Short paddle adventures paired with great eateries around Walton County
Note: For the time being, all restaurants mentioned in this story are offering take out only.
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
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.
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.
Paddle to the northwest end of the bayou, and you will discover where Basin Creek feeds into the bayou. It is easily accessible and hosts an abundance of scrub oaks, holly and berry bushes offering a safe haven for songbirds – a delightful experience for the birder in you.
If you have and Eglin Recreation pass, the bayou offers two campsite areas accessible from the water; one on the west side, one on the east. The campsites areas are primitive, and if you wish to spend the night, there is a $5.00 fee you need to pay Eglin Resources in advance. If you just want to stop and explore, there is no fee. To find out more about Eglin AFB Reservation and acquiring a recreation pass, Click here
Nick’s Seafood Restaurant offers great food and specializes in fresh steamed blue crabs along with a traditional seafood menu. Nick’s is closed on Mondays. To learn more about Nick’s Click here
Morrison Springs / Red Bay Market
Morrison Springs is a 161-acre park well known in Walton and popular with divers and nature enthusiasts. Cypress trees abound around the spring with their crisp, bright green needles in the springtime and golden color in the fall. These towering giants define the landscape.
The highlight of the park is a 250-foot diameter spring boil that produces an estimated 48 million gallons of crystal clear water each day.
Morrison Springs park offers a boat ramp area and plenty of parking along with a restroom and picnic pavilion.
You can paddle around the crystal clear springs, then head towards the Choctawhatchee River. From the spring to the river is approximately 1 mile.
Morrison Springs is located just south of Ponce DeLeon off of SR81 in Northeast Walton County. To find out more about Morrison Springs, Click here
Red Bay Market is about 5 miles south of CR181 (road to Morrison Springs entrance) on SR 81. Red Bay offers personal pizza, and a variety of specials. They are open 7 days a week.
Chain of Lakes / Bruce Café
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 with incredible natural beauty near Ebro called “Chain of Lakes.” This pristine paddle offers a dreamy experience through a canopied corridor of wetland forest. Pileated woodpeckers hammer on the cypress trees that tower overhead.
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.
Directions: On SR 20 just east of the Choctawhatchee River, take a south turn on Strickland Road. Turn right at Little Acre Road. It dead ends at the lakes. There is a boat launch area with parking available. Honor fee box: $3.00.
Western Lake / Red Bar, CHIringo
Nestled along Scenic Highway 30A, Western lake is one of several coastal dune lakes in Walton County that are rare geological features.
Streams, groundwater seepage and rain are the sources that feed these 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, providing an abundance of feeding birds along the lake and outfall.
In addition to enjoying the diversity of the lake, your paddle will take you meandering through naturally sculpted sand dunes topped with sea oats and grasses that sway back and forth. As you head towards the Gulf, you will more than likely see and abundance of shorebirds feeding near the outfall.
This paddle offers two launch areas; one in Grayton Beach on Hotz Av., the other at Grayton Beach State Park. The Hotz Av. location has very limited parking and no facilities. WaterColor Boat House offers kayak and Stand Up Paddle Boards from YOLO Board Adventures. (850) 419-6188. The location at the State Park has a picnic table and ample parking.
The Red Bar (opening May 2020) and Chiringo’s are located on Hotz Av. The Red Bar offers an eclectic setting and a chalkboard menu with selections that include Penne chicken, gumbo, burgers and seafood. Chiringo’s offers sandwiches, burgers and salads with a Spanish flair.
An early morning paddle is worth getting up for to enjoy the breakfast at Grayt Coffee House. Great muffins, fresh fruit salad, pancakes, homemade quiche, frittatas, smoothies and more. Located on Scenic Hwy. 30A just east of CR283 in Grayton Beach.
Just east of the Grayton Beach State Park location, Seaside offers a variety of restaurant choices including Bud and Alleys Pizza Bar and Taco Bar. Bud and Alley’s Tarpon Club is located on the Gulf and offers a spectacular view of the water along with vast menu.