Choctawhatchee Bay is one of the prime paddling spots on the Emerald Coast. Its vast surface area is 129 square miles and branches from the cities of Fort Walton Beach to Destin in the south, from Niceville and Freeport in the north. At its longest point, the bay is four miles apart, while its easternmost and westernmost points can be as close as one mile apart.
The bay is an inlet to the Gulf of Mexico, and Destin’s East Pass is the only access to and from the Gulf. With beaches on the south side of the bay and the coastal cities of Niceville and Freeport on the northern edge, Choctawhatchee Bay is a destination for paddlers and fishermen. Water depths range from wading on the shorelines to more than 43 feet, drawing in a variety of both salt and freshwater fish.
What Makes It Great
Because Choctawhatchee Bay touches along many of Walton and Okaloosa county’s beach towns, the paddling spots can vary. In Niceville, Rocky Bayou and its sister inlet are both home to lower traffic and the pristine shorelines of two parks. Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park has designated its section of the bayou as an aquatic preserve, so its not uncommon to spot otters and dolphin in the water. A paddle in Rocky Bayou is tranquil as you’re surrounded by nature’s unsurpassed beauty. On the opposite inlet, you can paddle at Turkey Creek Park.
If you’re more experienced paddling and can navigate through the boats passing to and from the Gulf, head to the south side of the Bay and paddle to the local favorite sandbar, “Crab Island.” Located at the foot of Destin’s East Pass, locals gather to soak up the sun.
Who is Going to Love It
If you want to fish by kayak or canoe, Choctawhatchee Bay may be one of the best spots to do it. With both fresh and saltwater species thriving in the bay, you can catch redfish, speckled trout, Gulf menhaden, blue crab, flounder, and mullet.
For a more residential vibe, paddle in Hogtown Bayou, an inlet in the Santa Rosa beach community. A few paddling shops host lessons here, and the open water and lower boat traffic make it a good place to paddle while sticking close to shore.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Choctawhatchee Bay is often crowded with boat traffic, because of its outlet to the Gulf via East Pass in Destin, specifically on the south side of the bay. It’s recommended to stay in the bayous or inlets instead of paddling in the open bay. Stay closer to shore and obey boat traffic rules.
The more serene side of the bay is the northern section, where you’ll find Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park and Turkey Creek Park, both in Niceville. If going to the state park, admission is $5 for a vehicle with two to eight people, or $4 for a single occupant. There are put-ins at both parks as well. At Hogtown Bayou, you can put-in at the Charles Cessna Boat Ramp.