Steephead Ravines

Whitewater branch stream at Ravine Gardens

Steephead Ravines

One of Ravine Gardens State Park’s main feature is a forked steephead ravine. The fork is composed of two major fingers that run east to west and include elevations of 70 to 120 feet. The ravines slope down to Whitewater Branch, a spring-fed stream that flows east into the St. Johns River.

Steephead ravine
View of Whitewater Branch stream from the Steephead Ravine

Whitewater Branch

Whitewater Branch is a spring-fed stream that never dries up. Classified as a seepage stream, it is relatively shallow stream fed by a series of over 100 springs and seeps. The stream is clear and maintains a constant temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

The waters originating in the stream have been dammed in the past and were used previously to supply water to the city of Palatka during most of the year. Evidence of this can be seen at the bottom of the ravine system where a large pond remains, and the waters are still channeled into the historic water works facility located just across the boundary line of the park before they head into the St. Johns River.

A clear water stream
Whitewater Branch stream


Most stream valleys develop through gully erosion caused when surface water carries sediments off the top of the group. Steepheads are formed differently. Ground water leaks through porous sand onto a sloping surface. It removes sand from the bottom of the slope, causing the sand above to slump down and be carried away by the stream. Steephead ravines are continuously lengthened as the seeping water erodes them from the bottom up.

Whitewater branch stream
Spring feeding the Whitewater Branch


The ravines are a part of an upland hardwood forest community. The original vegetation that would have been found prior to the development of Ravine Gardens would have included Southern magnolia, pignut hickory, sweetgum, flowering dogwood, Eastern redbud, live oaks and native azaleas.

Today the vegetation is a mix of native species and ornamentals, primarily azaleas, introduced during the 1930s development of the gardens.

Sand and water wind through greed trees.
Whitewater Branch Stream