Natural Areas

The natural ares of the Gulf of Mexico and the beaches of Destin-Fort Walton Beach are a must on any itinerary. The Gulf of Mexico is about 1,000 miles east to west and oval in shape. Many migratory species utilize the water of the Gulf, including sharks, whales, sea turtles and game fish. The Gulf of Mexico yields more finfish, shrimp and shellfish annually than the south and mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake and New England areas combined. Bottlenose dolphins can often be seen at play and 400 species of shells can be found in the Gulf. Take some time and explore the Gulf of Mexico with activities such as diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding.

Fort Walton Beach is best known for its barrier island, officially known as Santa Rosa Island or Okaloosa Island, or simply the “the Island,” as the locals call it.  The pure white sand is made up of 99% quartz and is a perfect complement to the emerald-green water of the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond the Gulf of Mexico, there are other water options such as blackwater rivers and streams. Okaloosa County is home to three blackwater stream systems. The banks of the Shoal River, Blackwater River and Yellow River are beautiful and natural scenic areas.  The rivers are grounds for the rare and endangered giant, prehistoric fish known as the Gulf sturgeon. Florida contains the world’s largest concentration of freshwater springs, and northern Florida is home to most of that state’s springs. These deep artesian springs originate from Florida’s massive underground aquifer, known as the Floridian aquifer. Fortunately, Okaloosa County contains one of these lush and biologically productive ecosystems, known as Eglin’s “Blue Spring.” Enjoy swimming, canoeing, kayaking and viewing wildlife in and along the rivers, streams and springs in the area.

The Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast is home to the Choctawhatchee Bay. “The Bay,” as it is called by the locals, is characterized by brackish water, the mixing of freshwater from the bayous with salt water that flows directly into the Bay from the Destin East Pass, the Bay’s only direct connection to the Gulf of Mexico. The Bay supports vital sea grasses, which serve as critical nursery areas for the local marine life, and harbors unique species such as seahorses. Much of the freshwater entering the Choctawhatchee Bay originates from various streams that flow into the County’s 14 bayous (Marler, Joes, Jones, Cinco, Poquito, Garmier, Dons, Weekley, Toms, Bayou, Rocky, Shirk, Johns and Sunken Boat) that fed the Bay. The Bay and the bayous both contain abundant redfish, speckled trout, shrimp, oysters, gulf menhaden, blue crab, flounder, striped mullet, white mullet, dolphins and even the endangered gulf sturgeon.

Moving inland, our area contains one of the largest stands of longleaf pine trees still in existence. The long leaf pines are essential habitats for various plants and animals, many of which are a considered rare and endangered. The long leaf pine tree areas are great for bird-watching, hiking, camping, fishing, biking and trail riding. The Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast boasts an array of beautiful natural areas to explore beyond just our sugar-white sand beaches. Take a moment to appreciate and experience the  all that there is to offer in Destin- Fort Walton Beach.


Little Adventures

Explore bite-sized adventures for the whole family. Use the filters below or browse all of our Little Adventures.

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A row of different colored beers on a bar.


Tap in to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Breweries!

Tap in to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Breweries! The pitcher perfect day in Destin-Fort Walton Beach includes craft beer, outdoor seating, live music and of course good friends. Check out our list of the best breweries and taprooms from Destin to Crestview: Destin Brewery Their name says it all, so if…

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Trip Ideas

While beachgoers can lay out on the sand, shoppers can stroll down the HarborWalk Village and savor plates of Gulf-to-Table seafood. What will you do in Destin-Fort Walton Beach?

a pier under the water with a blue sky.

Where to See Sea Turtles in Destin-Fort Walton Beach

Where to See Sea Turtles in Destin-Fort Walton Beach Destin-Fort Walton Beach is home to some amazing wildlife, including our four species of sea turtles! You can see Loggerhead, Green, Kemp’s Ridley, and Leatherback sea turtles in our crystal-clear Gulf waters. Our flippered friends are active and…

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scuba diver underwater near artificial reef

Destin-Fort Walton Coastal Team Deploys Nearly 40 Artificial Reefs

Destin-Fort Walton Coastal Team Deploys Nearly 40 Artificial Reefs Okaloosa County’s Coastal Resource Team is gearing up to deploy 38 prefabricated artificial reef modules off the coast of Destin-Fort Walton Beach, an exciting initiative that highlights the community’s dedication to marine conservation. The project, made possible through funding provided by…

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a group of people standing in a body of water.

Adapting water activities for kids of multiple ages

Adapting water activities for kids of multiple ages This post was written by Sara McCarty, founder of Run Wild My Child, in partnership with Destin-Fort Walton Beach. If you have more than one kid, you know that it’s often hard to find activities that keep multiple kids of…

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A boat docked in a harbor at dusk.

October 1, 2023

Destin Fishing Rodeo

Free to anglers fishing on registered boats including charter boats, private boats, pier anglers, kayaks…



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