Recently, my husband and I visited Warm Springs and Callaway Gardens , located in West Central Georgia. This area is called the Presidential Pathways Region because of its history of two American presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter. Nineteen counties are included and is deeply rooted in American history, with unspoiled forested hills and a natural beauty, displaying antebellum and Victorian era homes and exuding southern hospitality.
When we returned from our trip, we decided that the next time we went, we would do things a little differently… such as plan for the trip a little better, especially when we bring the rest of our family. Here are some of the travel tips that I thought would be helpful to future travelers for family fun to this beautiful and historic area.
1. I suggest using the online Explore Georgia Visitor Information Center and try out their very easy planner to be sure you are experiencing all that you want to do and see. We spent four days just in Callaway Gardens alone and didn’t see everything. There is something to do in the area for everyone in the family.. events, nature, history, sports and shopping. Download the Presidential Pathways Map & Guide . It is a great resource for the entire area. Also, be prepared to allow extra driving time because the towns are about 20-30 miles apart.
2. We decided to stay at the Meriwether Country Inn in Warm Springs, which is about 15 minutes away from Callaway Gardens. The inn was clean, well lighted, the staff was courteous and friendly, and we were within walking distance of the local restaurants and gift shops. We made our reservations through a third party, and it was a reasonable price, however, the family running the inn told us that if we had made the reservations directly through them, they could have saved us another 20-25%. Before making reservations with a third-party, I would recommend checking with your preferred hotel directly first, especially if you have a large family.
3. There are no fast food or chain restaurants nearby. There are several locally owned and operated restaurants that we dined at during our stay. One restaurant, called the Bulloch House (Southern cooking & hospitality at it’s finest), was recommended by a friend, and we ate there for lunch two days during our stay. The meals are served buffet style in a house that is over 100 years old. It retains the early atmosphere of the 1800’s and the staff is very friendly. Don’t expect a wide selection of food like Golden Corral or Ryan’s, but you can expect good southern cooking, such as fried chicken and fried green tomatoes. They are open for lunch daily, but only open for dinner on the weekends. We also ate at Carriage & Horse’s, the Paradise Grille and Mac’s Barbecue. We enjoyed them all. Try out the Redneck Nacho’s at Mac’s Barbecue. You will be addicted to them. If you are a large family on a tight budget, I recommend that you bring your own sandwich fixings, snacks and beverages, because of the lack of reasonably priced, kid friendly places to eat that are nearby.
4. We did plan ahead enough to bring some food and drinks with us. However, I failed to bring some personal toiletries, so we decided to head out to one of the larger towns in the hopes of finding a drug store, such as CVS, Walgreens, Kroger or Walmart. No such luck. No drug stores, no major food stores or discount stores nearby. We found a Dollar General and a Family Dollar, and a local grocery store, but it closed early. I’m sure if we had searched further out, we might have found a larger chain store, but we were worn out by then. I recommend making sure you bring everything you need, or everything you might think you need. In other words, pack everything that you have room for, including the kitchen sink, just in case.
5. Since we were mainly interested in the Gardens, we did not take in any of the local history, such as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute and President Roosevelt’s Little White House . President Roosevelt founded the Warm Springs Institute when he discovered the warm waters helped his polio and made the way for others to enjoy and benefit from the springs. The Andersonville National Historic Site , was one of the largest Confederate military prisons during the Civil War. The SAM Shortline Excursion Train is a train with vintage 1949 railway cars that stops in quaint towns filled with attractions, shopping, and dining, including Plains, Georgia, the home of former President Jimmy Carter. The Hills & Dales Estat e is a must see also because it’s mission is to “preserve and interpret the unique horticulture, architecture, and history of Hills & Dales Estate so that our guests can be enriched by the legacy of personal involvement and stewardship”. It was started in 1832 and continues to this day to share the southern heritage. I would highly recommend visiting any one of these sites in West Central Georgia, not only just for family fun, but for educational purposes too.
6. As I have mentioned before, Callaway Gardens was the main focus of our trip. This park is known for its beautiful gardens and horticultural advances. The Gardens were started in 1952 by the Callaway family in the center of 13,000 acres in the southernmost foothills of the Appalachians. The family wanted this to be a retreat offering solace, inspiration and discovery. There is a Birds of Prey Show, the Cecil B Day Butterfly Center, Virginia Callaway Discovery Center, John A. Sibley Horticultural Center, Azalea Gardens, Nature Trails, and a Vegetable Garden, and many more attractions, including two golf courses in beautiful and serene settings. The biggest attraction is the thousands of cultivated azaleas of more than 700 varieties on display every spring. I recommend that if you intend to come during the spring and want to see the azaleas in full bloom, call in advance to see if they are still in bloom. We missed the azaleas by two weeks because of the warm winter we have had. They bloomed a little earlier than we expected, however, the Gardens were still beautiful and we loved spending time outdoors.
7. Callaway Gardens and the surrounding National Park is an excellent spot for hiking and biking. If you are experienced bicyclists and hikers, this should be a cake walk for you. There are 10 miles of bicycle trails meandering through the Gardens to view the attractions and the wildlife. Bicycles are available to rent, although a little pricey, but well worth it if you don’t have a bicycle to bring with you. For hikers, there are scenic trails , ranging from one-half to 1.6 miles and provides easy to moderate walking. I recommend bringing your backpacks with plenty of water and refreshing snacks, or a picnic lunch, if you intend to hike or bike around the gardens. All of the attractions can be reached by vehicle if you choose not to take advantage of the trails.
8. In the Gardens, there is only one restaurant at the Discovery Center and there are no snack bars or concession stands placed frequently throughout the park. I recommend that you prepare for several picnic lunches, if you plan to stay the entire day. There are places to stop and enjoy your meal throughout the gardens.
9. My husband and I spent two of our four days on the golf course. The course is arranged beautifully throughout the gardens and was designed to be a relaxing and enjoyable excursion. I don’t play golf, but I chose to drive the golf cart for my husband. He thoroughly enjoyed playing both courses, the Sky View and the Mountain View. We actually saw more wildlife, such as wild turkeys and geese, on the golf course than we did in the nature trails. While on the golf course, we were able to catch a glimpse of some of the homes that are in the process of being built for residential living on the grounds. What a beautiful place that would be to live.
10. My last travel tip for the Gardens is to be aware of the admissions price. There are several options available, from annual passes, to one or two day passes, military admissions and special event admissions, all based on age (child, adult, and senior). There are resort packages available, too. Once you have paid your admission into the park, there are no other fees except for the bicycle rentals and the Treetop Adventures. Reservations are not required for the bicycle rentals, but are required for the Treetop Adventures.
My husband and I enjoyed our trip driving through the Presidential Pathways Region and spending time with each other. Both of us had not visited Callaway Gardens in a very long time and we were looking forward to relaxing in the outdoors and taking in the nature. We were not disappointed in our excursions and we are already planning on several weekend trips to do it all over again.