Wild in South Walton
Our beach neighborhoods host a number of special plants and animals that make the South Walton ecosystems stand out — so much so, in fact, that places like Rosemary Beach and Blue Mountain Beach are even named after native plant species.
Ready to go wild in South Walton? Learn where you can spot some of South Walton’s signature species below.
Stop by Deer Lake State Park and enjoy a stroll through the one-mile walking trail. Keep an eye out for plants like Cruise’s golden aster and the large-leafed jointweed. You’ll definitely see some Curtiss’s sand grass (Deer Lake State Park hosts one of Florida’s largest populations of this grass), and you just might spot an endangered yellow pitcher plant. Shorebirds will soar through the sky and near the park’s coastal dune lake. Meanwhile, beach mice will be burrowed in the sand — these little creatures typically stay hidden during the day and only come out at night.
At Grayton Beach State Park, you’ll find nearly 2,000 acres of wildlife to explore. Cast away in Western Lake, South Walton’s second-largest coastal dune lake, and reel in redfish, crabs, speckled trout, and bass. Look up and observe towering slash pine trees, which can easily grow to be more than 100 feet tall. Only the tips of Southern magnolia trees will be visible in especially sandy areas.
Bask under one of the many moss-draped oak trees that grace the green yards of Eden Gardens State Park. Look, but don’t touch, the devil’s walkingstick plants — these appropriately titled species are lined with sharp thorns. Florida’s state tree, the cabbage palm, stands tall at many points throughout the park. The low canopies of xeric hammock plants can be witnessed year-round; the colorful blossoms of camellias and azaleas are only on display during certain times of the year. Be sure to stop by in February for the park’s annual camellia festival!
At Topsail State Preserve, you’re treated to more than three miles of wild wonder. Fish from the shore at one of the preserve’s three dune lakes, and see if you can hook a catfish, panfish, or bream. Broadheaded skinks and Eastern glass lizards might be inches away from where you stand; and above you, red-cockaded woodpeckers can be found pecking away. If you’re lucky, you just might spot species like the white-tailed deer and the threatened snow plover.
Although Deer Lake State Park’s massive amount of sandgrass is impressive, you can witness the world’s largest population of Curtiss sandgrass at Point Washington State Forest. Beneath the grass, you might spot a gopher tortoise. These threatened animals burrow deep into the ground, providing shade and shelter for more than 360 other animal species. And far above the ground — in the sky, of course — you’ll spot a number of birds such as the colorful yet tiny American Kestrel or in the winter months, pairs of nesting Bald Eagles.
And remember that one of South Walton’s most special species, the sea turtle, can be spotted on our sugar-white sand beaches. In the late spring and early summer, female turtles come to South Walton to lay eggs and nest; and by late summer and early fall, hatchling turtles make their way out of their nests and toward the water. Learn more about how to help protect South Walton’s special sea turtle population.