Gently rolling dunes with sand the shade of fallen snow define the shoreline of Grayton Beach State Park.
Emerald waters lap up to a tempting stretch of bright white sand. Beyond lies the dunes, and the expanse of Western Lake, one of the world’s rare coastal dune lakes.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Santa Rosa Beach
Length: 6.1 miles in two trail systems
Address: 357 Main Park Rd, Santa Rosa Beach
Fees: $4 individual, $5 carload
Restrooms: At the main parking area adjoining the beach
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed pets welcome except on beaches.
To get to Santa Rosa Beach from Destin, follow US 98 east from CR 293 for 16.5 miles. Or from Freeport, drive south on US 331 and cross Choctawhatchee Bay. At US 98, turn left. From US 98, turn south onto CR 283. Continue 1.7 miles to CR 30A. Turn left and drive 0.6 mile to the park entrance on the right. The Western Lake trailhead is another 0.2 miles east past the main entrance on the left side of the road.
About the Park
Encompassing more than 2,000 acres on both sides of CR 30A, Grayton Beach State Park protects Western Lake.
It is one of the more pristine examples of a coastal dune lake, a body of freshwater mere yards from the Gulf of Mexico.
One of a string of such lakes between Destin and Panama City, Western Lake is a geologic anomaly. It intermittmently spills over and breaks through, pouring fresh water into salt.
Wave action pushes salt water into Western Lake at these times, with the exchange of waters making a specialized environment in which certain coastal plants and animals thrive.
Coastal dune lakes are not known elsewhere in the United States, but they are found in Australia and Africa.
No matter whether you’re looking to catch some rays or track down a woodpecker intent on carving a nest, you’ll find Grayton Beach State Park a pleasant place to spend the day.
Fishing is permitted both along and on Western Lake and on the beach. Trolling motors are allowed on the lake. When surf fishing, take care to avoid where sunbathers tend to gather.
Most visitors are here for the extensive sandy strand, since it is one of the rare places along the South Walton coastline where no homes or commercial buildings creep up to dune line.
At times, portions of the beach are cordoned off for shorebird nesting. Please respect these temporary, seasonal boundaries and never bring a dog on the beach.
There are two distinct areas to hike in at Grayton Beach. The long-established Barrier Dunes Nature Trail starts at the beach parking area.
It links to the Pine Woods Loop for exploration of the south shore of Western Lake. Between them these two interpretive trails total less than a mile.
For a deeper immersion into habitats along Western Lake, try the Flatwoods Trail. It is a blue blazed multi-use trail on the north side of CR 30A.
While the trail is shared with cyclists, the nature of the habitats that drain towards Western Lake are wet. Expect some soggy feet on parts of this trail system.
It connects to the Western Lake Trail in Point Washington State Forest and the Lake Loop. The Western Lake Trail in turn has its own connection to the Longleaf Trail.
The Longleaf Trail then connects to the primary trailhead for Point Washington State Forest along CR 395, affording a round-trip of 9 miles or, with two cars, a linear hike of 4.5 miles.
If that’s not enough, add on more mileage by tackling one or all of the loops of the Eastern Lake Trail, which total an additional 11 miles.
On the north side of 30A, a trailhead provides access to a 4.5-mile multi-use trail through the forests along the western shore of Western Lake. A round-trip is 9 miles.
Cyclists can easily access the Timpoochee Trail from the Main Park Road, too. This paved path parallels CR 30A between Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and Inlet Beach, an 18 mile stretch.
While the Timpoochee Trail enables you to connect with other state parks, be cautious as you ride it, as it crosses many busy streets leading to oceanfront complexes.
The segment through Grayton Beach is by far one of the nicest pieces of the trail, especially its long bridge over Western Lake.
Just taking an out-and-back ride along it will provide excellent immersion in coastal habitats.
The campground sits along the western shore of Western Lake along the park entrance road, with 59 sites tucked into the coastal scrub forest. Sites include electricity and water.
Tent campers are welcome, although you’ll find RVs on most sites here, especially in winter.
Maximum RV length is 50 feet. Some sites have sewer hookups. A few sites are accessible.
For those who enjoy a little more comfort, try the park’s cabins, which are in a separate complex west of Alligator Lake.
There are 30 available, each with two bedrooms and a gas fireplace that can be used during the cooler winter months. Minimum stays apply at certain times of year.
Western Lake is popular for stand-up paddleboarding, but kayakers will enjoy exploring it, too. Use the parking area along Boat Ramp Rd for access to the lake.
If you didn’t bring your own watercraft, kayak and canoe rentals are available to ply the hundred acre lake. Call the park for rates and reservations.
A hike on the Flatwoods and Western Lake Trails
See our photos from Grayton Beach State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Protecting the upland watersheds of the Coastal Dune Lakes along the South Walton coastline, Point Washington State Forest offers extensive offroad biking and hiking trails
Edging a windswept bayou off Choctawhatchee Bay, lush cultivated gardens surround the historic Wesley House, an elegant home built by timber baron William Henry Wesley in 1897.
With one of Florida’s most beautiful sweeps of beach, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is a linear preserve with tall dunes along three miles of shoreline.