Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park

Submitted by mag on

Keystone Heights Florida Gold Head Branch is one of the first state parks in Florida and was built by the CCC and dedicated in 1939... Mike Roess is part of the name, since he is the generous soul who donated the land, however most people simply call it Gold Head Branch (or simply GHB) which is …. It’s a beautiful park, as long as you understand that the lakes around which it was built have mostly dried up as the Florida aquifer drops due to development and draught. It’s amazing how much water enhances the beauty of a lake. There are still some awesome lake views – especially from the cabins, many of which were constructed by the CCC and still show off the craftsmanship of the artisans who directed the effort. The stone fireplaces are quite beautiful and all the cabins (even the modern ones) are in a shady grove with screen porches overlooking Little Lake Johnson (very little at this point, alas). The picnic area is huge and also shows the beautiful artwork of the CCC construction era. If you walk around the current recreation building, down to the lake, you will come upon the original CCC lodge with moss covered shake roof and intricate stone work, looking right at home in the embrace of Spanish moss-shrouded oaks - nostalgic reminders of a simpler and more reflective era. Both these sites are located at spots on high ground where the lake drops sharply, so the diminishing lake level is not so noticeable – just a broader and steeper sandy beach. But at other overlooks, the chain of lakes is shallow with gradually sloping shores, so there are vast vistas of marsh that were once expanses of crystal clear water. The centerpiece of the park is the awesome ravine where two springs bubble up – the source of these crystal waters – cool clear water direct from the wondrous and endangered Florida Aquifer. Over the eons these tiny innocent springs have created a crevasse in the plain hundreds of feet deep and thousands of feet wide. You climb down a long stairway with many switchbacks to reach the stream and then follow a trail through a dense fern and oak forest (a hardwood hammock) to the delightful gurgling springs. It is lovely, cool and quiet, especially in the evenings. On full moons the park ranger leads moonlight hikes. For the cycler, the park is a joy with 6 miles of smooth, slightly rolling, paved roads and, (at least when we were there) almost no traffic. There are also 5 miles of hiking trails, but you are not allowed to take a bike on these trails. There are plenty of places to leave your bike locked while enjoying the sandy trails on foot. In addition (here is a secret you won’t find anywhere else) on a bike you can use the parks south entrance. This road does not show on the park map, and the only sign says “service area and sign shop only” but if you pedal bravely on, you will come to a gate operated by a key pad for park service vehicles. Just to the right is a pedestrian gate that you can walk your bike through. (Note that if you come in this way, and are not camping in the park, you are expected to put $2 per person in the honor envelope and slide it in the slot, keeping the receipt as proof of payment. In the islands, where you pay to moor your boat in a park, these slotted boxes which are often on a floating on a boat or raft, are known affectionately as the “Iron Ranger”.) If you continue on this road it become Country Road 352 – you are in “the REAL Florida” with plenty of junkyard dogs and if you risk peering through the tangled yards you will be rewarded with glimpses of Gator Bone Lake in background. This gate will be important in the Loopers Guide section.


Tent with Vehicle
Hot Water
State Park