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 3 and 4, 2018.
This festival goes back a long time; this is its 72nd year.
This year, because of damage from Hurricane Irma, 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.
With the cooler temperatures this winter, the azaleas had not started blooming as of the last week of January. Maybe for the first time in several years, the azaleas will be in full flower at the time of the festival instead of weeks beforehand.
The park’s festival includes music and food and emphasizes the park’s history.
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 $5 per carload up to eight people. Hours are 8 a.m. to sunset daily. Admission is $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The festival hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4.
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.