Guest Post by Alan LeStourgeon
About three years ago my wife and I discovered the quaint beach towns of South Walton County in the Florida panhandle. Many people vacation along this 18-mile stretch of route 30A to enjoy the shopping, great restaurants, beautiful state parks, small community feel and easy access to the fine white sands that line the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
But, beyond the relaxing resort atmosphere and just behind the tall dunes marking the end of the beach lies an unspoiled secret that few tourists take advantage of, and many may not even know is there. The secret treasure is a phenomenon known as coastal dune lakes and they can only be found in six locations worldwide (when you visit, don’t go climbing all over the dunes, but approach the lakes from the proper access points).
Australia, Madagascar, New Zealand, Oregon, South Carolina and Walton County Florida are the only places on the planet that feature this scarce natural attraction. Walton County is home to 15 of these lakes that usually average about 5 feet in depth and can contain varying levels of salinity – the hardest coastal dune lakes to come by contain completely fresh water. They range in age from 2,000 to 10,000 years old and are vital to the ecosystem in which they exist.
Many of the lakes protect the coastal regions as retention ponds that minimize flooding during hurricanes. They can also act as breeding grounds for insects that form the beginning level of various natural food chains. They also contain unique species of flora and fauna and are home to a variety of wildlife including otters, turtles, and little blue heron. Warning: some are home to alligators, so be careful as you wander around the shorelines. Just because you are near the beach doesn’t mean you won’t encounter Florida’s largest reptile.
Because of their proximity to the ocean, these lakes are sometimes fed by storm surge and exceptionally high tides that may only occur one or two times a year. Excessive rain occasionally fills the lakes to overflow capacity, at which point they empty into the gulf and can be counted as a unique experience if you ever get to witness an outlet bursting open.
Two of the rarer lakes are located in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and are unique because they contain completely freshwater. Stand on the shore of either Campbell or Morris Lake and you are looking at a completely unspoiled ecosystem that hasn’t changed much in the last 5,000 to 10,0000 years. It is worth the short hike off the main park access road to view these unspoiled treasures that also boast some of the highest beach sand dunes in Florida at over 25 feet tall.
Enjoy everything there is to see and experience on your next vacation to the quaint little resort communities that grace Highway 30A in the Florida panhandle. There are a variety of gorgeous vacation rentals, superb restaurants, exclusive shops and beautiful beaches to spend your days simply relaxing on, but don’t miss the hidden treasure of the rare lakes just beyond the dunes.
Alan LeStourgeon works at home writing on a variety of subjects including his travel adventures around the United States. You can read his travel blog and follow him on Twitter @Affconfession for more updates.