Partial view of The Daytona Beach Bandshell amphitheatre at Boardwalk

9 Most Scenic Road Trips to Take in Florida's Emerald Coast

Florida's Emerald Coast is an ideal place to explore the great outdoors and soak up some sunshine - whether you plan to spend a day or a week enjoying what nature has to offer. From exploring lighthouses, winding down back roads, taking in breathtaking views on secluded islands, sunning on Gulf Beaches and more — there are plenty of adventures waiting for you along Florida's amazing coastline.

Discover nine of the most scenic road trips that take advantage of all that Florida's Emerald Coast has to offer. Making any of these journeys' part of your coastal holiday will leave your Instagram followers green with envy!

Pensacola Beach - Gulf Islands National Seashore Drive

Pensacola Beach in Florida
Pensacola Beach in Florida

The Pensacola Beach area is a great starting point for any road trip, boasting crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches that are perfect for swimming and other water activities. From there, you can head south along the Gulf Islands National Seashore Drive for an unforgettable experience. This scenic drive winds through diverse ecosystems, including towering forests, pristine beaches, and tranquil bayous. Along this route, visitors will find plenty of opportunities to spot native wildlife such as dolphins, sea turtles, and shorebirds.  

As you travel along this stretch of coastline, stop at one or more of the many designated beach access points to soak up some sun or search for shells. Keep an eye out for Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, and other landmarks that dot the landscape. They're sure to be a great conversation starter!

No road trip is complete without food, and the Emerald Coast has plenty of restaurants serving up local favorites like fresh seafood, gulf oysters, gumbo, barbeque, and more. Be sure to visit one of the many local farmers' markets that are open throughout the summer months to pick up some fresh produce grown right in your own backyard.

Highway 30A – The Beaches of South Walton County

Grayton Beach in Florida, via
Grayton Beach in Florida, via Flashpacking America

This 24-mile stretch of highway runs along the panhandle, offering stunning views of crystal-clear gulf waters and white sand beaches backed by lush dunes. The area is home to several charming beach towns, each with its own unique flavor and local attractions to explore.

Stop off for shopping boutiques and upscale restaurants. Then, head further down the coast to WaterColor, where you'll find luxury resorts surrounded by nature preserves. Grayton Beach State Park offers some fantastic outdoor activities such as hiking trails through coastal forests, fishing spots on Western Lake, snorkeling under bridges, and swimming in the bay. Further down 30A is Blue Mountain Beach which has many trails to explore on foot or by bike. There are also several restaurants offering delicious seafood dishes with views of the gulf waters that will make your mouth water.

Choctawhatchee Bay Road Trip – Destin-Fort Walton Beach

Boat Anchored on Choctawhatchee Bay: Boat anchored on Choctawhatchee Bay in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, via Mccallk69 /
Boat Anchored on Choctawhatchee Bay: Boat anchored on Choctawhatchee Bay in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, via Mccallk69 /

The Choctawhatchee Bay Road Trip takes travelers along some of the most stunning coastal scenery in Florida's Emerald Coast. Starting in Destin and ending at Fort Walton Beach, this 9-mile scenic drive is perfect for anyone looking to take a leisurely cruise through the Sunshine State. As you make your way around the Gulf of Mexico, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. Along the way, stop by several historical landmarks such as Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum or Indian Temple Mound Museum, both located in Fort Walton Beach.

Once you reach your destination, don't forget to take advantage of the world-renowned seafood that Destin and Fort Walton Beach have become known for. Stop by some of the local restaurants or rent a pontoon boat and catch your dinner right from the water. After dinner, take a walk along one of the area's picturesque boardwalks or enjoy an evening stroll down the shoreline—just be sure to keep an eye out for sea turtles and dolphins!

Apalachicola River Scenic Byway – Apalachicola/Carrabelle

Waterfront restaurant on the Gulf of Mexico in Apalachicola, via Rexjaymes /
Waterfront restaurant on the Gulf of Mexico in Apalachicola, via Rexjaymes /

The Apalachicola River Scenic Byway is a stunningly scenic route that stretches from Apalachicola to Carrabelle along the banks of the Apalachicola River. Along this magnificent 23-mile stretch, visitors will enjoy breathtaking views of the river and its tributaries, as well as swamps and marshes. It's also home to some of Florida's most diverse wildlife.

As an integral part of Florida's "Emerald Coast" region, it offers extraordinary opportunities for sightseeing and exploration. A variety of outdoor activities are available to keep you entertained during your stay in the area; kayaking, canoeing, airboat tours, and fishing are all popular pastimes. The area's historical sites are also a must-see for anyone who visits the Apalachicola River Scenic Byway. Stops include the historic John Gorrie State Museum and St. George Island Lighthouse Park.

Florida's Forgotten Coast – Apalachicola to St. Marks

St Marks Lighthouse in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, Florida
St Marks Lighthouse in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, Florida

This area covers some of the last untouched coastline in the entire Gulf Coast region, making it a perfect destination for travelers seeking an adventure off the beaten path. From Apalachicola, visitors can drive along US 98, stopping at some of the many riverside towns and villages, such as Eastpoint and Carrabelle. The nearby St. George Island State Park is a pristine barrier island surrounded by crystal clear water with miles of untouched beaches waiting to be explored.

Visitors can also venture just north to Wakulla Springs State Park, known for its natural freshwater springs. St. Marks Wildlife Refuge marks the end of this journey, but not before visitors have time to take in the beauty of Florida's Forgotten Coast. This wildlife refuge is home to many species of migratory birds, wild hogs, and even some rare species of plants.

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail – Live Oak to Branford

People kayaking on the Suwannee River, via
People kayaking on the Suwannee River, via Battered Backpacks

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail offers a scenic road trip experience for those looking to explore Florida's Emerald Coast. This winding route travels through some of the most untouched regions in the state, providing travelers with breathtaking views of rivers, swamps, and old-growth forests. The trail runs from Live Oak to Branford and is approximately 25 miles.

Along this journey, visitors can stop at several points of interest, including Big Shoals State Park, where they can take part in activities such as kayaking or fishing. There are also many opportunities for birding, wildlife viewing, and picnicking along the way. For those who want more of an adventure, there are plenty of camping sites available throughout the area so they can stay in the heart of the wilderness.

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is a great way to explore nature and experience some of Florida's unique natural beauty. As you drive along, you will come across vast expanses of open acres that have remained untouched for centuries and towering trees, lush greenery, and vibrant wildflowers. This road trip offers a chance to truly disconnect from modern life and reconnect with nature — all while enjoying spectacular views and making memories that will last a lifetime.

A1A Scenic Byway – Flagler Beach to Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach with people swimming
Daytona Beach with people swimming

The A1A Scenic Byway is a stunning route that stretches along the Atlantic Coast of Florida. Spanning from Flagler Beach to Daytona Beach, this 20-mile scenic drive offers beautiful views of the coastline, as well as an opportunity to explore some of the area's remarkable attractions.

Starting in Flagler Beach, you will experience some of Florida's best beach clubs and restaurants. As you make your way down the road, don't forget to stop off at Marineland Dolphin Adventure Park and learn about these incredible mammals. From there, head towards Crescent Beach for some excellent snorkeling opportunities or take a walk along the serene Matanzas Inlet to catch some breathtaking sunsets. Further south, Daytona Beach awaits visitors with its iconic boardwalk and amusement rides on offer at nearby Daytona Lagoon Water Park.

Okeechobee Scenic Trail – Fort Pierce to Sebring

Okeechobee Scenic Trail, via
Okeechobee Scenic Trail, via Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail | Florida Hikes

The Okeechobee Scenic Trail, or OST, is a long-distance recreational path that stretches along the Emerald Coast of Florida. From Fort Pierce to Sebring, this picturesque trail follows an old railroad route and passes through some of the most stunning scenery in the state. The 78-mile journey includes abundant wildlife viewing opportunities during each section of its winding course.

Although it can be completed on various forms of transportation, many hikers choose to explore portions of the trail at their own pace over a few days or weeks. No matter which mode of transport is selected, there are plenty of rest stops along the way for travelers who need a breather from all the sights and sounds of nature.

The majority of the route is situated on Florida's Nature Coast, home to a stunning array of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. A few highlights include alligators, otters, and dolphins. Along the trail there are many opportunities to get out onto the water for swimming or fishing as well as plenty of spots to camp overnight or take part in other outdoor activities such as horseback riding or kayaking.

Nature Coast State Trail – Chiefland to Cross City

This truss bridge across the Suwannee River is one of the highlights of the trail, via
This truss bridge across the Suwannee River is one of the highlights of the trail, via By Ebyabe - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Old Town Nature Coast Trail SP bridge02.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The Nature Coast State Trail, which stretches from Chiefland to Cross City, is one of the most scenic road trips you'll find in the Sunshine State. Spanning over 27 miles of track and traveling through some of Florida's most beautiful landscapes, this trail offers something for everyone. On this journey, you can take in lush forests, rolling hills and wetlands while experiencing a diversity of wildlife and plant life.

The Nature Coast State Trail begins near Chiefland in Levy County and winds through a few counties before ending at Cross City. Throughout the course of your ride, you'll pass through dense woodlands populated by towering hardwood trees as well as open pastures highlighting vibrant wildflowers, and lush meadows. As you travel, you'll also get the chance to spot Florida black bears, deer, bobcats, beavers and even alligators along the way.

In Summary

With its beautiful beaches, lush forests and charming towns, Florida's Emerald Coast provides the perfect backdrop for a road trip. From Pensacola Beach to Cross City, these nine scenic routes will ensure that you experience all of what this stunning destination has to offer. So, grab your map and start planning your next adventure! Happy travels!


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