The Emerald Coast is lined by white sand beaches that emerge from thick pine forests and wetlands before tapering away into the endless horizon of emerald-green water from which the area gets its name. Essentially, it is an area that begs visitors to explore its natural beauty. While some towns have exploded with development to further attract tourism, there are many who firmly believe the area doesn't need it. After all, isn't the natural attraction entertainment enough?
Gulf Islands National Seashore
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This beautiful seashore park sits on Okaloosa Island, providing a habitat for local wildlife and buffering the mainland from approaching storms. It is within the boundaries of this national seashore that the native birds and marine life thrive. Numerous shrimp, crab and fish species come to the shores to breed which in turn attracts a number of birds like heron and egrets. This is one of the best natural ways to enjoy the seashore without tons of beach goers or spring breakers leaving their litter around. Swimming and picnicking are available in the area, but many prefer to walk the beach or the interior and explore the unique ecosystem beforehand.
Cattywampus Eco Adventure
Those who need a little more structure or fun for the kids in their eco adventures, it is best to head to Fort Walton for the premiere eco tour in the Emerald Coast. The colourfully named Cattywampus Eco Adventures tour takes visitors out for three hours of fun with combined groups or private parties. Their yacht makes stops for snorkeling in the ocean, swimming with the fish, beaches that are great for collecting seashells and areas to view wild dolphins and birds. There are also games and activities for children who get bored easily on board the boat. The best part about this eco tour is that even when booked privately, the rates are quite cheap.
Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park
So many people stick to the beaches of the Emerald Coast, and for good reason, but there are more secrets lurking just slightly inland. The Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park is a hidden paradise in Niceville, but still near the seashore. On the nature trails, visitors can explore the lush wetlands ecosystem that gives the Rocky Bayou with ample opportunities to spot wildlife. After a day of hiking, visitors can enjoy picnics in the shade of pine, oak and hickory trees or head down to the small seaside beach for a swim.
Oak Tree Nature Park
Nestled in the quaint small town of Mary Ester is perhaps one of the best nature parks on the Emerald Coast for those that want to learn about the local wildlife and plants. While the nature trail is just over two kilometres long, it displays a huge number of local Floridian plants all labeled for the visitors who walk the path. This is the perfect place for the naturalist to begin their adventure in this area of Florida. The park also serves as a safe home to a number of wildlife, including otter, beaver, alligator, fox, bobcat, turtles, snakes and frogs. They all live free roaming in the park, so visitors are urged to take caution and never get too close.
Before any adventurer heads out into this pristine piece of Floridian landscape, they will surely need a place to rest their head. There are endless throngs of independent and chain hotels in the area, but a truly green hotel can be a task to find.
One of the best green hotels in the region is the unassuming Summer Place Inn in Destin. This hotel looks beautiful like all the non-chain hotels on the Emerald Coast, but what sets it apart is its dedication to not only great service, but green service. They offer a continental breakfast using local ingredients, linens washed in non-chemical detergent and there are several energy and water conservation practices in place with the lighting and the bathrooms. A major bonus is that this hotel is right by the beach as well as the major shopping strip in Destin.
The next best accommodations for the green traveller are in the areas of camping or private cottages. While some may enjoy roughing it at campgrounds like the one at Henderson Beach State Park where they can camp on the sand, caressed by ocean breezes, others may need a bit more luxury. Cottages are some of the most popular accommodations on the Emerald Coast, visitors can rent them for as long as they please and almost all of them are snuggled right up against the sand. A great many of the buildings are made from sustainably harvested local pine, host energy and water conservation friendly fittings and urge visitors to practice anti-litter policies on the waterfront.
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