Though Florida is known mostly as a land of beautiful beaches and scenic shorelines, there’s plenty of other wonders for visitors to explore in the state. And while attention mostly tends to focus on the peninsula, some of Florida’s best kept-secrets and entertaining attractions can be found on the panhandle. One great example is Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park.
As the name suggests, this state park centers around the breathtaking flower gardens planted by Alfred B. Maclay and his wife Louise in 1923. But just calling the complex a garden fails to capture the true splendor of this natural wonder. Countless blooms dot the park, which features a lovely reflecting pool, romantic brick walkway and an elegant walled garden. Nature lovers will be in their glory at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, as an incredible number of different types of flowers and other foliage can be observed, such as pretty Pink Camellias, Glorisia Lillies, Amaryllis, White Irises, Purple Cone Flowers, Azaleas, Japanese Magnolia and many more. And while these are stunning in themselves, the massive oaks and pines stretching toward the sky compliment the full array of flowering shrubbery and provide cooling shade.
The Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park as it is today is an astounding extension of Alfred B. Maclay’s original vision. The exotic collection of flora was first arranged to provide scenic surroundings to the Maclay’s winter and spring home, where they stayed to escape the unpleasant, wintry weather of Upstate New York, the family’s primary residence. Inspired by successes at gardening during the summer in New York, Maclay purchased land near Tallahassee in 1923 and began to develop the astounding gardens that exist today.
For two decades, Maclay focused on the gardens as his main hobby, devoting countless hours to nurturing the exotic flora as well as designing the layout and researching technique for proper care. Because of Maclay’s dedicated efforts, his gardens became well known for their beauty throughout the region. This led Louise to open the gardens to the public in 1946, two years after Alfred’s death. From that point on, the area grew into the state park as it is today, adding the Lake Overstreet property in 1994, which increased the park’s size to 1176 acres.
The Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park provides a brochure for those wishing to take an informative, self-guided garden tour and guided tours are available by request. The park’s welcome center also recently added an MP3 audio tour that lasts for half an hour and gives visitors a wealth of information on the gardens, their history, and the Maclay House Museum.
The addition of the Lake Overstreet property provides guests with an abundance of activities to explore after their tour of the gardens is complete. Boating enthusiasts of all ages and experience levels will enjoy opportunities to canoe, kayak and sail across Lake Hall. While out on the water, visitors can also fish for a variety of species, including bream and bass, although a Florida fishing license is required. The Lake Hall recreation area also has a designated swimming area, a playground, and a picnic area offering a stunningly beautiful view of the water.
Meanwhile, the area around Lake Overstreet will satisfy those looking for adventure. This portion of the park contains around five miles of trails that accommodate hiking, bicycle riding and even horseback riding. The views of this untouched lake offered by the trails are simply amazing, and visitors may be able to catch a glimpse of some of the more than 150 species of birds that populate the area.
For those seeking a fun-filled day of adventure, recreation, history and beauty, the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park has it all. Admission to the park is $6 for vehicles with between two and eight passengers, $4 four single-occupant vehicles, and $2 for bicyclists, pedestrians and extra passengers. The park hours are 8am to sunset, and the gardens are open from 9am to 5pm.