Most people will be surprised to find that right off Thomasville Road there is a 1,076 acre state park called Alfred B. Maclay Gardens. When I first told the kids that we were going on an adventure to Maclay Gardens they were not overly thrilled thinking I was taking them to some garden. But as I packed the car with a cooler of drinks and food, a Frisbee, towels, bathing suits and of course the camera they started to perk up. I promised them this was so much more than a garden and we got in the car and headed out.
You enter the park off the busy street and are immediately in a beautiful woodsy area. I found myself relaxing right away feeling the stress and chaos of life leaving my mind. There are two areas you want to be sure and visit at Maclay Gardens. The first place we wanted to visit was the recreational area. My younger children were jumping for joy when they saw the park with lots of fun slides and swings. I was a happy mommy to see that it was new and updated equipment, a good sign that this park is well maintained and cared for. Right across from the playground is beautiful Lake Hall. My teenage girls were thrilled to see that they have a sandy beach that you can lie out on and work on your tan. The swimming area is roped off making it easy to keep an eye on your children, plus there was a lifeguard on duty which made me able to relax even more. I took advantage of the shade provided by the big, beautiful oak trees that surround Lake Hall. I was able to sit in the shade and read my book while the children were playing just a few yards in front of me. Adjacent to the swimming area is a floating dock where the children can fish. If you like to canoe or kayak, there is a boat ramp and you can bring your own or rent one at the park. As I was sitting in the shade watching all six of my children so happy and content, I knew that we had found a true treasure and it was right here in Tallahassee.
Nothing works up an appetite like swimming, so the kids came up and we set up our food under one of the many pavilions, fired up one of the charcoal grills and had a fun picnic. There is lots of space around the recreation area and it would be a perfect place to have a family reunion, company picnic, or party. After lunch we took advantage of the large green space and played Frisbee. We decided next time to bring a wiffle bat and ball for a family tournament!
The kids were ready for the next adventure so they ran into the bathrooms (which passed mommy inspection for cleanliness) to change, put there tennis shoes on and we headed down one of the two nature trails surrounding Lake Hall. These trails are perfect for the novice hiker and not too long. The kids were thrilled with the birds, bugs and flowers they saw and not once did anyone ask me how much further! If you are looking for a longer hike Maclay Gardens has five miles of multi-use trails that can be used for hiking, biking, or horseback riding. These scenic trails have amazing views of Lake Overstreet and a ravine system that is said to rival those in North Georgia. You are sure to see some wildlife on these trails.
The second area you will find at Maclay Gardens is magical. The park was originally purchased in 1923 by Alfred B. Maclay to be a winter home for his family. He studied landscape design and wanted to create a garden that would bloom in the winter and early spring when the family was in Tallahassee. High blooming season is from Jan. 1st- April 30th, with the peak season usually being in late March. But whatever time of year you come when you walk into the garden you will be mesmerized by the picturesque brick walkway, secret garden, reflection pool, walled garden and hundreds of azaleas, camellia plants and Japanese magnolias. Looking for a location for a wedding or to take someone special on a romantic picnic? This is the place. Maclay Gardens is also the perfect place to take family portraits. I was so amazed at the breathtaking beauty of it all and the children were so enchanted that I took a picture of them to use for our Christmas cards this year! This is also a perfect place to come when life gets crazy and you are looking for somewhere to take a moment for yourself. Sit by the reflecting pool or in the walled garden and enjoy the beauty and peacefulness. It might just be the escape you need and it is just a few minutes from everything.
We had a wonderful time that day at Maclay Gardens. It can be a challenge sometimes to find activities that make six children happy, but they all still talk about our day at Maclay Gardens and their happy memories from our time there together. On my mantle sits the picture of my six happy children by the reflection pool from that day, the gift I gave myself to capture the moment. Whether you are visiting Tallahassee for the first time or are a Tallahassee native and you are looking for a fun way to spend the day with your family and friends, Maclay Gardens should be on the top of your list. It is just one of the many hidden treasures you will find right here in Tallahassee.
To learn more about Maclay Gardens visit their website at www.floridastateparks.org/maclaygardens/. Be sure and check out some of the upcoming events and programs that are coming up.