Ravine Gardens State Park is in the heart of downtown Palatka an hour and a half drive south west of Jacksonville, FL. The 59 acre gardens was created in a natural steephead ravine by the City of Palatka in the 1930's. It was one of the 10 most visited tourist attractions in the state before Disney came along.
Ravine State Gardens has long been famous for its extensive plantings of azaleas which are in bloom late February through early March. In 2016 the Palatka area celebrated the 70th Annual Florida Azalea Festival. This two day, pet-friendly outdoor festival is one of the longest-running festivals still celebrated in Florida. With some 100,000 flowering trees and shrubs, the park is a beautiful place to visit at this time of year.
The site is excellent for birding by car. From the elevated vantage point you can watch the song birds in the top of the tree canopy. During our March visit we saw a ruby-crowned kinglet, black and white warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, red-bellied woodpeckers, northern cardinals, and mockingbirds. One would expect the area to attract additional migrants later in the spring.
Garden State Ravine is also part of the Great Birding Florida Trail. If you're looking for a relaxing picnic spot or a place to stretch your legs Ravine Gardens would serve that purpose nicely.
Admission is $5 per carload up to eight people. Hours are 8 a.m. to sunset daily. Admission is $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Ravine Gardens has a two and a half mile paved road that winds around the edge of the ravine. Open to automobile traffic (except for one hour before sunset), the road is shared with joggers, walkers, and cyclists and offers conveniently located benches and overlooks.
Additionally, hikers can access the lower portion of the ravine via a trail system, steep staircases, not for the faint of heart, and by two separate suspension bridges. There are plenty of picnic benches available and a playground for the kids. The park is beautifully done and has become a favorite of Telephoto Florida.