The area where Destin is located in the northwest part of Florida goes by several names. One is “Florida’s Panhandle” because this part of the state is shaped, well, like a panhandle. Another handle for the region is the “Emerald Coast,” and yet another is the “Sugar Coast.”
No matter how you refer to Florida’s upper Gulf shoreline where the city of Destin thrives, several things are crystal clear—the soft white sands on the beach feel just like sugar between your toes, and the soothing, warm water that surrounds the barrier islands is not only vibrant emerald-green, it’s inviting.
Destin currently claims to have the largest and “luckiest” charter fishing fleet in Florida—people flock here for not only the opportunity to experience deep-sea fishing but also to enjoy shopping and walking along the brick streets of Destin Commons and exploring all that HarborWalk Village has to offer, from dolphin watching tours to ordering up fresh and tasty seafood.
When you are ready to explore the great outdoors in the Destin area, there are plenty of options to get close to nature, and Florida state parks are an excellent place to start.
Map of State Parks Near Destin, FL
Here is a map of the state parks in Florida covered by this post:
List of State Parks Near Destin
The Florida Park Service, one of the largest in the nation, has received the Gold Medal from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration multiple times for its outstanding efforts to manage and preserve state land. All the more reason to head on out and see what Florida state parks are all about—come along with us—let’s see what stellar options are nearby.
1. Henderson Beach State Park
Location: 17000 Emerald Coast Pkwy, Destin, FL 32541
Just minutes from Destin and yet worlds away, Henderson Beach State Park features beaches with soft sugar-white sands and azure-blue seas and is home to one of the few remaining endangered coastal scrub communities (subtropical forest ecoregion) in the Panhandle. The park has a meandering trail offering a view of the scrub habitat, and there’s a panoramic vista of the area from atop a dune established around the remains of an old bunker.
Besides beach life and the nature walk, there’s picnicking, camping, biking, hiking, and fishing. With such a beautiful backdrop, Henderson is a very popular destination spot for weddings (and wedding pictures), reunions, and gatherings.
Helpful tip: Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and sea turtles; it’s common to spot them from the shore. And, during the fall, you can catch the monarch butterfly migration flapping through the park on their way to Mexican wintering grounds.
2. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Location: 7525 W. County Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Both rare and delightful to see, towering sand dunes are among the many amazing natural resources you can experience at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, ten miles east of Destin. The park takes its name from the tallest of these dunes, that when viewed from the Gulf, looks like a ship’s “topsail,” used for centuries as a navigational marker for those at sea.
Freshwater coastal lakes nestled in the dunes provide excellent fishing and abundant wildlife watching opportunities. From the lakes to old-growth longleaf pine forests and exotic pitcher plants, Topsail has a multitude of intriguing and unique natural wonders to enjoy.
Topsail has over ten miles of trails to hike and bike; you can kayak or canoe in the lakes, and there are three miles of luxurious, soft white sandy beaches to explore. With many options to camp, rent a bungalow or park your RV at the Gregory E. Moore RV Resort, there’s no reason not to settle in and get to know this unique coastal ecosystem.
Interesting fact: Turpentine was a vital material in wooden vessel maintenance. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, Topsail was home to a small settlement called Quarters Turpentine Village, whose only purpose was to tap the abundant longleaf pine trees for their sap that was boiled down to make turpentine.
3. Grayton Beach State Park
Location: 357 Main Park Road, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Grayton Beach State Park is about 34 minutes east of Destin, and, once you’ve been here, you’ll see why it’s considered to be one of the top-rated beaches in America. The park is awe-inspiring with massive dunes, sand dune lakes, plentiful wildlife, and serpentine paths that wind through dense coastal forests.
There’s no end to the activities here at Grayton Beach; you can simply relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches or explore Western Lake. You can also fish, hike, bike, paddle, or birdwatch—the park is located on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Camping sites are available, and there are rustic cabins you can rent just minutes away from the Gulf.
Interesting fact: Are you wondering why the sand at Grayton Beach is so soft and bright? We learned that the white sands of the Panhandle are made of pure quartz crystal that washes down from the Appalachian Mountains by way of the rivers and streams that feed into the Gulf; one source is the Apalachicola River east of Destin.
4. Eden Gardens State Park
Location: 181 Eden Gardens Road, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Eden Gardens State Park is the former homestead of lumber baron William Henry Wesley and his family built in 1897. The lovely property was the family home and the hub for the Wesley lumber empire. The family sold it in 1953, it sat vacant for ten years, it was then purchased and renovated, and subsequently donated to the state of Florida.
The mansion is open for tours, you can walk the gardens, picnic on the grounds, and there’s a dock on Tucker Bayou where you can cast a line.
Interesting fact: A visually stunning and famous Virginia live oak named the “Wedding Tree,” purported to be over 600 years old, is on the property.
5. Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park
Location: 4281 State Road 20, Niceville, FL 32578
For a Florida experience that isn’t along the coast, head east from Destin, cross the Mid-Bay Toll Bridge over the Choctawhatchee Bay, turn on to State Road 20 and head straight to Rocky Bayou State Park, located along the upper reaches of the bay.
The canopied forest and the lush green vegetation of the bayou are in stark contrast to Destin’s ocean-front landscape. Rocky Bayou is home to mature longleaf pine forests that tower over scrub vegetation, and many of the pine trees are over 300 years old.
The park has nature trails for hiking and biking, canoe and kayak rental, fishing, boating, and camping.
Interesting facts: The park was initially used as “a major site for gunnery and bombing practice during World War II.” In the 1950s, Colonel Fred Gannon recommended that the area be repurposed as a public area, and the rest is history.