To many, the temple's name is synonymous with the temple's famous 'Zen garden', the karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden, thought to have been built in the late 15th century. The garden consists of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders, which are placed so that, when looking at the garden from any angle (other than from above) only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. It is traditionally said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder.
While the zen garden is the best-known garden of Ryōan-ji, the temple also has a water garden; the Kyoyochi Pond, built in the 12th century as part of the Fujiwara estate. Cherry trees have recently been planted northwest of the pond.