Extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Matanzas River, Washington Oaks Gardens State Park preservers 425 acres of Florida’s original coastal scenery. This property known for its formal gardens and shoreline of coquina rock formations, was once owned by a distant relative of President George Washington.
John and I began our adventure hiking the Bella Vista trail, named for the Bella Vista Plantation that first occupied part of the land here and was owned by Washington’s father-in-law. Our hike along the coastal hammock was like walking through a jungle. The trail is mostly shaded with occasional full sun portions through the marsh area along the Matanzas River. It was an easy walking hard-packed dirt trail filled with peaceful birdsong, a song that was occasionally interrupted by the sound of the large Pileated Woodpeckers knocking on the trees.
A video view of our Adventure
The Formal Gardens
In 1937 the land was purchased by Mr. Owen D. Young and his wife Louise to be used as a winter retreat. Mr. Young was one of the founders of the RCA Corporation and Chairman of the Board of the General Electric Company. The Youngs were responsible for naming the property Washington Oaks, and the formal gardens were their creation. Upon Mr. Young’s death, Louise donated the property in 1964 to the State of Florida with the stipulation that the gardens be maintained and expanded as funds became available.
Although the gardens may be the focal point of Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, perhaps an equally beautiful and interesting feature is the coquina rock formations along its beach. Directly across A1A from the park’s main entrance is the Atlantic Ocean, and along its shores are ancient coquina rock formations, part of the Anastasia formation, which stretches from St. Augustine to Palm Beach County, and was created during the Pleistocene era.
The word “coquina” is Spanish for “cockle” and is the name given to the small, burrowing clam that lives in the sand just at the ocean’s edge, and the coquina shell is the main component of the rock. If you look closely, you can see all the individual calcified shells that overtime has fused with sand to create this wonderous stretch of rock formation.
I, along with scores of other visitors, climbed the rocks and looked for tiny sea creatures that live within the crevices of the formations.
Hiking – Fishing – Birding – Picnicking
There are about 2 and a half miles of hiking trails within the park, taking visitors through various habitats. Given the different habitats of mature coastal maritime hammock, dense canopied coastal scrub, the Atlantic coastline, and formal gardens, a wide variety of birds can be spotted throughout the park.
Washington Oaks is a popular place for recreational fishing. Fishing can be enjoyed from the park’s seawall on the Matanzas River and along the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. A Florida fishing license may be required.
The picnic area and playground are in an inviting area under the shade of large majestic oaks. Restroom facilities are located within the picnic area.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is located at 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd. in Palm Coast, FL. Admission to the park is $5 per carload up to 8 people.
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