PHOTO BY CYNDI BLACHE
From late January through March, thousands of azaleas are front and center in Palatka at this unique 153-acre park, which was once among Florida's top 10 attractions. It was shaped in the 1930s from a U-shaped steephead ravine, which holds spring-fed Whitewater Branch, a tributary to the St. Johns River.
Visitors drive, bike or stroll the park's paved 1.8-mile road, which hugs the rim of the ravine in the thick shade of live oaks, hickory, sweetgum, dogwoods and magnolias. Blossoms of camellias and hibiscus vie to divert attention away from dense azalea bushes blanketed with white, lavender, pink and red flowers.
Paths lead to the bottom of the ravine, where the narrow stream dominates a formal garden, flowing into fish-filled ponds with a pleasant whoosh. Children, in particular, get a thrill out of crossing Whitewater Branch via a pair of suspension bridges, which give a lofty view of the ravine bottom -- a green fairyland set with stone terraces, benches and picnic tables. Among the animals and birds visitors may spot are foxes, otters, red-tailed hawks and barred owls.
Near the park entrance is the Court of States, with its 50 rough limestone columns. A slender 65-foot obelisk, dedicated to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, rises on one end.
-- Lisa Roberts, Orlando Sentinel
FYI: Ravine Gardens State Park is at 1600 Twigg St., Palatka. Hours are 8 a.m. to sunset daily; admission is $4 per vehicle for up to eight people or $1 for a single vehicle occupant, pedestrians and bicyclists. Details: 386-329-3721;
On the web, go to www.floridastateparks.org/ravinegardens