Located just minutes from hot spots like Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, this 152-acre park is truly a feast for the eyes and a wondrous escape from crowded beaches, streets, and tourist attractions. Officially opening in 1933 and adopted by the Florida State Parks System in 1970, Ravine Gardens is one of Florida’s nine New Deal-era state parks. It began as a “tropical landscape paradise” attraction for the town of Palatka to increase tourism and boost economic growth during the Great Depression, displaying some 40,000 azaleas planted along two steephead ravines, suspension bridges, a fountain, and benches. The gardens were a success, and today as a state park, it boasts 270,000 azaleas of many varieties, most of which are original to the gardens. Visitors can also enjoy hiking/biking trails, picnic pavilions, a playground, an auditorium, an amphitheater, civic center, meeting rooms, and more.
The ravines are up to 140’ deep, formed by a spring-fed creek that has eroded the soil, rocks, and vegetation over time. There is a 1.8- mile paved path around the ravines for bicyclists and hikers, but it is closed to motor vehicles due to erosion and safety issues. If you prefer a more challenging path, the 2.5 mile Azalea Trail is for hikers only and traverses up and down the ravines on steep and narrow paths, old stone steps, along the stream, and across both suspension bridges. This trail can be slippery, demanding, and dangerous, so be aware and prepared. You are responsible for your own safety, as always, but this trail is worth it – the views will leave you wondering if you are even in Florida anymore!
The park is an even more spectacular experience in the months of January, February, and March when the azaleas are in bloom, and it is part of the annual Florida Azalea Festival the first weekend in March. No matter what time of year, this park is worth a visit, and, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated parks in the state. Just incredible!