One of Florida’s natural and Ancient wonders, the ravines at Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, formed over thousands of years. The steephead ravines result from seeping underground water, which undercuts the sandy slopes, causing them to collapse.
In 1933 the once-booming city of Palatka began to feel the devastating economic effects of the great depression. Thomas Byrd Gillespie, a local contractor at the time, was also a member of a three-person County committee appointed by the Governor to use federal relief money for public works employment. Gillespie understood that tourism was the key to Florida’s recovery, and he noticed other Florida cities using their natural resources to attract visitors. Gillespie enjoyed gardens and natural beauty, and he knew many tourists were drawn to Florida by its tropical landscapes.
Gillespie devised a plan for a formal garden built around the ravines’ natural wonder, which city officials enthusiastically received. Using the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) workers and funds, work on the gardens quickly began. The Gardens were officially opened on July 4, 1933.
By the 1960s, however, the park became too expensive for the city to maintain, and the park closed. In 1970 the park was deeded to the state, and Ravine Gardens became a Florida State Park.
Today, some of the landscaping of the formal gardens still exists.
A uniquely beautiful system of trails offers visitors a sometimes challenging but always awe-inspiring scenic 2.5-mile hike.
The view from the suspension bridge is gorgeous.
What I found to be the most interesting and beautiful feature of the visit was all the Azaleas. 18 different varieties, to be exact. Azaleas have a rolling bloom, meaning they bloom at different times depending on the weather; however, peak season, when about 60 percent bloom simultaneously, is January through March.
The 2.5-mile Azalea Trail around the ravine offers dramatic views and a challenging and sometimes strenuous hike. The Azalea trail is narrow and has steep slopes in areas. An extensive exposed tree root system along the trail creates obstacles for hikers; however, they are vital in preventing and slowing erosion.
However challenging the trail may be, to me, the hike is well worth the effort. John and I did see many azalea blooms on our November visit, and I can only imagine how breathtaking the blooms are in peak season. It didn’t take long for John and me to decide that a peak season visit is a must.
For those of you who would be unable to hike the strenuous trail, the park provides a 1.8 mile loop drive around the ravine with stop off overlooks along the way. Picnic tables are scattered along the drive providing beautiful scenic locations for a picnic. John and I took advantage of a peaceful spot across from the amphitheater to enjoy a lite breakfast before our hike.
Ravine Gardens State Park is located at 1600 Twigg St. Palatka FL 32177
The entrance fee is $5.00 per vehicle.
Ravine Gardens State Park is open 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year, including holidays.
The Ravine Loop Drive is open to vehicles from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
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