Alfred B Maclay Gardens State Park · Tallahassee, Florida

We spent the month of May on a 10-acre farm in Southeast Georgia with some friends we met in Prince Edward Island during the summer of 2019. This family, originally from Australia, are globetrotters – they travel the world full time as a family. They soon became our friends and when Covid -19 hit and shutdowns began, both of our families were scrambling to figure out where to “stay home”.

They were already in the USA but now needed a new housing arrangement. They began looking for a house to rent that would also allow for us to stay in our RV on the property. That’s how we ended up in Georgia – much further south than we anticipated during that time of the year. It was May and now it was starting to get hot in southern Georgia.

We just wanted somewhere to swim!

Our next objective became finding a local place to go swimming. Looking at a map, I noticed several lakes in the area. A quick google search near Tallahassee, FL came up with Alfred B. Maclay State Park. Looking at the photos online, it looked like a beautiful garden, but was there somewhere we could go swimming with our friends?

With a quick phone call to the state park, we found out that there is a small beach at Lake Hall with a swimming area and it would only cost six dollars per vehicle. We had sun, shade and water that was the perfect temperature for cooling down in the heat. It was perfect!

Florida lake with trees and picnic area.

This is the view of Lake Hall showing the picnic area. The swimming area and beach are just down the stairs.

Swimming in Lake Hall

The swimming area wasn’t too deep. Our younger kids could venture out far while playing games in the water. We relaxed in the water, played in the sand, enjoyed good conversations, and loved the views of the lake. I especially loved the trees with Spanish Moss. There are several picnic tables near the beach where we enjoyed a nice picnic with a view.

When we were there, the restrooms and changing area were open to the public. There is also a shower outside to rinse off any sand when you are done swimming. The playground was blocked off and closed to the public during our visit.

But what about alligators?

It is Florida after all. We were told that an alligator had been seen in a different area of the lake but not near the beach. Alligators are territorial so we hoped that alligators would stay away. And we all kept a close watch on the children, especially the younger ones. But no alligators were spotted by us at this state park.

Young boy walking on beach at Florida lake.

Jonah enjoying the small beach area at Lake Hall.

Kids sitting in a lake in Florida.

Our kids enjoying the water and playing games in the lake.

Big Pine Trail

Near the swimming area is a short trail. The sign says it is “a leisurely 20 minute walk with scenic overlooks to Lake Hall and a loop around a Long Leaf Pine Community”. We enjoyed the stroll, noticing the unique Florida vegetation and appreciating the scenery. Make sure to stay with your children at all times – alligators, remember?

People hiking on a trail in Florida.

This is the Big Pine Trail along Lake Hall. The trailhead starts next to the boat launch area.

Finding the Secret Garden

A masterpiece of floral architecture, the gardens feature a picturesque brick walkway, secret garden, reflection pool, walled garden and hundreds of camellias and azaleas.State Park Website

Kids on brick pathway under Florida trees.

This is at the entrance to the gardens. We loved taking pictures on the brick pathway.

I had seen photos of a beautiful garden area and even though it was getting late, I wanted to find the garden. Just a little further down the main road in the state park is the parking lot for the gardens. During the Blooming Months (January – April) there is an additional fee to enter the gardens. Luckily, we were there just after that season so the gardens were free!

We quickly parked our cars under the large oak tree and entered the gardens. We had a lovely walk to the Lakeside Pavilion, the Reflection Pool and quickly left the pond when a snake was spotted near us. Our kids ran around finding secret paths, fun statues and beautiful flowers. As we were walking back to our cars at dusk, we were surrounded by fireflies, making the moment even more magical. I only wished we had more time to walk through the whole area.

Teddy walking along the path next to the pond. We found snakes, small frogs and fish in it.

Take Two

A couple of weeks later we felt like going on a hike. Let’s be clear here. Hiking in Florida is much different from hiking in Utah where we are from. No large mountains to summit, no cold-water streams to wade through and the vegetation is obviously very different. We remembered there were other trails at the state park so we decided to check them out.

Hikers, bicyclists and equestrians can enjoy six miles of shared-use trails and five miles of designated biking trails winding through the woods surrounding Lake Overstreet, located on park property adjoining the gardens.State Park Website

Girl waiting on a hiking trail in Florida.

Lydia waiting for us on the Lake Overstreet Trail. She is usually the leader on our hikes.

Lake Overstreet Trail

Follow signs past the garden, and drive down the dirt road to the trailhead parking area. We decided to hike the Lake Overstreet Trail which is an easy 3-mile loop around Lake Overstreet. The hiking aspect is easy and mostly in the shade, but it took us a bit longer than most to walk around the lake since we were going at a toddler’s pace. Tip: take a picture of the trail map at the trailhead so you know which trail to follow. We did, and it proved to be helpful since there were several turnoffs.

We had the trail mostly to ourselves. Only the occasional person on a bike or someone passing the opposite direction. The trail is nice and wide allowing space for our kids to run around the trail and have fun.

We found a spot with several benches overlooking the lake. We all sat down and experienced a quiet moment listening to bird calls, watching Spanish Moss swaying in the breeze and taking a deep breath. Certainly, a rare moment as a family of 9!

Woman standing under tree with Spanish Moss.

This is where we stopped and sat to enjoy the view of the lake. It was very peaceful.

People on a trail with a bench in Florida.

There are several benches along the well-marked trail to take a break and look at the lake.

We finished the hike in time to allow us to make a return visit to the gardens. These gardens were first planted in 1923 and are still well taken care of. Even though we weren’t there during the official bloom season, we found plenty of beautiful flowers throughout the garden.

We loved watching the tiny frogs swimming in the reflection pool. Jonah found a statue of a boy he declared as his friend and didn’t want to leave. The kids enjoyed running down the grassy hill towards the lake, hiding in the trees, and winding around the paths. We met a young couple who were visiting the park to take pictures for their upcoming wedding.

Young boy looking at a statue in a garden.

Jonah with his new statue friend.

Family running down a grassy hill towards a lake.

Our kids loved running down the hill towards the lake. Sometimes the simple things bring the most entertainment.

Summary

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee Florida offers multiple amenities. A beautiful garden setting perfect for events such as weddings, business meetings and reunions. Lake access allowing swimming, fishing, boating and kayaking. As well as several miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Currently, the hours are from 8 am until sunset and the fee is only $6 per vehicle. You could really spend the whole day enjoying one of Florida’s beautiful state parks.

Collage of flowers from a garden in Florida.

These are some of the flowers we found in the garden. And they smelled amazing!

Lake at Alfred B Maclay Gardens

This is one of the views along Lake Overstreet Trail. This lake is not open for use.

- Tabitha

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