Finding Tranquility At Hodges Gardens State Park



A Garden In The Forrest: Hodges Gardens State Park

The Largest Horticultural Park In The United States With 4,700 Acres Of Scenic Views, Walking Trails, Formal Gardens And Waterfalls

Hodges Garden [Courtesy/Hodges Gardens]

If there's one place in the world to get lost, it's Hodges Gardens State Park. With 4,700 acres of scenic views, walking trails, formal gardens and waterfalls, the Louisiana state park is the largest horticultural park and recreation area in the United States. The sites alone are what make this serene and tranquil park a must-see for anyone traveling across the country.

Upon arriving at Hodges Gardens, visitors make their way through a pine tree forest, already a unique site to the area. After a half mile they'll reach the secluded park, hidden amongst the trees. Right at the toll booth the visuals are already breathtaking. The “wonderful, high view,” as described by Toledo Bend Lake Country director Linda Curtis-Starks, allows a clear 14-mile view across Hodges Gardens Lake and into Texas. It's one of Curtis-Starks' favorite areas. But of course there are many others.

Miles and miles of trail throughout the park gardens meander through several areas of Hodges Gardens State Park, including sculpture gardens, waterfalls, organized gardens, an old rose garden... According to Curtis-Starks there's enough trail to keep walking for a half a day or more. There are also five miles of biking trail and several hiking routes that feature views of wild azaleas.

“They're difficult to find in the south,” said Curtis-Starks, “but they've been well-preserved here. We have huge specimens that range from oranges to hot pinks. Of course there's also an organized azalea garden in the park itself, where you can walk a stone path for quite a distance. There are hundreds of varieties of azaleas. Camellia is another flower that is popular right now. It's growing in the hundreds at the park.”

The unique topography of Hodges Gardens adds even more of a dynamic to people's visit. It's very, very hilly, allowing unique stone paths that meander down more elevated areas, marvelous overside areas where guests can see the gardens below them and multi-level waterfalls. There is also the 225-acre lake, where people rent canoes and love to fish for cratti and other sport fish popular to the area.

The Patio [Courtesy/Hodges Gardens]
Waterfall At Hodges Garden [Courtesy/Hodges Gardens]

Hodges Gardens State Park was developed by a wealthy oilman named A.J. Hodges, known as the Father of Forestry in Northwest Louisiana. He was a conservationist and a pioneer in forestry research. Gardening was his passion.

According to the Friends of the Hodges Gardens State Park, Hodges Gardens is a “testament to one man's efforts of conservation and restoration in a region of Louisiana that had been left barren by the massive clear cutting philosophy known as 'cut out – get out' that ran from Alabama to East Texas in the late 1800s. A.J. Hodges was a leader in the conservation movement who set standards for preservation of our natural resources.”

Despite having no real plan for the park, it only took seven years to complete the scenic historic site, with Hodges involved in every aspect of its construction and design. It became well-known nationwide in the 1960s, when the gardens were featured in many articles for Southern Living and national papers.

One thing that made the park very unique was the abundance of petrified wood that Hodges had to use throughout the park, including parkways, outdoor pavilions and statues.

In 2006 the Hodge's Foundation entered into an agreement with the state of Louisiana, which took Hodges into their state park system. The park had gone through several generations of family and while the family had wanted it preserved, they had began to lose interest in the maintenance of the park.

“It's such a great asset that we didn't want to see it close,” said Curtis-Starks. Now a national historic park, the Friends host movie nights on the lake and have added a butterfly, rose and herb garden. There are musical events held at the gardens throughout the year. Artwork is also on display in various parts of the park, as well as various seminars, activities and workshops throughout the year.

Cabins For Guests Staying Overnight [Courtesy/Hodges Gardens]
A.J. Hodges Sculpture [Courtesy/Hodges Gardens]
Overlooking The Waters [Courtesy/Hodges Gardens]

Curtis-Starks grew up during the period when the gardens were first being built. She was fascinated by the way the waterfalls and water trails had run through the park area. She had marveled at the big waterfalls that didn't just fall and return, but ran through a network of water trails along the sidewalks of the park.

“It was just fabulous,” she recalled. “You'd go down and he'd had created all these things. You could meander through and you always had something new to see. Those of us that grew up in this area, we all realize that it's not only a part of our lives, but a great economic benefit to the area.”

With so many species of plants, Curtis-Starks said there's always something new to see every time she visits. And all of the sites are special, things that can only be seen at Hodges. This not only includes the countless species of flowers, but the wildlife.

“There are hummingbirds, butterflies and even eagles,” she explained. “You can definitely see them feeding their young, training their young. I've absolutely seen them. They're much larger up close than you'd expect them to be. The nests can be up to 300 to 500 pounds. They're huge nests. They look about three feet from a distance, but they got to be larger than that. You have the opportunity at the lake to come upon them where they're sitting in a tree. They look so much bigger than they look when they're soaring.”

As a master gardener, Curtis-Starks has voluntarily helped with many of the projects at Hodges. Currently, master gardeners are working on the herb and domestic rose gardens, cutting them back when needed. What gets someone interested in gardening on this scale?

“The tranquility and the beauty of it,” said Curtis-Starks. “I love being out and digging in the soil. I love the creation of it. The gratification. Seeing it bloom. I love seeing all the colors come together.”

For a unique nature experience unlike any other, visit the Hodges Gardens State Park, a tranquil and beautiful garden with many surprises.

Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

Hodges Gardens State Park

Make Sure To Stay At:

Hodges Gardens State Park, nestled in the tall pines of West Central Louisiana. The Park is a quiet and serene atmosphere, with winding paths and trickling streams throughout the gardens.

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