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Last updated on April 19th, 2020 at 10:25 am

In spring, Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka has close to 100,000 flowering trees and shrubs that draw visitors from around the region from January through March.

The azaleas generally begin blooming in early February, according to park staff. In 2020, celebrating the bloom season was cut short because of repairs to the single road through the park, which had suffered hurricane damage. 

Year round, visitors can admire the unusual landscape here. A spring bubbles up here and forms Whitewater Branch, which flows into the St. Johns River. Over centuries, the stream has cut deep ravines into the land.

But what transformed this park was the work of men and a remarkable historic effort.

Ravine Gardens State Park view from above
Looking down at the formal gardens

 

Ravine Gardens State Park 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.)

Historic image of Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida
Historic postcard image of Rabine Gardens State Park, Palatka.

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 and 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.

Azalea gardens at Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida
Historic postcard Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida

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.

Historic water wheel at Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida
Historic water wheel at Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka, Florida

When you visit Ravine Gardens State Park, 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.

Spring azalea festival at Ravine Gardens State Park

The Florida Azalea Festival originated in 1938 and centered around the park. Over time, many of the activities moved to downtown Palatka. In 2020, the construction repair work on the storm-damaged roadway forced the cancellation of the festival. 

Ravine Gardens State Park website
1600 Twigg St.,
Palatka
(386) 329-3721

Azalea queen in 1949
Neva Jane Langley vied to be Azalea Queen at the Azalea Festival at Ravine Gardens State Park in 1949. She was Miss America in 1953.

Other excellent Florida gardens for spring blooms

These gardens are known for their spring flowers, but they are beautiful and worth visiting any times of year. 

Things to do near Palatka:

Kayaking: There are a number of kayak and canoe trails in the St. Johns River and tributaries around Palatka.  Here’s our report on exploring the area from a base in Welaka.

Biking: the Palatka to St. Augustine Trail, located just over the bridge in East Palatka. This 12-foot-wide, paved trail runs through agricultural landscapes and scenic routs, and offers 19 miles of trail to explore.

Hiking: The Putnam County Blueways has information on 13 trails.

Beaches: The Atlantic beach is near and in this area it has an Old Florida feel. Flagler Beach is a perfect barefoot beach town.

Mountain biking: 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.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this! Last year we went for a month long trip to visit the beautiful gardens and historic sites in Florida. We visited those listed above, and also Washington Oaks, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Fairchild Gardens, Flamingo Gardens, Everglades Wonder Gardens, and Palma Sola Botanical Gardens. Our favorite historic sites were Bulow Plantation, Barberville Pioneer Settlement, Ft. Christmas, Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Ancient Spanish Monastery, Vizcaya, Jupiter lighthouse, Sanibel Historic Museum and Village and lighthouse, Koreshan State Historic Site, DeSoto National Memorial, Tampa Bay History Center, Henry B. Plant Museum, Dudley Farm, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlins State Historic Site. Among the natural wonders we visited were Merritt Island NWR, John Pennekamp state park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp, Ding Darling NWR, the Venice Audubon Rookery, Robinson Preserve, Leffis Key, Circle B Bar Reserve. Great art museum: James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art. Great natural history museums: Florida Museum of Natural History; Museum of South Florida. We have visited many other places in previous years but this was our trip last year. Many ideas came from Florida Rambler and Authentic Florida!

  2. The garden is so beautiful. These gardens are vital to town residents. They offer a place of peace and tranquility. I will continue to support the gardens as well as attend the festival tomorrow.