Dogwood blossom in front of azaleas
Intro / Description
I had never heard of Ravine Gardens State Park until Lynn mentioned it to me after reading about it in our Florida guidebook in the St. Augustine section. The ~185 acre park is in Palatka, about 35 miles south west of St. Augustine and about 90 miles north east of the Orlando area.
This is a steephead ravine formed by ground water leaking through porous sand onto a sloping surface. The sand is eroded from the bottom causing sand above to collapse and be carved away by the stream. It’s from 70 to 120 foot deep.
It became a state park in 1933 when the Works Progress Administration began construction and also landscaped it with 95,000 azaleas including 64 varieties. They also planted 11,000 palm trees and more than 250,000 ornamental plants. There’s a multi-tiered rose garden with a fountain at its center. You can drive a 1.8 mile loop around the ravine and hiking paths and jogging trails also wind throughout the park, including one over a suspension bridge across the ravine.
Lily pond and suspension bridge
There’s also a playground or two and picnic tables if you want to eat lunch there.
Info for Photographers
Photo hints: The azaleas are a main attraction at this park. There’s other things to see too, including the abandoned water plant, the suspension bridge, and ponds. For photography, of course, early or late in the day would be the best time to get there. If you try to photograph during midday, you’ll be bothered by harsh sunlight and high contrast with the dark forest. Capturing a scene with this much dynamic range practically begs for RAW mode and HDR techniques. You might also want to bring a polarizing filter to help cut down on reflections from leaves.
Tripod/Monopod: Definitely allowed, and you’ll need it for any HDR work.
Lenses: A wide angle lens will be useful to try to capture the feeling of the change in elevation. We saw butterflies and dragonflies when we were there, so a macro capability might also be handy.
I believe this is an Ebony Jewelwing dragonfly
Best time to visit: Spring time is a wonderful time in Central Florida. The Azelea festival is usually one weekend in the beginning of March, however they bloom over several weeks, so you have plenty of time to visit.
Several varieties of azaleas in bloom
Other: Like most state parks, the entrance fee is a bargain at $5 per car. You’ll need to occasionally park and walk short distances to see all the views, but you can see most of the park from your car. Wear good shoes if you intend to do any hiking.
This park doesn’t seem to be very well known and it’s a wonderful surprise when you discover it. The elevation changes are interesting and very different for Central Florida. It’s fairly close to Orlando and worth a visit. Go in the spring time (March) so you can view the multitude of flowers.
Vine covered trellis.
Note: This post was updated on March 12, 2011 after an additional visit to Ravine Gardens, while the Azaleas were in bloom.
©2010, 2011 Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.