Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
Stepping onto the boardwalk at Deer Lake State Park is like stepping into a time machine. A few paces down the walkway and you're suddenly transported to the Florida of a thousand years ago. All around you is a moonscape of sand dunes guarding the remains of a maritime forest. Beyond the dunes you can see the coastal dune lake where ancient creatures, once thought extinct, are still very much alive.
Coastal dune lakes are a rarity, so much so that they are only found in a few places on earth. Deer Lake is one of the 15 coastal dune lakes located in South Walton along Highway 30A, about half way between Destin and Panama City Beach, and offers visitors the chance to glimpse an amazingly diverse and dynamic coastal ecology. The park itself acts as a preserve for the protection of several species of endangered animals and plants, including the carnivorous pitcher plant, but you can also enjoy variety of recreational activities.
Part of the Florida State Parks system, the park is a day-use facility that offers a wide variety of activities. With over 1,920 acres located on both sides of Scenic Highway 30A, activities include hiking and biking trails, a picnic area, and a boardwalk to the beach. There is no overnight camping in the park.
A fully ADA accessible boardwalk traverses the dunes and offers excellent wildlife viewing as well as a glimpse into what Florida beaches looked like before development. The white sugar-sand beach extends well beyond the water's edge and is dotted with a variety of plant life that clings to the windswept dunes. Visitors to the park can enjoy a day of swimming, fishing, sunning and beachcombing. There are no bathrooms or food vendors, so bring a picnic cooler and plenty of water.
There are two hiking trails in the park, the one-mile Interpretive Forest Loop trail (orange trail) and the 1/2-mile Lake Trail (blue trail) with it's scenic overlook of Deer Lake. Both nature trails are located on the north side of Scenic Highway 30A across from the park entrance.
The beach at Deer Lake State Park is remote yet anchored by beach houses and residential communities. Although often overused, pristine is truly a word that describes this shoreline. The pure white sand, a hallmark of the Northwest Florida gulf coast beaches, washed down from the Appalachian Mountains eons ago and offers a vivid contrast to the aqua colored water of the Gulf of Mexico. You can bring beach chairs, a cooler, and fishing gear for a full day of fun - and don't forget the sunscreen.
Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare and found in only five places in the world; the American Northern Pacific Coast, New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar and Northwest Florida. The lakes found in New Zealand and Northwest Florida are the rarest, in that they periodically “blow out” into the gulf, sending brown colored tannin-filled water outward while allowing the salty gulf water back into the lake. This action creates a delicate and potentially endangered ecosystem for creatures living in the lake.
The park contains eleven distinct natural communities including beach dune, sandhill, scrub, basin swamp, depression marsh, coastal dune lakes, blackwater stream, and estuarine tidal creek, making the park home to a diversity of plant and animal life. Rare plants include yellow pitcher plants, rosebud orchid, pine lilies, and the largest populations of Curtiss’s sand grass in Florida. Deer Lake State Park protects these endangered ecosystems, allowing them to flourish naturally as they have for thousands of years.
Deer Lake State Park
6350 East County Road 30A
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Hours of Operation:
The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year.
$3.00 per vehicle. Please use the honor box to pay fees. Correct change is required. Limit 8 people per vehicle.
$2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
Pets are allowed at the picnic area and on the nature trail located on the north side of Highway 30-A across from the park entrance. They must be kept on a handheld leash that is six feet long or shorter and be well-behaved at all times. Pet owners are required to pick up after their pets and properly dispose of their droppings. Pets are not permitted on the beach.
Friends of Grayton Beach, Inc.
357 Main Park Road
Santa Rosa Beach, FL. 32459
You might also enjoy visiting these other nearby Northwest Florida State Parks.