will turn south unto Peach Creek. Peach Creek is about 1.25 miles to the U.S. Hwy. 98 bridge. The creek continues further, however gets quite narrow and difficult to navigate.

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Explore the Mitchell River and Black Creek in Walton County

Cypress and juniper trees along with saw palmetto line the banks of the Mitchell River.Self guided

Accessible from either the Choctawhatchee Bay or one of several boat ramps off of CR 3280 such as Black Creek Lodge, Black Creek and the Mitchell River are two waterways that offer the perfect opportunity to explore nature, fish or bird watch.

Cypress and juniper trees hang lazily over the water, and the tall cypress provides the perfect perch for raptors such as osprey and swallow-tailed kites. They are often seen scanning the water from above looking for their next meal.

Walton County.

A large variety of flowers bloom along the banks during the spring and summer, and include such species as spider lilies, pickerelweed, water lilies and trumpet creepers.

Makeshift campsites scattered along the raised banks of the Mitchell River provide the perfect spot to picnic or camp. Over they years, locals have built shelters and barbecue areas, making these locations great places to pull your boat up and picnic or camp overnight.

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Enjoy a lazy paddle down the Shoal River

Self guided or guided

The appropriately named Shoal River offers an abundance of sandy sandbars, (shoals) along with cool water along a meandering 10-mile paddle in Crestview. This 10-mile stretch is the only open publicly accessible run on the river. It is easily accessible with a boat ramp at each end, with put in at U.S. Hwy. 90 and take out a SR-85 in Crestview.

As part of the Florida Greenways and Trails system, the paddle offers scenic views of a variety of wetland hardwoods such as Titi, black gum, live oak, magnolia and coastal plain willow. Fauna includes a variety of birds such as kingfishers, blue herons and egrets, along with an occasional alligator and turtle.

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Enjoy abundant flora while paddling down Boiling Creek

Pitcher plants are some of the wide variety of wildflowers you will find along Boiling Creek.

Pitcher plants along Boiling Creek.

Self guided, guided

Located off of Hwy. 87, south of Milton and north of Navarre, Boiling Creek is lined with towering old-growth cypress trees, and an abundance of flora, including water lilies, pitcher plants, water lotus and spatterdocks. The water is clear, and colorful underwater grasses rippling below can be easily viewed as you meander down the slow moving creek.

The creek is approximately 25 feet wide for most of the paddle, and common sights are turtles, ospreys, hawks and other birds, such as woodpeckers. There are a few sloughs you can explore that offer a closer look at the blooming wildflowers.

There are only one or two places to stop along the 6.6-mile paddle. The first one you will find will be a cleared area on the left as you paddle down and is called “Rope Drop,” as the area was originally an old home place and now used by Army and Navy survival teams for training. The second is just a bit further down and also on the left.

The last portion of the trip is where the creek meets with the Yellow River. Much wider than the creek, the Yellow River does not offer the clarity of the creek, making the first part of the paddle the most picturesque. Click here to continue

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Turkey Creek paddle full of beautiful surprises

Swift and clear, Turkey Creek brings lots of paddling action. Lori Ceier/WaltonOutdoors.com

Self guided, guided

nterested in a challenging, beautiful kayak or canoe paddle? Well, head over to Jackson Guard at Eglin AFB and get yourself a recreation pass, as one of Northwest Florida’s most scenic paddles awaits your paddling skills on Turkey Creek.

Located on Eglin Air Force Base Recreation Area in Niceville, the Turkey Creek paddle from the Hippie Hole to Boggy Bayou is approximately 8.3 miles long. If you are interested in shorter paddle, there is another canoe launch located on RR232. However, the most scenic areas of Turkey Creek are the first four miles.

Swift and clear, the first two thirds of the paddle is tight, as the creek is only about 25 ft. wide. Chock full of logs and sandy, shallow bottoms; trees hang low over the water. However, the shade and cool water provides paddlers with comfortable experience on a hot summer’s day.

The creek’s clear water derives from a steep seepage slope, and colorful scenery is nonstop. Snakes, turtles and an abundance of blooming native wetland plants such as bog buttons, pipewort, aster, carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews await exploring along the banks of the creek.

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Enjoy fern-covered ancient sinkholes at Falling Waters State Park

Fourteen different species of fern can be disovered at Falling Waters State Park.

Fourteen different species of fern can be disovered at Falling Waters State Park.

Self guided tour

Depending on what time of year you visit Falling Waters State Park, you may or may not view a cascading waterfall into a 100-foot deep ancient sinkhole, as the waterfall is dependent on the ground seepage from rainfall.

However, if you are a nature lover, don’t let the lack of a waterfall deter your interest in visiting this 173-acre State Park, as the geological wonders of the gigantic sinkholes are perhaps the most interesting feature this park provides.

Washington county.

A boardwalk path wraps around several ancient sinkholes with huge magnolias shooting up from the bases of the fern and moss-covered holes along Sink Hole Trail. The main feature, Falling Waters sink is the largest in the park at 100-foot deep, and 20-foot wide.

 

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A beautiful walk awaits you in South Walton at Deer Lake State Park

Self guided tour

Tucked away along Scenic Highway 30A, just west of WaterSound, this spectacular gem of a State Park offers park goers a look at intact ancient sand dunes and vast ecosystems.An elevated walkway guides you through a small wooded area, to the rolling dunes, then down to the Gulf of Mexico. Once on the beach, you can take a walk to the west, and discover the park’s namesake, a rare coastal dune lake that empties into the Gulf.Walton County.

The dune ecosystem is vast with native flora, providing scenic views of magnolias, scrub oaks, and grasses. Coastal flowers that may be seen blooming are coastal blue lupine, spoon flower, aster and goldenrod.

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Paddle, hike, picnic and bird watch at Rocky Bayou State Park in Niceville

A view of Rocky Bayou from picnic area.Self guided tour

Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, known by most as Rocky Bayou State Park sets nestled along State Road 20 in Niceville along Rocky Bayou. The park boasts 357 acres of wooded walking trails of sand pine scrub, longleaf pine, sand hill forests, pine flat woods and wetlands.

More than 100 different species of birds may be spotted in the diverse area, including kingfishers, ospreys, warblers and woodpeckers. Along one of the walking/biking trails, you will find an interpretive kiosk, which visually describes some of the many birds that can be found in the park.

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A delightful journey to Grayton Beach State Park

scubsSelf guided tour

Those that live in the Florida Panhandle are blessed with the diversity and natural beauty of our local State parks, and one of those beauties is Grayton Beach State Park.

Nestled on both the south and north of Scenic 30A, I had forgotten how lovely the park was, until I re-examined it again recently with my own personal tour guide, Patrick Hartsfield, Park Service Specialist.

Walton County.

Patrick has an enormous amount of enthusiasm for this 2,200-acre park, and its unspoiled natural magnificence. It is easy to concur, as the majority of the park is left untouched and full of diversity with sand dunes, scrub oaks, Western Lake’s salt marsh, multiple ecosystems and remarkable trails. This area is the perfect habitat for wildlife.

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Ponce De Leon State Park offers a perfect place for a picnic and a cool swim

poncespring1

Self guided tour
Just outside the Walton County line is one of the coolest places to take a dip in a spring, Ponce de Leon Springs State Park. As the water stays a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, both locals and visitors enjoy this nature-made swimming pool, which is a convergence of two underground water flows, producing 14 million gallons of water daily.

This beautiful spring is named for Juan Ponce de Leon, who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513 – as legend has it, in search of the “fountain of youth.”

Holmes County.

The park has a long history as it has been facilitated as far back as the early 1900s, and at one time, offered a roller skating rink. The State acquired the springs in 1970.

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Eden Gardens State Park a great walk in the park

edeninspring

Self Guided

One of the most beautiful parks in Walton County sits along Tucker Bayou in Point Washington in South Walton County. Large moss covered live oaks, gardens, walking trails and panoramic views of the bayou provide a visual delight for the visitor to this historic Florida State Park.

On the first day of spring, the park is full of colorful azaleas in bloom. Bees are buzzing, the water fountains trickling and the feeling of new growth emanates all around.

Walton County.

The focal point of the park is the two-story Wesley house with large white columns and wrap-around porch. Originally owned by the Wesley’s a wealthy Florida timber family, the mansion was purchased in 1963 by Lois Maxon who renovated the home, and created a showplace for family heirlooms and antiques. The collection of Louis XVI furniture is the second largest in the United States. The house is now owned by the State of Florida, and is the centerpiece of the park.

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Take a walk through the woods to a beautiful beach
at Camp Helen State Park

A trail to the beach at Camp Helen. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

A trail to the beach at Camp Helen. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Self Guided

I was hesitant to share my most favorite place to venture, a little bit selfish in a way, wanting to keep this “secret” treasure all to myself. However, the beauty of Camp Helen State Park should be shared and appreciated by everyone wanting to experience the splendor of the area’s biodiversity.

My friend Sherry McCall and I always look forward to enjoying Camp Helen. We both agree, there is no better place to spend a gorgeous morning.

Surrounded by water on three sides, Lake Powell on the east, a salt marsh on the west, and the Gulf of Mexico on the south, this gem of a park is unique in many ways.

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Enjoy the indigenous beauty of Florida Caverns State Park

The Wedding Cake formation in the cave. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Boasting more than 1,300 acres, the Florida Caverns State Park has a much to offer visitors interested in the exploring the outdoors.

The caverns are the biggest draw to the park, with 32 caves nestled within the park; the largest open to the public for exploration.

The main cavern contains several rooms with dazzling formations of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and other fascinating features including a towering formation called the “wedding cake.” Some other formations are shaped like ribbons and drapes, gently rippling down from the walls of the cavern. With a constant 65 degrees and 100 percent humidity, the cavern is an eerily stunning experience, and not to be missed.

Jackson County.

Cavern tours are given every hour from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm CST Thursday through Monday, but not on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Florida Caverns State Park has a rich and long history as its beginnings date back to the early 1930s. The Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) developed the cave – removing stones, widened passages and also working on the visitor’s center that was completed in 1942. Back then, the Corps workers made $1.00/day for their labors during the Depression. Read more

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Rustic and diverse St. Joseph State Park a favorite for summertime scalloping

St. Joesph Bay a perfect habitat for birds, turtles and scallops.Self guided tour
At the north end of the 17-mile St. Joseph Peninsula, just past Cape San Blas, you will find a unique Florida State Park with 6 miles of pristine beaches nestled along enormous sand dunes.

Properly known as the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, folks call this popular State Park St. Joseph Park for short.

Considered part of the “Forgotten Coast,” in the Port St. Joe area of the Florida Panhandle, you will experience three nature trails and a wilderness preserve to explore.

Gulf County.

There are10 unique plant communities, including hammocks, pine woods, and lowland marsh areas.

As a coastal barrier peninsula, St. Joseph provides excellent opportunities for bird watching with more than 240 species sighted in the park.

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One Response to Self guided eco adventures

  1. Larry Smith says:

    It is no wonder that Walton County is such a wonderful place for families. It is nature at its best.

    Beautiful, surene, safe and it offers the “Best of the Best” for everyone no matter what your age.

    Larry Smith

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