For a Blooming Good Time, Visit Ravine Gardens State Park
The lush park has 60 acres accessible for exploring, including two ravines up to 120 feet deep with steep banks at 45-degree angles.
The ravines were formed over thousands of years through natural processes of erosion, by natural springs located in the park.
The underground water bubbling up cuts into the bank and carries the sand and soil downstream to the St. Johns River. Over thousands of years, the ravines have widened and deepened.
A Garden Park
Ravine Gardens originally opened as a botanical tourist attraction, in 1934.
When the park was first built, more than 100,000 species of plants were brought in, and most of them still exist today, thanks to the work of the Florida State Parks service, which took over care for the park in the 1970s.
Rangers work diligently to maintain as many of the plant species as possible, but the most famous are the azaleas. There are currently 18 species of azaleas growing in the park, which bloom from January-March, depending on the weather.
3 Great Hikes
Another unique aspect of the park is its suspension bridges, which span the ravines, at a height of 30-50 feet above ground. You can expect a minimal amount of wobble and swing when crossing. There’s a 1.8-mile paved loop around the rim of the park that is great for strolling and even cycling. Check with the park to see if current conditions will allow automobiles on the paved loop.
There are also two moderate trails that take you down into the ravines, via narrow pathways with old roots, and steep steps. Factor in the elevation change and the trails can be considered challenging for some.
There are plenty of picnic sites with grills for cooking out, a kids’ playground, and a beautiful historic amphitheater to explore. The amphitheater’s claim to fame is that Neva Langley, who participated in the Miss Florida Azalea Pageant, which was held on the park’s beautiful natural stage, went on to become Miss America in 1953!
Azalea Season, Festival Time
While the park boasts something in bloom every month of the year, those famous azalea blossoms are typically seen in late February through early March.
The first weekend of March is when the area celebrates the blooms with an annual Azalea Festival. Activities at Ravine Gardens include ranger-led wagon rides through the park, music, and food.
Downtown Palatka is also abloom during the two-day, outdoor festival, which includes entertainment on multiple stages, five blocks of vendors, a parade, an antique car show, a beauty pageant, and, of course, azaleas.
There is plenty for the kids to enjoy with activities such as face painting, games, and arts and crafts.
Pets are encouraged at the Azalea Festival. Pets in blossoming costume are a traditional part of the celebration.