Discover Mother Nature’s Hidden Gem: 30A’s Coastal Dune Lakes

Situated along the Scenic Highway 30A corridor in South Walton is a hidden gem, lovingly tucked away by Mother Nature. This phenomenon is the coastal dune lakes, of which there are only 15. This only occurs in a few other places in the entire world, that being New Zealand, Australia, and Madagascar.  South Walton, Florida proudly showcases this unique natural display right within the United States. Of the 15 lakes, Lake Powell is the largest and is the only one to not fall completely into Walton County as its size demands it seeps out a bit into neighboring Bay County. 

What Are Coastal Dune Lakes?

When you think of Florida or any beach really, you likely think of white sand, salt in the air, and waves. However, the coastal dunes lakes offer a different type of experience, even though they are right by the gulf. The coastal dune lakes are estimated to be more than 10,000 years old and were believed to be formed by sand that was redistributed by wind. This created pockets of shallow water that eventually formed the inland lakes. Most of the lakes are immensely shallow, only averaging among the 15 at just five feet deep. 

Why Are They So Special?

You might be wondering what makes these coastal dune lakes so unique. After all, it’s not that odd for coastal areas to have pockets of water inland. However, the uniqueness of the dune lakes comes from the fact that these lakes contain mostly fresh water while sitting mere feet from the Gulf’s salt water. The only barrier is the natural berm of sand. When rainfall is steady and causes flooding in the lakes, the freshwater can breach into the Gulf, which is known as an outfall. Of course, at the same time salty seawater can make its way into the dune lake. The end result after the waters stabilize is a brackish ecosystem that offers a home to both saltwater and freshwater species. 

In addition, the presence of the coastal lake dunes is ecologically impactful to the area overall as it helps store and filter water. The unique habitat inspired by the brackish environment also means it is home to an interesting mixture of animals and plants. Without this sampling, the whole state of Florida would likely have a different mix of fauna and flora, making the impact the lakes have on the state overall immense. 

What Are Florida’s Unique Coastal Dune Lakes

As mentioned above, there are 15 separate coastal dune lakes in South Walton. All of these locations offer a variety of activity options including kayaking, bird watching, fishing, and more. Visiting any of them will allow you to experience the unique ecosystem created by this interesting phenomenon. The lakes that are part of this system include Fuller Lake, Morris Lake, Stallworth Lake, Campbell Lake, Allen Lake, Draper Lake, Oyster Lake, Little Redfish Lake, Big Redfish Lake, Western Lake, Alligator Lake, Deer Lake, Eastern Lake, Camp Creek Lake and Lake Powell, which is near Inlet Beach and Camp Helen

How to Explore the Coastal Dune Lakes of Florida

While there are many coastal dune lakes to explore, you should know that no two are identical. In fact, even when two lakes are situated near each other or even in the same location, they can differ drastically from another lake. Therefore, exploring them could require several trips and include many happy memories. One of the best ways to access these interesting and unique state fixtures is to explore them through the state parks.

The following is a breakdown of the two main state parks in addition to one other avenue and what you can expect to enjoy when visiting in addition to the coastal dune lakes:

Grayton Beach State Park

This state park is a beloved destination that features restroom facilities, is pet-friendly, boasts 30 cabins and 61 campsites, and is considered one of the most pristine beaches in America. This nearly 2,000-acre park includes a boat ramp, where you can access the lake water and enjoy both saltwater and freshwater fishing. You can also opt for a kayak, stand-up paddle board, or canoe to explore the area even more and enjoy the salt marsh ecosystem of Western Lake

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park 

In addition to the three miles of white sandy beaches, you can also access coastal dunes within Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. This state park is known as one of the nation’s best and offers RV spaces with full hook-up in addition to cabins, camping sites, and pool and laundry facilities. There is even a tram service to the beach available. This pet-friendly campsite also features live music, restroom facilities, and more. 

Boathouse Paddle Club 

Of the 15 listed lakes, Western Lake located in WaterColor, Florida is the most often explored. At the Boathouse Paddle Club, you can dive into the swimming pool, dip your toes in the sand nearby, or paddleboard and explore this dune lake. This location offers sweeping balconies along with wide porches that give you unprecedented access to the beautiful South Walton sunset. 

Other Ways of Exploring The Area

Obviously, when it comes to the lakes themselves, kayaking, fishing, or bird watching along with botany exploration are the primary activities. However, the area is replete with other types of activities, the most obviously being the beautiful beaches, delicious restaurants, nearby attractions, and more. However, you can also bike the South Walton area as well mainly by exploring the Timpoochee Trail, which is an 18.5-mile trail that winds throughout the dunes and into the state parks and also features beach access points. In fact, the trail nicely parallels the entire length of Scenic Highway 30A from Inlet Beach to Dune Allen

Discover Mother Nature’s Hidden Gem

While the breathtaking beaches of the Gulf are widely beloved, you might have never heard about the unique ecosystem created by the coastal dune lakes. However, adding a visit to these unique beauties to your South Walton area vacation is a great way to go beyond the beach and really see what Florida has to offer.