Rich in historical roots with an array of museums and historic sites, South Georgia and Central Florida’s panhandle offers a glimpse into the past where the rolling hills, lakes, forests, and nearby cost allows one to step out into nature for some of the South’s most distinguished assets. Right in the center of this is the state’s capital where Tallahassee offers hundreds of miles of trails, gardens, city parks, and state parks for any outdoor enthusiast.
The trails in and around Tallahassee range from short, easy to long and more difficult with each trail having its own unique characteristics. Just a short distance apart on the East side of Tallahassee are three different parks, ideal for hiking, biking, picnics, and a children’s playground.
The Lafayette Heritage Trailhead starts in the center of Lafayette Park where the trail to the East curves around the banks of Piney Z Lake to a levee, which crosses the lake to the JR Alford Greenway. The return trail traverses the backside of the Piney Z community. The loop towards the West connects to Tom Brown Park where the trail has steep inclines and descents making it more challenging. The two loops make up a 5.9-mile hike through some of Tallahassee’s most beautiful woodlands.
More than 800 acres of hardwoods, pastures, a freshwater swamp, and a lake make up the JR Alford Greenway where over seventeen miles of multiuse trails will satisfy every type of nature lover. Unlike the Lafayette Trail, the trails here are relatively flat where the biggest incline is the wooden boardwalk covered bridge over the railroad tracks, which connects the two parks.
Tom Brown Park is Tallahassee’s favorite and most used park with large open fields, tennis courts, and ball fields. In addition, the park has several unpaved nature trail loops, a paved 1.5-mile trail which stretches from the northwest corner to the Southeast corner, and a shared use biking trail. The trails combine for just over five miles of a pleasurable hike through the woodlands.
There are museums and gardens around the city as well and Tallahassee is home to a mid-1900 English style Tudor home, where a short path leads to a 3.5-acre site in a whimsy lush forest.
The history of Dorothy B. Oven Park dates back to the mid-1800 when Congress awarded the property to General Marquis de Lafayette in 1834. The main home on the property is a classic manor-style home with rare magnolia paneling, wood floors, and antique furniture, ideal for weddings and receptions.
Near downtown Tallahassee is the Goodwood Museum and Gardens, originally home to a 1,600 acre cotton plantation dating back to the early 1800s. Today the property is on the National Register of Historic Places and covers some 20 acres of century old live oaks and gardens where the main home features the original family furnishings, glassware, and art. Around the main home are 20 other structures dating from 1835 to 1925, the original swimming pool, and an outdoor skating rink.
Just a short drive from Tallahassee families can experience state parks, state forests, and a National Refuge, which provide a variety of outdoor activities for one’s enjoyment. Just west of Tallahassee is Torreya State Park, named after the rare Torreya tree, which only grows on the bluffs overlooking the Apalachicola River.
One of Florida’s most hidden treasures is just south of Tallahassee at the Wakulla Springs State Park, designated as a National Natural Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park is home to one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs, where the 70-degree waters will surely refresh one on even the hottest summer days.
Just over an hour’s drive to the North near Blakely Georgia is Kolomoki Mounds State Park, home of the largest and oldest Woodland Indian site in the Southeastern United States dating back to the era of 350 to 750 AD. In addition, to the campground, playground, picnic areas, and beautiful lakes the park has three hiking trails covering 5.8 miles.
Devastated in 2018 by Hurricane Michael, The Florida Caverns State Park still provides visitors a rare glimpse into the past. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps hand chiseled out the passageways between the cave rooms allowing visitors to see one thousand years of history in the making. The narrow and sometimes low passageways leads through twelve fragile slippery and wet cave rooms where stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and draperies are still growing into a visual array of mystifying formations.
By Larry West