On the Go with Gail: Kraft Azalea Garden

Our adventures around Orlando took us to the Kraft Azalea Garden in Winter Park, and I have always seen my photographer friends post the most stunning wedding and portrait sessions here.

I wanted to go see it for myself after seeing their wonderful photos, and I am so happy that we did as it is a beautiful little gem of a park!

The Kraft Azalia Garden is a 5.22-acre public park that is located on the shore of Lake Maitland, making it so secluded and unique!

The park is full of beautiful and enormous cypress trees that provide a wonderful canopy for shade.

We visited on quite a hot Florida day, and the trees provide much relief while we walked around comfortably!

From what I have seen and heard about this place, it can get extremely busy, especially on weekends when there are more photographers and people heading over for picnics with their families.

Luckily, we went on a Monday afternoon and it was super quiet and peaceful, we even saw a group practicing, what I assume, was Tai Chi in the middle.

The views by the water were just spectacular, not only can you nosey at the gorgeous homes over the water but you can watch boaters and jet skiers going by, it was so peaceful!

My favorite area by far is the Exedra monument, it is located right by the waterfront to get those perfect idyllic photos. On the weekends, I can imagine this spot would be hard to get to, due to the professional shoots going on as its such a main feature of the park! The Exedra can also be reserved for events like wedding ceremonies at sunset, for up to 20 guests and can be reserved by calling 407-599-3334.

Don’t forget to look up when you’re here, because the views are quite stunning with the tall trees all around you. The park is actually home to a very large banyan tree. These trees are native to India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and often planted around temples as it is considered sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists. It is quite unusual to have one here locally as it generally only grows in USDA Plant Hardiness zones 10-12 which begin in an area south of Miami…the more you know!

Some have said that this tree may be the northern-most Banyan tree in the state. It is believed that the tree was planted in Kraft Azalea Garden when int was developed in 1938. Notable nurseryman Martin Daetwyler was hired to design the garden by well-known residents George and Maud Kraft, Mayor Frederick Cady, Forney Shepard, Leonard Hackney and Mrs. C. F. Ward.

On the way in to the gardens, it is hard to miss the sounds coming from the trees right by the entrance! At this time of the year, they are absolutely covered with great egrets nesting! Breeding for these birds occurs in the spring and they congregate into colonial nesting areas known as rookeries. These dense aggregations of nests are typically found in low trees near or over water. Winter park is fortunate to have a rare urban rookery for this stately bird. Every year between late February and early June, up to 50 nesting pairs of great egrets gather at Kraft Azalea Garden to begin nesting rituals.

Apparently, the males develop large showy feathers during the nesting seasons, and the females lay two to three eggs, and both parents share feeding duties. Its such a unique opportunity to be able to be up this close to so many at one time, it was such a nice surprise on our visit!

The gardens are open year-round from 8 a.m, until dusk. If you are planning on heading over to take professional photos and portraits, you must obtain a permit ahead of time to operate inside the park. This can be done by heading to www.cityofwinterpark.org/parks.

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On the Go with Gail: Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Did you know that Lake Apopka has a Wildlife Drive? This drive is a one-way 11-mile drive that snakes (no pun intended) through the property. It begins on Lust Road and ends on Jones Avenue.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

The drive is completely free, but they do welcome online donations to assist with recreation maintenance. There are little QR code signs throughout that you can scan from your car and it will take you to the donation page.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

When you first drive in you can pick up a leaflet that gives you some more information, and they also let you know there are signs throughout the drive with QR codes that can be scanned to listen to their audio tour.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

The speed limit is 10 MPH but there are plenty of places if you wanted to pull over to look at something as they just ask that you don’t stop and block the road. This was hard at times because the road can get quite narrow with water on either side, so if someone up front stopped we all had to. I was fine with this because it meant there was going to be something cool to check out at that spot once we reached it!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

As you drive along, you get the opportunity to see so much wildlife, we chose a rainy day so we didn’t get too may gator sightings, I’ve seen people post gators all along the sides of the road they were driving down at times! Which sounds crazy but you’re inside your vehicles so its safe and such an opportunity!

We did get to see some close up including a really large one, I’m not going to guess how many feet it was but it was huge even from a distance!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

A lot of people come here to bird watch, it is one of the top three birding areas for the entire state (includes Everglades National Park and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge).

The Lake Apopka North Shore, where the wildlife drive goes through, is considered one of the most renowned birding destinations in Florida, with 369 different bird species.

During the winter months, more than 150 species regularly use the property, from snowy herons and egrets to numerous tiny warblers and flycatchers. Other wildlife commonly seen include numerous American alligators, bobcats, otters, bears, raccoons, armadillos, and coyotes. I really wish I had seen some of the otters!

It was really something you could do with the whole family as you are driving slow enough for the kids to be by the window if you feel comfortable, which our daughter really enjoyed looking out and searching for the different wildlife.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

There are a few restrooms along the way which is helpful as the drive could take up to three hours depending on how many stops you make along the way. There are also a few picnic pavilions so you can get out and stretch your legs and stop for some lunch together. The locations are all listed on the trail guide map. You can bring dogs but they must remain on a leash at all times.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

There are also areas marked as a white trail suitable for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding on a 6-mile loop on Clay Island.

The wonderful part of this trail is that I feel that each time you visit, it will be a completely different experience. One time you may see gators, another time many species of birds, so it’s somewhere you could visit again and never be bored. I feel it’s so wonderful they did this trail, I wish I had heard about it sooner, but I will definitely be coming back often, I need to see some otters still!

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive entrance gate is open between 7 a.m and 3 p.m on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays. All vehicles must exit the drive by 5 p.m. You can find more information on their website.

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