Grayton Beach State Park
Grayton Beach State Park is a jewel on Florida's Emerald Coast. Beautiful golden sands, swimming, boating, fishing...the list goes on. There are loads of things to do and enjoy at the park, located on the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Panhandle.
Come on, let's take a closer look.
Born in '68
Grayton Beach State Park was opened to the public in 1968, and it's named for a nearby town called (surprise!) Grayton Beach. The park is 2228 acres and turns one side to the Gulf of Mexico, and the rest snuggles up to Western Lake (which is part of the township of Grayton Beach). This gives us visitors an opportunity to enjoy both the ocean and the lake.
Be on the Lookout For...
Birds are the thing here -- lots of birds. If you mainly hang out by the beach, you'll likely see pelicans and seagulls. On the trails and lakeside you have lots more variety. One of my personal favorites is the red-headed (a.k.a. "Woody") woodpecker. Herons, hawks and egrets are usually plentiful, but there are myriad birds that you may some across.
During the summer you might see evidence of sea turtle nests. You probably won't see any turtles themselves though.
So What Is There To Do?
So what else is there to do at Grayton Beach State Park, aside from bird watching? Lots! Take your pick from:
About the Recent Hurricanes...
Grayton Beach State Park was spared the worst of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane season's wrath, but there are still some lingering effects. For example, ADA access to the beach is not available at the moment. However, other (non-ADA) access to the beach has been restored.
Trails...Hike 'Em, Bike 'Em!
The Grayton Beach Trail is almost five miles long, and has a guide map available. It winds through sand dunes, flatwoods and scrubland. Another option is to check out Walton County's walking and biking path along Scenic Hwy 30-A. It's a 10-mile path, and it winds along the coastline, as well as some small communities (which I hear are quite picturesque).
If you want to bike, though, you'll need to bring your own.
Swim the Gulf
There is swimming available, in designated areas. No lifeguards, so you are swimming at your own risk. If you come in the summer, the seas are usually pretty calm, unless there is a tropical depression or hurricane sending high waves. Still, that's relatively rare, so you will likely enjoy the gentle surf and warm (80+ degrees) waters. Winter is a little different, in that the surf tends to get rougher and the winds colder. If you are used to colder waters, ours will probably be welcome at around 75 degrees.
Keep in mind that winter isn't necessarily bathing suit weather though -- the winds can get mighty chilly. There are of course the occasional winter days when the air temperature gets into the mid 70's - just don't count on them.
On the Water
There is a boat ramp at Grayton Beach State Park. Bring your own boat/canoe/kayak and roam around the 100-acre Western Lake. It's brackish water, not fresh. Western Lake is surrounded by the parklands.
There aren't any boat/canoe/kayak rentals, nor guided tours at this time.
There are several places to fish at Grayton Beach State Park. First of all, let's cover the issue of a fishing license -- if you are not a Florida resident or if you are fishing from a boat (even if you are a Florida resident) you will need a saltwater fishing license. Don't take the chance of not having one when it's required -- you can have your catch taken away and also be fined. (My husband would probably think that taking away the fish would be worse than the fine.)
With that said, the fishing is good. Naturally bring your own equipment. You can fish:
Campgrounds and Cabins
Not all Florida State Parks offer camping facilities, but Grayton Beach does! And you have your choice between a full-service campground as well as modern cabins. Keep in mind that "modern" does not mean satellite TV, a private phone and internet access. Nope, the cabins lack all three. What they do have is location, location, location!
Besides, practically everyone has cell phones these days anyway. Although I am not sure all cell phones will work -- depends on your network as to if there is enough signal.
Regular phones and showers are available for campers. Ice and firewood are available for sale. There are no laundromats at the park, nor a great grocery selection -- you'll have to go back into town for both.
Picnics (What Did You Bring Me to Eat?)
Is there anything more scrumptious than a picnic on the beach? Well, depends on how you feel about sand I guess. There is a large pavilion overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, though, so if it's not crowded try for that. You'll still have a beautiful view.
A Notice About Water, Weather and Insects
As always when in natural Florida, be aware of the strong sun, plentiful insects and possible rainshowers. Make sure to bring sunblock, sunglasses and at least have some insect repellent available. The insect repellant isn't really necessary if you plan to spend your day by the beach. However, if you plan to hike or bike the trails (not to mention camp) you really should have some available. Better to have it and not need it than to have your day or stay ruined.
Personally, I'd also bring a hat of some sort -- for one, it helps keep the sun off your face. Two, it helps to keep your scalp from getting sunburned. I can't count the times I've been burnt along the part in my hair! The winter sun is still pretty strong, so don't think that sunscreen for your face isn't needed in the winter!
Summers can be quite hot, but winters can be quite chilly in the Florida Panhandle (although the Gulf of Mexico waters help moderate it a bit).
Time and Place
Grayton Beach State Park is open year-round from 8 AM to sunset. The entrance and other fees are as follows:
Grayton Beach State Park is accessed from highways 30A and 283. Both of these roads can be accessed from US 98. Grayton Beach State Park is located just about halfway between Panama City and Ft. Walton Beach. The official address is 357 Main Park Road, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459
The park phone number is (850) 231-4210.
Grayton Beach State Park is located in the Florida Panhandle. The closest medium to large cities are Panama City and Ft. Walton Beach, and the closest large airport is Pensacola.
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