They are a rare phenomenon and a true treasure in the 30A area.
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Coastal Dune Lakes on 30A in Florida
What are Coastal Dune Lakes?
These lakes are permanent bodies of water within a few miles of a dune system along the ocean shore.
These lakes are typically quite shallow, only 4 to 5 feet at their deepest point.
They are irregular in both size and shape and they are constantly changing as the ever shifting sand dunes move and the water levels change.
The source of freshwater for these lakes comes from rainwater, groundwater, and streams. However, they often create a transitory connection with the ocean causing fresh and salt water to flow back and forth from the lake to the ocean.
This mix of salt and fresh water is called brackish water.
Each lake has a completely different ecology from the others as they each have a different degree of salinity.
Where do you Find Coastal Dune Lakes?
Coastal dune lakes are a rare phenomenon that are only found in four countries in the world, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, and in two states in the USA; Oregon and Florida.
Many of the coastal dune lakes in the US are found along scenic county route 30A.
What Causes the Coastal Dune Lakes to Connect to the Ocean?
When the water levels become high enough in the lakes the water will sometimes break through the dunes and release into the ocean.
This is called an outfall, or as we heard the locals call it, a “blowout.” The water wears away the sand at the lowest point and creates a winding trench through the dunes, across the beach and into the ocean.
These blowouts can last from several hours to several days. Once equilibrium is reached the water from the ocean can then flow back into the lake creating the brackish conditions.
During these times sea life can also travel back and forth. This makes the coastal dune lakes somewhat of an ecological grab bag. You never know what exactly you will get.
After a while the wind and waves begin to do the work of restoring the sand and closing the dunes back up again until the next blow out. The closing can take days or weeks or even months.
Then the cycle begins again.
As you can imagine the lakes range from having water that is almost completely fresh to very salty depending on the exchange with the ocean water.
The water in the lakes tends to be tea colored. They are not dirty! The color is caused from the tannins in dissolved plant matter. The leaves and pine straw steep in the lake just like the tea bag in your morning cup.
Locals sometimes call this water from the dune lakes pine straw tea.
If you are vacationing on 30A during a blowout you may see a line of tea colored water in the typically clear waters of the gulf.
This is not sewage and it is not dirty. It is simply the water releasing from one of the coastal dune lakes.
How were the Coastal Dune Lakes Formed?
These lakes are said to have been formed many thousands of years ago by various coastal phenomenon including winds and waves and storms.
Over time these various coastal processes moved the sand to form shallow basins near the shore which filled with water.
How Important are the Coastal Dune Lakes?
They are very important for the ecology of the area.
The brackish water in the lakes creates a unique haven for both plants and animals, serving as both a nursery and a habitat.
They are also critically important to the coast because they store and filter water.
The lakes are protected in this area by both the county and the Choctawatchee Basin Alliance.
Creatures in the Coastal Dune Lakes
Plants and animals that are native to the area help to maintain the lakes’ rare ecosystems.
Wetland plants like sawgrass, saltbush, sand cordgrass, and duck potato perform essential water filtration functions. They also are a food source and habitat for wildlife.
Fishing is allowed in many of the lakes. Most of the fish are freshwater, but there are some saltwater species caught here too.
It is very rare, but apparently sharks have been spotted swimming in the coastal dune lakes. However, panfish, flounder, catfish, and redfish are some of the most common fish.
Besides fish the coastal dune lakes support a multitude of waterfowl as well the occasional river otter, and yes, alligators.
How Many Coastal Dune Lakes are there in South Walton?
There are 15 named coastal dune lakes in the South Walton area along 30A.
What are the Coastal Dune Lakes in the Area?
The named lakes are:
- Fuller Lake
- Morris Lake
- Campbell Lake
- Stallworth Lake
- Lake Allen
- Oyster Lake
- Draper Lake
- Big Redfish Lake
- Little Redfish Lake
- Alligator Lake
- Western Lake
- Eastern Lake
- Deer Lake
- Camp Creek Lake
- Lake Powell
More About the Coastal Dune Lakes on 30A
Fuller Lake has very limited public access. It is located in the Coffeen Nature Preserve and you have to make an appointment with them to see it.
Morris Lake and Campbell Lake
Morris Lake and Campbell Lake are both located in the Topsail Hill Nature Preserve. They are some of the most isolated coastal dune lakes and are surrounded by nature.
You can rent kayaks from the state park to explore Campbell Lake. From there you can see Topsail Hill, one of the taller dunes in the area.
Stallworth Lake is a small lake in the Dune Allen community and is only accessible by walking along the beach. Private homeowners border the lake. It has a natural flow from the lake to the ocean.
The best way to view Allen Lake is by eating at Stinky’s Fish Camp. The restaurant has great views of the lake along with a boardwalk behind the restaurant.
Other than that public access to Lake Allen is very limited. It sits on the north side of the road and outflows through an underground system.
How did Oyster Lake get its name? Some say because the lake is shaped like an oyster shell. However, if you look at an aerial view you quickly realize that this is a stretch. Local legend has it that at one time oysters thrived in its waters.
This lake is easily seen from the 30A bike path and just off of the path you will find a lovely foot bridge that will allow you to walk out and over the water to really enjoy the views.
Draper Lake is surrounded by private homes. You can get a peek at the lake from the covered bridge in Blue Mountain Beach.
Big Redfish Lake and Little Redfish Lake
These are sister lakes in the Blue Mountain Beach community. Both of these lakes outflow across the beach front to the gulf when water levels are high.
Although fishing is allowed in both of these lakes they harder to access unless you are staying in one of the connecting beach communities or homes.
Big Redfish Lake has a small access trail on Blue Lake Road with limited parking. Little Redfish Lake has limited public access off of Scenic Highway 30A.
Alligator Lake is next to Grayton Beach and much of it is contained in Point Washington State Forest. This lake is easily accessible to the public and is great for fishing, bird watching, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding.
Western Lake is probably the most famous and most photographed of the coastal dune lakes along 30A.
It is the largest lake in the county and is partially surrounded by Grayton Beach State Park and extends from Grayton Beach to Watercolor.
At Western Lake you will find parking and boat ramp facilities as well as paddle board, canoe, and kayak rentals.
It is also a great place to watch the sunset.
Eastern Lake is mostly bordered by private homes but it has public access at the county park with a boat launch for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. They also have showers, picnic tables, and grills.
Access is also available from a public beach walkover that next to the ouflow from the lake to the beachfront.
The best place to view Eastern Lake is from Old Florida Fish House which happens to be a 30A institution.
Deer Lake is located completely within the borders of Deer Lake State Park.
You will definitely want to walk the high, scenic boardwalk here that stretches for hundreds of yards past the dunes. This is the perfect place for bird watching and yes, you might see deer.
Hike the “blue trail” that will take you to a scenic overlook on the northern part of the lake.
Camp Creek Lake
Camp Creek Lake has limited access because it is mostly surrounded by private homes in the Watersound and Seacrest communities. The best way to see it is from the beach.
We once stayed in a Seacrest home near the lake and walking the beach in front of Camp Creek Lake felt as if we had gone back to a time before 30A was developed.
Just past Rosemary Beach and Inlet Beach in Camp Helen State Park is Powell Lake. This is the largest of the coastal dune lakes and the only one that allows jet skis and other motorized boats.
Lake Powell can be accessed from Camp Helen State Park or from Lake Powell Park.
I hope that you enjoy visiting some of the coastal dune lakes when you visit 30A. They are great to explore any time of year.
Although there are no guarantees that you will see an outflow as this is dependent on natural elements such as wind and rain, these lakes are a wonderful treasure on 30A.
Here is some more information to help you plan your visit to 30A Florida.
And here you can learn more about the gorgeous 30A beach towns.
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