Florida’s Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, located on Hwy 20 near Bluewater Bay and a short drive from Destin and Niceville, is one of the Emerald Coast’s hidden gems. As a kayaking destination, Rocky Bayou State Park provides a convenient launching point and base camp for visitors wishing to explore the 480-acre Rocky Bayou Aquatic Preserve, East Turkey Creek, Rocky Creek and nearby Choctawhatchee Bay. Visitors without a kayak or canoe can simply rent one from the park for either a half or full day.
Rocky Bayou Aquatic Preserve is an important estuarine nursery for many species such as shellfish and Gulf sturgeon. Numerous birds such as the brown pelican and tri-colored heron also use the estuary for breeding and nesting purposes, making it a haven for these animals. The endangered Okaloosa darter, found only in six stream systems within the Choctawhatchee watershed, can be found in Rocky Creek and East Turkey Creek, making this area even more vital.
Paddling on Rocky Creek
Paddlers are free to explore Rocky Bayou and Choctawhatchee Bay, but before venturing up the creeks along the northern shore of Rocky Bayou, paddlers must first obtain a low-cost recreation permit from the Eglin AFB Natural Resources Office (known locally as the Jackson Guard) located in the nearby city of Niceville at 107 Hwy 85 North. Both East Turkey Creek and Rocky Creek are located entirely on Eglin property.
The mouth of Rocky Creek is an easy half-mile paddle from the state park. A fascinating bit of history is that this area was used as a training ground by the famous Doolittle Raiders during World War II. Paddlers can even see the remains of a wrecked aircraft, probably not one of the Doolittle B-25 planes, a mile or so upstream on Rocky Creek.
When paddling this creek be sure to watch for alligators and pay attention to the creek’s twists and turns because it is easy to overlook the main channel on the way back to the bayou and paddlers may wind up in the swampy marsh instead. Those looking for a longer paddle may want to launch farther upstream via Range Road 200/Jackson Trail Road or at Range Road 219/Mud Landing Bridge. Please note that the section above Mud Landing has numerous fallen logs requiring portages.
Hiking and Camping at Rocky Bayou State Park
After a full day of kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, dolphin watching, swimming or jet skiing it’s time to discover what awaits onshore. Visitors can have fun exploring Red Cedar Trail, Rocky Bayou Trail and the Sand Pine Trail as it meanders past seven-and-a-half acre, freshwater Puddin’ Head Lake. These trail systems take hikers through a variety of habitats showcasing the interesting plants and animals that live along the Rocky Bayou Aquatic Preserve.
Within the 357-acre park, visitors can choose from one of 42 electric/water amenity campsites, some of which are located on the waterfront. A modern bathroom with heat and air is located just a short walk away. Enjoy the evening sitting around the campfire or pull on a fresh set of clothes and take a short drive out to one of the nearby cities to soak up some local atmosphere and round out the trip in style.
Eglin AFB Natural Resources Division (850) 882-4164
This article is copyrighted by Beverly Hill