If you’ve been to South Walton, Florida you know what a magical place it is. The crisp, white sand beaches and clear, turquoise water are exactly what you think of when you imagine the perfect beach.
But has your vision of the perfect beach ever included a lake— hidden behind the dunes?
Did you know that South Walton is home to this extremely rare natural phenomenon? And not just one. There are fifteen coastal dune lakes here!
Coastal dune lakes are bodies of water formed on the coastline by high winds. Over time, the winds moved the sand to form shallow basins near the shore. These lakes only exist in a few areas of the world— Madagascar, New Zealand, Australia, Oregon— and right here in South Walton, Florida.
How cool is that?
South Walton’s dune lakes are said to have formed over 10,000 years ago by wind patterns coming in off the Gulf of Mexico. They are fed by a combination of rain, streams, and groundwater. Most of the lakes are about five feet deep.
What makes them so special is that their mainly freshwater contents are a few feet from the salty Gulf of Mexico. During periods of high tides or excessive rains, the lakes will breach the sand berm and empty into the Gulf.
This process is called “outfall.”
During that time, the salty water from the sea also enters the dune lake. This creates a rare brackish water environment that is home to both fresh and saltwater species of plants and animals.
Thankfully, Walton County and organizations like the Choctawatchee Basin Alliance protect these fragile lakes. They track the water quality and don’t allow anything invasive to upset the delicate natural balance.
During your stay on our coast, take advantage of these rare and precious wonders by renting a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard to go exploring. Topsail Hill park also offers guided tours through Campbell Lake with a park ranger.
Fishing in the lakes is allowed and is generally freshwater. But some saltwater species are caught here, too. Panfish, flounder, catfish, and redfish are most common.
Plants and animals that are native to the area help to maintain the lakes’ rare ecosystems. Wetland plants like sawgrass, saltbush, sand cordgrass, and duck potato perform essential water filtration functions. They also are a food source and habitat for wildlife.
Each lake’s water quality is different depending on the season, amount of rainfall, and its rhythm of outfall. Some lakes can be completely fresh, while others can be significantly salty.
When visiting the lakes, stay on marked trails and boardwalks and avoid walking across dunes or seagrass.
While all the dune lakes are beautiful, some lakes are easier to access than others and offer more activities for exploring. Be sure to check them out during your stay.
Let’s take a closer look.
Oyster Lake is named for the oyster shell shape of its shoreline. We are very familiar with this lake since it is located directly behind our Dune Allen Realty office! You can access Oyster Lake from the beautiful footbridge in Dune Allen Beach, just next to our office.
Western Lake is one of the largest coastal dune lakes in the county. Grayton Beach State Park surrounds most of the lake and has parking and boat ramp facilities for a small fee. The park also has stand-up paddleboard, canoe, and kayak rentals at two locations for paddling on the lake. Grayton Beach State Park is offering free admission to the public this summer.
Eastern Lake has showers, picnic tables, grills, and a boat launch. You can also fish, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or just skip some stones. Eastern Lake has some of the best birding opportunities of all the dune lakes. Old Florida Fish House has some delicious lakeside dining. Their screened-in porch has a full-service bar and panoramic views of the lake.
Big Redfish Lake has a small access trail on Blue Lake Road with limited parking. Little Redfish Lake has limited public access off of Scenic Highway 30A.
Fuller Lake has no public access. But it is located in the Coffeen Nature Preserve. You can call 850.622.3700 for a guided tour.
Morris Lake and Campbell Lake are in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. The park does not permit any private boating on Morris Lake but does offer canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals on Campbell Lake. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is too offering free admission and has plenty of parking and awesome park amenities. A must see Florida state park!
Allen Lake has limited access along Scenic Highway 30A. This lake is also great for hiking, fishing, and bird watching. Stinky’s Fish Camp— don’t judge it by its name!— has yummy lakeside dining and a large dock. Check them out for brunch and live music every Sunday.
Alligator Lake is next to Grayton Beach. This lake is great for fishing, bird watching, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding.
Deer Lake in Deer Lake State Park has a beautiful, high, scenic boardwalk that stretches for hundreds of yards past the dunes. Great for strolling and birdwatching! Hike the “blue trail” that will take you to a scenic overlook on the northern part of the lake.
Camp Creek Lake begins in Deer Lake State Park and ends next to Watersound Beach. It is home to some great fishing, bird watching, kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Lake Powell in Camp Helen State Park is the largest of the dune lakes and one of the only lakes that allow jet skis.
Of the fifteen lakes, only Draper Lake and Stallworth Lake are located in private areas and are largely inaccessible.
Ready to see these amazing lakes for yourself?
Dune Allen Realty has plenty of vacation homes to choose from that offer excellent beach and coastal dune lake access. Awaiting Paradise, Valhalla and Bellevue are all located on Stallworth Lake and present amazing views!
Click here to learn more about South Walton’s coastal dune lakes.