Hiking in the Fort Walton Beach area is not quite what it would seem. There are miles of beaches to explore on Okaloosa Island and even hiking trails within the Eglin AFB reservation that visitors must first obtain a low-cost recreation pass in order to access, but as far as bonafide hiking trails the choices are limited. Fortunately, located in the adjoining city of Mary Esther is the Oak Tree Nature Park, a 25 acre park nestled in the quietly in the middle of a thriving community.
The Oak Tree Nature Trail isn’t long, consisting of only about a mile of trail, but within that mile visitors will experience a diverse ecosystem that is home to hundreds of plants, birds and other animals. The trail is well maintained and has two wooden bridges and an overlook at Silver Sands Creek. A keen eye will spot wildlife tracks in the mud near the creek or look to the trees to spot several of the more than 100 species of bird that utilize the park.
In addition to providing a home for wildlife, the Oak Tree Nature Park is an important archaeological site. Remains of pottery, bone, shell and stone tools have been unearthed here covering three cultural periods dating Archaic (4000-1000 B.C.,) Weeden Island (A.D. 500-1200,) and Pensacola (1200-1700 A.D.) The park is protected under Chapter 267 of the Florida Statutes.
Oak Tree Park is located at 210 Hollywood Blvd in the city of Mary Esther and is open from dawn to dusk. There is a parking area and trail kiosk at the Hollywood Blvd entrance as well as an east entrance on Doolittle Blvd and a south entrance on Hwy 98. Bug spray is highly recommended.