EcoFlorida Magazine.

When many people think of a Florida vacation, they think of the beach. They picture palm trees swaying in the breeze. They may even imagine the smell of tanning oil or the sound of waves crashing on the shore.

Florida’s beaches are among the nation’s—and the world’s—best, including the sugar-sand beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast, like those along 30-A. However, here you’ll find not just a beach, but a chance to learn about Florida’s environment and to connect with nature.

Exploring natural areas—also known as nature travel or ecotourism—is popular in Florida because of the natural variety our state has to offer. Ecotourism isn’t about just trekking in a Central American rainforest or offering research assistance in the remote Alaskan wilderness; it’s about reducing your impact on the natural areas you visit, increasing your contact with the “realness” of a place and its people, and experiencing nature first hand so you will be a better-informed citizen and traveler. For tips on how to be a responsible nature traveler, please visit the EcoFlorida Magazine Web site: Click Here

Come along Scenic 30-A’s beaches and other beautiful natural areas that you may want to visit as a nature traveler:

Grayton Beach State Park, Grayton Beach

Just west of the town of Seaside is this Gulf-front state park whose beaches have been ranked among the most beautiful in the country. Besides lying on the beach, you can take the self-guided nature trail here to experience the dunes and the flatwoods, salt marsh and scrub habitats so typical of Florida. Take a boat from the boat ramp to explore by water, or view shorebirds and sea turtle nests along the water’s edge.

Point Washington State Forest, Seagrove Beach

Not far from Grayton Beach—in fact, you can hike or bike from there with the recent volunteer completion of a greenway trail—you’ll find this 15,000-acre forest, which boasts 10 different nature habitats, including sandhills, basin swamps, wet flatwoods, wet prairies and cypress swamps. Some rare plant and wildlife species live here, including gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers, flatwoods salamanders, carnivorous pitcher plants and the world’s largest population of Curtiss sandgrass. After your visit, you can follow the greenway trail to Topsail Hill State Preserve.

Topsail Hill State Preserve, Santa Rosa Beach

Once just an RV park, Topsail Hill State Preserve is the home of 25-foot sand dune Topsail Hill and one of the last two populations of the nocturnal, endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse. Come to experience the dunes and dune lakes, wet prairies and rare Florida maritime hammocks.

St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach

One of the most popular outdoor-recreation spots in Florida, St. Andrews State Park is definitely a place for the beach, where you can revel in the emerald-green water. A shuttle takes you to nearby Shell Island, a mostly-undeveloped barrier island great for snorkeling and shelling. Aside from the beach, though, uplands unfold sand dunes, pine flatwoods and coastal strand—the habitat known for protecting the mainland during storms. Marshes set back from the ocean will give you a glimpse of wading birds and Florida’s famous wildlife resident, the alligator.

Gulf of Mexico

You can lie in the sun and gaze at the emerald-green ocean for hours, or you can charter a boat and explore the numerous reefs ( just off the coast.

St. Andrews Bay System

St. Andrews Bay south of Panama City Beach, along with its neighbors West Bay, East Bay and North Bay, is one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Here, you’ll find numerous natural habitats that are home to several wildlife species and plant communities—more than 2,100 species. Here, sea turtles nest and shorebirds fish. And you can explore it all just minutes from the beach.

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