Florida’s Emerald Coast is known for its beautiful, crystal-clear waters and sparkling white beaches. A visit to Destin, Florida, guarantees you lots of fun as you enjoy our beaches, restaurants, water sports, fishing, fireworks, and live music performances. But what you may not know is that Florida’s Emerald Coast offers many nature exploration and ecotourism opportunities, as well.
Of course, when you visit, you’ll want to take advantage of the opportunity to experience the Gulf of Mexico’s beautiful marine life. Destin area boat tours or snorkeling adventures are a great way to see sea turtles, dolphins, and reef fish. But while you’re in Destin, don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore Florida’s diverse land habitats, too.
Here’s a list of wonderful ways to immerse yourself in Florida’s unique natural environment:
Explore nature in Florida’s state parks one geocache at a time- Did you know that there is a geocaching trail from Pensacola all the way to Key West that passes right through Walton County? The Operation Recreation GeoTour is sponsored by Florida’s State Parks. While you are looking for hidden treasure, you can observe and learn about many of the species found in Florida’s wildlands. In addition to the caches hidden for the Operation Recreation tour, there are nearly two hundred other geocaches hidden in and around Walton County. Just visit the geocaching.com website for details.
Visit the nightlife with a nature walk on the beach- The Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsors night-time educational beach walks every week during the summer, from May until October. During this guided walk, you’ll learn about Florida’s coastal plants and wildlife, and you may have an opportunity to view nesting sea turtles. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Tour guides determine the exact time and location of the walks after a sea turtle nest has been located. To find out when and where to go to participate in a nightlife wildlife walk during your visit, contact ECTurtleWatch@gmail.com.
Delve a little deeper into nature at Florida Caverns State Park- Florida Caverns State Park harbors 32 caves within its 1,300 acres of flora and fauna. Guided tours of the largest cavern are available throughout the week, except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Visitors to the Florida Caverns State Park may also take advantage of the many trails throughout the park for bicycling, hiking, or horseback riding. Canoe rentals are available on the park grounds,
The drive to Florida Caverns will take approximately two hours, but it’s worth it: this location offers you the opportunity to see one of Florida’s truly unique geographic features. Within the park are many sinkholes, limestone bluffs, and floodplains. At one spot in the park, an entire river—the Chipola River—submerges ninety feet underground, and reappears above ground a half mile away!
Find more ecotourism experiences at Florida state parks and nature preserves- The area surrounding Destin and Walton Beach is filled with beautiful parks and preserves. Many of these parks have picnic areas and docks, so that you can arrive by land or sea and spend the day enjoying nature. Some of the parks are preserved in their natural state. Others include buildings and other artifacts of Florida’s past.
Among the many state parks and nature preserves near Destin are the Coffeen Nature Preserve and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. The Coffeen Nature Preserve was once the home of the U.S. Army and Air Corps testing site for the JB-2 missile. Tours at Coffeen are available by reservation only, but Topsail Hill is open to the public and is a great location for birdwatching, hiking, or boating.
Another site with a military background is the Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, located in Niceville, Florida. This area was a testing and training ground during World War II. The park is positioned on an arm of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Some of the pine trees in this old-growth forest are over 300 years old.
North of Destin in Milton, Florida, is the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site. An outdoor walkway at the site is ADA-compliant, and includes interpretive signage. Additional nature trails and a Discovery Pavilion are present at the site as well.
With so many ecotourism opportunities along the Emerald Coast, you should find plenty of ways to spend a little time in the shade and enjoy Florida’s nature.