Deer Lake State Park is a retreat from the crowded beaches that are often found in the Panhandle. It is tucked off 30A and its unspoiled beach lines the Gulf of Mexico. The park boundaries are also shared with Deer Lake, one of Northwest Florida’s rare coastal dune lakes, where tides feed into a narrow canal to create a mix of Gulf salt water and lake fresh water. Within its dune ecosystem, you can find an array of plant and wildlife that have made the park their home. The windswept beach offers a stretch of sugar white sand that is perfect for beachcombing. At 2,000 acres, this state park is one of the relatively undisturbed along the Emerald Coast.
What Makes It Great
In addition to the dunes ecosystem, Deer Lake State Park is home to 11 other nature communities including wet prairies, scrubland, and coastal flatwoods. A 1.5-mile interpretive nature trail loops through the park’s uplands under Southern magnolias, golden asters, woody goldenrod, and scrub oaks. Take the 0.25 mile off-shoot of the boardwalk that crosses the rolling sand dunes and you’ll get a remarkable view of the park’s dynamic dunes ecosystem. The plant life at Deer Lake is plentiful and features some of Florida’s largest populations of Curtiss' sand grass, in addition to Gulf coast lupine, spoonflower, and pitcher plants.
The boardwalk bridges the dunes to access to the beach, where you’ll find a large picnic pavilion and the Gulf, an ideal spot for swimming and fishing. Walk west along the beach to see where Deer Lake empties into the Gulf. If you want to continue hiking, the interpretive trail connects with the Eastern Lake U.S. Forestry Trail, a six mile trail that loops around Santa Rosa Beach’s surrounding area.
Who is Going to Love It
With its abundance of plant species and seemingly untouched land, Deer Lake State Park is opportune for an easy afternoon of strolling, nature-watching and fishing. Along the dunes, you’ll find snowy plovers nesting, and hiding in the dunes is the endangered Choctawhatchee Beach Mouse. Florida black bear, coyote and deer live in the coastal flatwoods, although they are rarely seen during the day.
The Gulf of Mexico is often calm enough to swim or float close to shore, just keep an eye out for rip currents. Fishermen enjoy surf fishing on the shoreline, where you’ll have a chance to catch snapper, grouper and cobia. If you have your own paddleboard, Deer Lake is completely flat and is a great spot to practice basic paddling skills.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Deer Lake State Park is open year-round from 8 a.m. to sundown. Admission is $3, paid in cash-only by putting in the honor box. If you decide to bring a dog, note that they are only allowed on a leash on the nature trails and picnic area, but not on the beach. Fishing and swimming are allowed only in the Gulf. If you are fishing, be sure you have a Florida fishing license. You’ll want to snag the picnic pavilion early, as there is only one that is available on a first-come, first serve basis. Deer Lake is a day-use only park, so no camping is available.