Just a little over an hour northwest of Daytona Beach, Florida in the downtown area of Palatka is Ravine Gardens State Park. Unusual for this area of the state, a crater-like impression and glorious gardens await visitors. The ravine itself was created countless years ago by waters from the St. Johns River filtering through limestone. It’s really a natural wonder. The site of the park has been used throughout the years for a variety of activities. Early Native Americans frequented the ravine as attested by potshards and other items found over the years. Confederate soldiers also used the natural seclusion of the site as a base camp. Today however, Ravine Gardens provides a budget friendly and enjoyable way for families to enjoy the great outdoors.
The modern day gardens were created during the New Deal Era under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Workers from the WPA planted thousands of azaleas in an effort to entice tourists to the area. The plan seems to have worked. Today, over 100,000 azaleas make a spectacular showing particularly during the months of January through April. The gardens are a particularly popular stop for both locals and tourists during that time period. A composite of both natural and planted gardens, the park’s flowers provide a natural backdrop for weddings and other special events. The Roy Campbell Civic Center within the park hosts various activities and houses interpretive exhibits. An Azalea Days Festival is the highlight of the azalea season, when the bushes are in full bloom in March. An amphitheater within the park is the location for an annual Spring Concert series.
The park appeals to all sorts of people. From sedentary car occupants to rambunctious children, all visitors have the opportunity for an enjoyable outing. Ravine Gardens State Park has a long vehicular loop drive down and around the 146 acre gardens that enables everyone to tour the area. Travelers don’t even need to leave the comfort of their vehicles to take in the sights. However, energetic visitors can put on their walking shoes and hike about 2 miles of trails winding through various areas of the gardens, through stands of bamboo, ponds, bridges and elevated walkovers. Birders should be able to spot numerous species flitting through the old growth oaks and beautiful flowering shrubs. Bicyclists too can enjoy the flowers and the challenge to their legs as they pump up and down the grade.
This is a good destination for a family day trip. The park has a covered picnic pavilion available. There are also additional picnic tables located throughout the gardens. Restroom facilities are available in the Civic Center. Families with children will enjoy the playground at the bottom of the ravine. For those people who enjoy geocaching with GPS enabled devices, it should be noted that Ravine Gardens has several geocaches located along the park trails.
Ravine Gardens is open daily from 8 am until sundown. For more information about visiting Ravine Gardens State Park or to ask about fees, contact 386-329-3721.