Eastern Lake, Florida, USA
Eastern Lake, located in Florida’s Panhandle East Region, brings back long-buried memories even to those who have never come here before. There’s something in the human psyche that recognizes the rust-colored, tree-lined pond behind the dunes. And you instinctively know that, just beyond the dune, emerald-green endless waters lap at a sugar-sand beach. The coastal dune lakes of South Walton County strike a primitive chord in all of us. Archeological explorations show human habitation for at least 3000 years. Here, we are an integral pat of nature in all of its splendor and mystery. Coastal dune lakes are rare, found along only a very few beaches in the world. These intermittently-connected lakes sometimes drain to the sea and sometimes take in salty water. At other times, shifting sands isolate them entirely until high water again forces the channel open and they again drain into the ocean. This unusual ecology has developed a unique environment which supports plants and animals found in few other places. Eastern Lake is one of those unique lakes.
Located only a few hundred feet from Seagrove Beach, Eastern Lake has drawn lake lubbers since the 1800s. Soon after Walton County first became economically productive for lumbering and turpentine, rental cottage resorts developed where vacationers could relax in the sea breeze and salt air. The narrow peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay soon became a sought-after spot for a seasonal cottage. The scenic location quickly attracted artists, writers and charter boat captains. Luckily, the State of Florida recognized early that the delicate ecological balance could be irreparably damaged and placed a large amount of land under state protection. More than 40% of South Walton’s beaches are protected as state parks and forests. Beach and golf resort building exploded after 1970, but the protected lands assure that all visitors have the opportunity to experience them.
Sixty-six-acre Eastern Lake is heavily developed on its southern portions. The salt marshes at the northern end are a part of Deer Lake State Park. There is a public access point along the west shore of the lake and small boats are welcome. The shallow lake is perfect for children to spot small fish and crabs and generally enjoy the water. Canoes and kayaks are the most common form of water transportation on the lake, but some lakeshore residents water ski here occasionally, depending on the water depth. A new sport, called Yolo (short for “you only live once”) – something like a stand-up kayak – is engaged in on Eastern Lake and other shallow lakes in the area. The brackish water supports both fresh and salt-water species; sunfish, bass, mutton snapper, barracuda, red fish and flounder are often found. Fishing is usually considered good, although recent weather conditions can change the principle species caught.
The communities of Seagrove Beach and Seacrest are highly conscious of the fragile ecology of their coastal dune lake. Community members are heavily involved in protective measures to assure its continued health. This environmental attitude extends to many areas around the lake; bike paths and trails are plentiful and ‘smart cars’ can be rented in town. The local portion of US 30A, called the Timpoochee Trail, has lanes designated for bicycles, pedestrians and roller blades. North of Eastern Lake, Deer Lake State Park has a three-loop hiking and cycling trail that is very well-used. The portion of Deer Lake State Park to the east contains yet another coastal dune lake. Deer Lake itself is open for fishing. The day-use park contains space for picnicking, hiking, wildlife viewing, swimming and beach enjoyment.
A large number of vacation resorts have developed around Eastern Lake, so vacation rentals are plentiful. Large numbers of expensive ocean view ‘cottages’ have be built near the shore. Along with the upscale residents, art galleries, specialty shopping and world-famous dining establishments have come to the shore. Several golf courses serve this area of the Gulf coast and there is no shortage of spas, fitness facilities and cultural events to please the most discerning visitor. Bicycles, boats and jet skis can all be rented locally. Several public marinas are located on Choctawhatchee Bay about 20 miles to the northwest. Charter fishing and cruises can be arranged either around the Bay or along the Gulf beaches of South Walton.
An interesting side trip for the Eastern Lake visitor is a visit to the Wesley Mansion at Eden State Gardens. Built in the 1890’s, the mansion was owned by a lumber baron and houses the largest collection of original Louis XVI antiques. Tucked away in historic Point Washington on the shore of Tucker Bayou the mansion is surrounded by azaleas, camellias and towering Spanish moss-draped live oaks, some dating back more than 600 years. The entire peninsula is loaded with antique galleries, making any day trip a surprise shopping expedition.
About 15 miles west of Eastern Lake, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park possesses what is considered the most pristine piece of coastal property in the state of Florida. The 1,600 acres are loaded with hiking trails, boardwalks, two more coastal dune lakes, pine forest and dune trails. The park also holds a full-service RV park and includes bungalows that may be rented by the month. Topsail Hill is just a short distance from the well-known resort town of Destin. Every type of activity and amusement is available in Destin and a great place for a night ‘on the town’.
Finding vacation rentals around Eastern Lake should be quite easy; along with resort condos and townhouses, many private seasonal homes are rented by the week or month. Nearly everywhere has a water view of either the lake or the beach. Real estate is available in the area, often with lake or beachfront. So, come to Eastern Lake. Let the dark water and sugar beach stir that certain primeval ‘something’ in your memory. You’ll know you’ve come home.
Things to do at Eastern Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- Jet Skiing
- Water Skiing
- Wildlife Viewing
- State Park
Fish species found at Eastern Lake
Eastern Lake Photo Gallery
Eastern Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
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