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. For 2021, the road has re-opened and the azaleas are peaking at the end of February.
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 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 State Park 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.
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.
Tip: When you visit Ravine Gardens State Park, don’t miss 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.
Ravine Gardens State Park website
1600 Twigg St.,
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.
- Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando,
- Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville,
- Alfred P. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee
- Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.
Things to do near Ravine Gardens State Park
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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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.