Tucked away in Point Washington State Forest between Destin and Panama City is a century old mansion with a sprawling picturesque landscape, gardens, picnic areas and nature trails. The well-maintained lawn stretches all the way down to the quaint Tucker Bayou nestled on Choctawhatchee Bay. A bit off the beaten path, this 161-acre state park is a popular destination for weddings, special events and photographers.
Oddly enough, what first drew me here was a 1972 movie entitled “Frogs” which was filmed on location at the Wesley Mansion. The movie itself isn’t that great and is full of misidentified reptiles and amphibians which only makes an amateur herpetologist like myself groan in agony, but putting that aside, the beauty of Eden Gardens still made its way onto the big screen and piqued my interest enough to make a trip over to see it in person.
Today’s adventure started on a foggy morning with cool temperatures for a late September day in Florida. I took precautions and applied mosquito repellant so I could wander the grounds unmolested. No point in taking chances with the recent rise in West Nile virus cases, especially since I intended to explore the nature trail down near the bayou a bit later.
The Wesley House
I started with the grounds surrounding the mansion. This magnificent two story house with wrap-around porch was built in 1897 by William Henry Wesley and later donated to the park by Lois Genevieve Maxon. The house is a showcase of family antiques and guided tours are available for a small fee. Being more of a nature lover I opted to explore the many gardens surrounding the mansion. Hidden throughout the gardens are small statues and fountains that seemingly appear out of nowhere adding a touch of mystery to the place.
A large reflecting pool and fountain lies next to the house making for quite the show and a short distance away stands a beautiful Live Oak known as the “Wedding Tree.” Both of these features create amazing backdrops for photo shoots or for just relaxing on a quiet summer afternoon. Down on the lawn by the bayou is a pavilion and picnic area as well as a small dock. Although the waters are too shallow for launching most watercraft, the dock is suitable for fishing.
The park has a one-mile nature trail that starts at a parking area and rest rooms near Tucker Bayou. The trail wraps around past two bayou overlooks before heading into the woodlands, skirting marsh and passing through several different plant communities. Ignore the exit signs to experience the full trail and loop around back to the beginning. Keep a sharp eye and a keen ear out to spot deer, eagle and other forest creatures. I was lucky enough on this visit to have a large deer cross the trail in front of me, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to capture it.
Eden Gardens State Park is a day use park open from 8 a.m. to sunset and is located at 181 Eden Gardens Road in Santa Rosa Beach. Prices at the time of this article were $4 per vehicle. No camping is available at this park, but for those wishing to explore options nearby Grayton Beach State Park offers camping.
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