Photos by Kelsey and Scott Walters
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens – Gainesville, Florida
Back in 1513 when explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon (yes, the same namesake of Ponce Inlet and De Leon Springs), stumbled across our southern state in his search for the elusive Fountain of Youth, he was overwhelmed with the land’ s budding tropical beauty. When he laid claim to the territory for Spain he decided to name it La Florida, meaning “the land of flowers.”
With sprawling cityscapes and never-ending highways, it’s easy to forget why he chose to do so, but some time communing with nature in the spring and summer will have you reconnecting with the local flora and fauna.
Family Things to Do this Summer in Gainesville
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens offers a leisurely stroll through a tropical paradise. A 1.5-mile paved walkway gives you access to 24 stunning gardens and plant collections. While many of these plants are Florida natives, there is also a large collection of rare and unusual plants from around the world sprinkled throughout gardens.
The 68-acre facility, originally founded in 1978, is a relaxing getaway from the stresses of the world we’re living in today. You can venture off the paved path into most of the gardens and easily spend an entire afternoon exploring.
We arrived shortly after lunchtime and settled on a bench nestled in between two stately trees to eat a picnic lunch. With large expanses of grassy meadows, massive shade trees and plenty of gazebos and benches peppering the landscape, you won’t be hard-pressed to find the perfect picnic spot or a place to rest.
Many of the areas are specialty gardens, where you’ll find meticulously manicured beauty. One of the most impressive spots was the towering bamboo forest, featuring countless species of the hardy plant. In the spring, the butterfly and hummingbird gardens are abuzz with life, as well as the lush azalea trail.
The World’s Largest Lily Pads are in Florida
The biggest draw of Kanapaha Gardens, and what sets them apart and keeps visitors coming all summer long, are the giant Victoria water lilies. In a picturesque koi pond in the center of the gardens, enormous lily pads grow…and grow, and grow! The garden staff plant the lily pads each year and they thrive in warm weather. Each pad can get to be about five to six feet across, and grow rapidly through the summer and into the warmer months of fall.
Because these gardens are so well cared for to reach their full potential, the lily pads aren’t the only things that never stop growing around here. The koi in the pond are around the size of small cats and eagerly swim up to visitors on the bridge and banks overlooking the pond. On a shady forest path, we stumbled across (quite literally) some fallen pine cones that were larger than my head.
A lakeside trail takes you through what is the most natural Floridian scenery an d along the garden’s namesake, Lake Kanapaha. From the path overlooking the water you may spot wildlife, or even a gator, which have also been known to take up residence in the more inland water gardens.
The gardens are a great place for families, and people of all ages to explore. Even dogs are welcome, as long as they are well behaved and stay on leash. We brought along a small wagon for Avery to ride in when she got tired. The paved path makes for easy navigation and offers plenty of resting spots with stunning views.
We chose to go into each of the gardens, which have loosely packed gravel or mulch paths, and definitely walked a couple miles more in the several hours we explored. I highly advise wearing sturdy walking shoes as the path could get slick if it’s wet, and dousing yourself with a ton of bug spray. If you forget to pack it, the gift shop in the visitor’s center sells some as well.
With so much to see and explore, it was easy to forget the hustle of our busy everyday lives and just relax as we took it all in. Even on a busier Sunday afternoon, we came across very few people and it almost felt as if we had the place to ourselves. To get away from it all, and get back to nature, head to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.
A face mask is required for entry and exit of the gardens because you pass through the Visitor Center.
KANAPAHA BOTANICAL GARDENS
$10/adult; $5/child ages 5 – 13 (under 5 are free)
Mon – Wed: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Thu: closed; Fri: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sat – Sun: 9 a.m. – the earlier of 7 p.m. or dusk
No entry 45 min. before closing.