Callaway Gardens is a Beautiful Georgia Destination for Nature Lovers

This week is spring break for my kids and my husband took a few days off from work so we could spend time together as a family  We decided to visit a few local destinations rather than try to plan a long distance vacation. Time and money are tight right now and a ‘staycation’ is much simpler and cheaper! One place I have been wanting to visit for years is Callaway Gardens. Since spring is in full bloom here in Georgia right now, I figured now would be the best time to visit. So, I loaded up on allergy medications, water and snacks and headed out to Callaway Gardens with the family.

Callaway Gardens, Georgia

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Callaway Gardens Butterfly Center

For those of you who have never been to Callaway Gardens, it is a combination of man-made landscape and undeveloped natural setting. It was conceived and created by Cason J. Callaway and his wife, Virginia Hand Callaway in 1950. It’s mission is to connect man and nature in a way that benefits both of them. You could choose the ritzy spa, lodge and golf course option but we just wanted to see the plants, animals and exhibits that Callaway Gardens is famous for. Whether you choose to wander through the Azalea Bowl or meander through Meadowlark Garden, you will be amazed at the beauty that nature (and man!) has created!

Callaway Gardens 1

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Callaway Gardens is about an hour southwest of Atlanta, Georgia and about 2 hours from where I live in the burbs. The trip is incredibly easy and thankfully we didn’t encounter any traffic. Our first stop was Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden which honestly made me green with envy! If only I had such success with my own back yard garden! It was the Southern setting for the popular PBS television show The Victory Garden and encompasses 7.5 acres. An assortment of fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown here and I assume are used in the Callaway Gardens restaurants.

After a brief lunch, we headed over to the Discovery Center, which is where the brochure suggested we start our visit. Tucked into the wooded environment on the edge of Mountain Creek Lake, the 35,000-square-foot facility contains everything from a gift shop and help desk to a small theater and a number of interactive displays.

Day Butterfly Center Callaway Gardens
By Manderson1234 from Wikimedia Commons

Next up was the Day Butterfly Center ,which was the one thing my kids really wanted to experience at Callaway Gardens. It is one of North America’s largest tropical butterfly conservatories and you will find an amazing array of tropical plants and (of course!) butterflies. There weren’t quite as many butterflies as I was hoping but seeing as it is early spring it is not quite the season for them, even in a climate controlled facility. You certainly didn’t have to look far for them but there weren’t very many different species fluttering about. And they are darn difficult to get a good picture of, too!

Callaway Gardens Chapel

One of the most beautiful places we visited at Callaway Gardens was the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel.  It was inspired by 16th-century Gothic chapels and uses a wide variety of regional materials like fieldstone quartz. The stained glass windows showcase an assortment of designs that include trees, plants, flowers, etc from the nearby forest. The chapel’s custom-built Möller pipe organ is played during seasonal concerts, although we did not get to hear it when we went. The chapel is used for small weddings and a Non-Denominational service on Sunday morning throughout the Summer.

Callaway Gardens Georgia Outdoors

Honestly, the best part of Callaway Gardens is just getting to spend time outside. The entire park is lined with trails specifically designed for biking and walking. You can rent bikes and helmets for both adults and children. The trails are flat, not overly hilly, and are easy to navigate. The map provided at the entrance clearly marks all the trails and tells you how long they are so you know before you set out whether or not you think you can handle it. Make sure you stop and check out all the plants…most are clearly labeled so you know what they are. There is a wide variety of plants, some that will bloom in spring and others that bloom in late summer so no matter when you visit, you should find a beautiful landscape to enjoy. Make sure you slow down on the bridges and take a peak into the water. You will find a ton of fish and turtles in the water and you can grab critter approved food from the feeding stations  and watch them swarm right to you!

Callawy Gardens Turtles

We ended our visit at the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center.

This one-of-a-kind garden/greenhouse encompasses five acres of native and exotic plants, and seasonal displays, within its tropical conservatory, sub-Mediterranean conservatory, sculpture garden, grotto, main conservatory and outdoor garden. The Sibley Center also contains an exhilarating 22-foot indoor waterfall; a bronze sculpture, “Partners in Time”; a carrara marble sculpture, “Dove of Peace”.

My son’s favorite part of the Sibley Horiticultural Center was the amazing array of succulents. He also got to see bananas actually growing on a tree, which was a first for my kids.

Callaway Gardens Bananas

If you are a nature lover and will be in the Atlanta area, I highly recommend that you check out Callaway Gardens. Now, some tips from our own trip and a few personal comments about our journey:

  • You do NOT want to go to Callaway Gardens when it is hot if you don’t like sweating. You will be doing a lot of walking/biking and most of it is outside. Unfortunately, even though we went during the first week of April, it was already almost 90 degrees. We went through about 2 gallons of liquid between the 4 of us and still had to hit the gift store for drinks before we headed home. Pack snacks and drinks…more than you think you will need. Bring a backpack and wear comfortable clothing and sneakers.
  • We ate lunch at Champions Grill and the food was so-so. It wasn’t particularly expensive, which was nice, but not all that memorable either. Standard burgers and chicken fingers, with a few salads thrown in for the health conscious. There are several restaurants throughout the facility but there are also picnic areas if you want to pack a meal and save money. Next time we will be packing a meal.
  • Be prepared for crowds. I honestly hate crowds and this annoyed me more than anything else about our trip. We arrived 15 minutes before the raptor show at the birds of prey exhibit and still couldn’t even get seating. We ended up leaving because we were too hot and tired to stand around waiting any longer. My daughter also wanted to do the Mile High Tree Climb and it was sold out an hour before it began. Plan your schedule before you get there and just realize that hundreds of other people are also trying to do the same things you are. I wish the people in charge had planned a few more showings and event times so the crowds would have been a bit thinner.

 Callaway Gardens
17800 US Hwy 27
Pine Mountain, GA 31822

Overall, we had a good time at Callaway Gardens and I definitely want to go back again at a different time of the year so I can see how much things change throughout the seasons. If you are a lover of nature and enjoy being outside I think you will have an amazing experience at Callaway Gardens!

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