An Insider’s Guide: The Best Spots to Paddleboard on 30A

January 12, 2024

If you’ve spent time on 30A, you know this coastal stretch showcases some of the most beautiful scenery in Northwest Florida. Spanning just 24 miles between Destin and Panama City Beach and running parallel to the Gulf of Mexico, this sublime haven entices with its sugar-white sands, emerald waters, and charming blend of friendly communities, encouraging visitors to embrace the laid-back vibe so prevalent here. 

The outdoor lifestyle permeates, and many opt to get around on bicycles, enjoying the incredible weather and even better views. With lakes, bayous, bays, and the Gulf of Mexico nearby, paddleboarding is equally as popular in these parts, offering a wide range of spots to explore. And with places like La Dolce Vita and YOLO Board Adventures providing paddleboard rentals throughout 30A, you’ll be on the water in no time! 

Whether you’re a seasoned paddleboarder or a beginner looking for the perfect spot to dip your paddle, here’s a look at the best places to paddleboard on 30a.

Grayton Beach State Park

Grayton Beach State Park offers over 2,000 acres of incredible landscape to explore, with miles of hiking and biking trails. From salt marshes and pine flatwoods to unspoiled dunes and fragrant magnolias, you’ll find it all, along with one of the most pristine beaches in the United States. You’ll also have access to Western Lake, a 100-acre coastal dune lake within the park. 

Although typically freshwater, coastal dune lakes lie close to the Gulf of Mexico, separated by sandbars and dunes—tidal fluctuations and periods of heavy rainfall cause dune breaches,  allowing salt and freshwater to mix. The shallow waters offer a diverse habitat, thriving with plant and animal species acclimated to the multifaceted conditions. Found in only a few places worldwide, South Walton is fortunate to harbor thirteen coastal dune lakes, Western Lake being the second largest. Protected from the winds, these rare ecosystems are excellent for beginners to learn basic techniques in a beautiful environment while paddleboarding on 30A.

Choctawhatchee Bay

Located just north of U.S. Highway 98, Choctawhatchee Bay connects to the Gulf of Mexico via the East Pass. Named after the Choctaw nation once populating the area, the “River of the Choctaws” extends 30 miles long and varies from 4-6 miles across. A fisherman’s dream with blue crabs, mullet, shrimp, oysters, and more, you’ll also see pelicans, seagulls, and bald eagles soaring above this beautiful waterway. 

With shallow and calm waters, it’s the perfect place to catch a few rays while paddleboarding on 30A. Our friendly dolphins might even make an appearance, and dozens of public parks along the shores make it quickly accessible. Check conditions before heading out, as high winds can result in choppier waters, making the experience a little more challenging.

Topsail Hill Preserve

Aside from swimming, biking, birding, and fishing, Topsail Hill Preserve offers plenty of 30A paddleboarding opportunities for experts and novices alike. Located between Sandestin and the western tip of 30A, the preserve is renowned for tall dunes, stunning pine forests, and sandy scrublands. Although many hit the Preserve for the paved trails, Campbell Lake is another dune lake with acres to explore. 

A day of paddleboarding here can offer glimpses of whitetail deer, beautiful water Lillies, and peaceful shore birds enjoying the serene environment. The calm and shallow waters make it safe and easy for children, adults, and even your furry companions to join in the fun. At the park’s west end, you’ll find Morris Lake, another isolated dune lake to discover!

Deer Lake State Park

Comprised of about 2,000 acres, Deer Lake State Park is a stunning setting and fun for all ages. Swimming, picnicking, and hiking are popular pastimes, but visitors also spend a fair amount of time surf-fishing. The peaceful environment and still waters in Dune Lake have made paddleboarding increasingly popular in recent years. Accessible from the beach or through the park, the coastal dune lake offers a break from life’s hurried pace and promises a relaxing day on the water. Pack a picnic, make a day of it, and enjoy!

Lake Powell

As the largest of the area’s coastal dune lakes, Lake Powell lies in neighboring Bay County at the southeastern end of Walton County. Resting along the eastern shore of Camp Helen State Park, it’s a popular spot for freshwater and saltwater fishing, with red drum, spotted trout, and large-mouth bass prevalent in the brackish waters. 

Power boats and jet skis are permitted, but with over 800 acres to explore, you’ll find plenty of tranquil spots to practice morning yoga on your SUP. Access the lake via Camp Helen State Park or the Lake Powell boat ramp in Bay County, then work on coordination, balance, and strength while taking in incredible vistas of the surrounding pine flatwoods and white dunes. 

Eastern Lake

Nestled between Seaside and WaterSound lies Seagrove Beach, home to Eastern Lake. A stay at One Seagrove Place, a stunning Gulf-front resort with family-friendly amenities, will land you just minutes from this peaceful escape. Accessible via Eastern Lake Park, you’ll find plenty of parking, and a ramp makes it easy to get in the water. Connect with like-minded people or look for secluded spots to meditate, relax, and destress on this serene and picturesque slice of heaven. Whether a sunrise paddle or a sunset SUP, you’re guaranteed a fun day on the water!

The Gulf of Mexico

Once comfortable paddleboarding on 30A, head to the Gulf of Mexico for a different view and an opportunity to switch up your technique. Paddling in the morning before the winds pick up will offer the smoothest ride, and a wider board will provide more stability and help cut through the surf. Ideal conditions for newbies are flat water with little wind. Advanced paddleboarders will enjoy an exhilarating ride when the winds kick up. 

Given the waves, a different entry strategy will prove beneficial, but it’s easy to adapt. Simply walk your board into the water, keep the nose pointed toward the waves with the tip up, and then hop on. Paddle on your knees to get through the small surf, then stand and keep your knees bent to stay fluid. Eventually, you’ll be cruising along, looking for sea turtles, dolphins, and other Gulf wildlife. Currents and tides present different water conditions daily, so check the weather before heading out and note nearby access points to ensure a seamless experience. 

Where to Stay When Paddleboarding on 30A

Best of all, you’ll find the perfect place to stay with Scenic Stays! Whether you’re looking for a quaint condo in Santa Rosa Beach, a stunning vacation home with a private pool in Seagrove Beach, or a peaceful retreat in Rosemary Beach, you’ll find it all. Our wide selection of 30A vacation homes and condos will suit your every need!

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