Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka has close to 100,000 flowering trees and shrubs, ready to be admired now and during Azalea Days, March 2 and 3, 2019.
This festival goes back a long time; this is its 73rd year.
This year, because of earlier hurricane damage, the drive through the park will be closed to cars, as it has been since the storm. It is open to bikes and pedestrians, however.
Park Specialist Raymond Presley says the current estimate is that the azaleas, which begin blooming in early February, will be at their peak at the time of the festival.
The park’s festival this year will focus on plants and nature, with presentations about gardening, a living history talk by a ranger representing William Bartram, the early Florida explorer.
The park’s festival, which attracts about 2,000 people a day, is a companion to the Palatka Azalea Festival.
Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka traces its story to the Depression-era jobs program, the Civil Works Administration. In fact, in 1937, it was named the nation’s outstanding CWA project. (It’s one of nine Florida parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.)
During the less commercial pre-Disney era, Ravine Gardens was one of the 10 most visited tourist attractions in the state.
The army of unemployed workers started with a deep, raw ravine formed by a spring-fed tributary to the nearby St. Johns River. They planted nearly 100,000 flowering plants — azaleas, dogwoods, redbud and camellias — creating a formal garden around the splashing stream. The gardens are set amidst a forest of native mosses, ferns and live oaks.
There’s a paved 1.8-mile road through the 146-acre park, with many picnic sites and a playground along the way.
Hikers can clamber along two miles of trails that follow the steep ravine. Two suspension bridges are a fun addition to the trail, particularly for kids.
If you go, take note of the administration building and the log concession building. Constructed of cypress logs and knees in 1935, they are considered regionally significant as examples of American Rustic Architecture.
Admission is the festival is $2 per person. Children 6 and under are free.
The festival hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
In the town of Palatka, the Azalea Parade is 10 a.m. Saturday.
Website for Ravine Gardens State Park
More about Florida Azalea Festival
Things to do near Palatka:
There are a number of kayak and canoe trails in the St. Johns River and tributaries around Palatka. The Putnam County Blueways has information on six trails, from 60 miles on the St. Johns to the popular, scenic 9-mile-long Ocklawaha trail.
The Atlantic beach is near and in this area it has an Old Florida feel. Flagler Beach is a perfect barefoot beach town.
Also nearby is Dunns Creek State Park, with four miles of multi-use trails (hiking, biking on fat-tire bikes and equestrian) including to the pristine waters of Blue Pond, a sinkhole lake.