Spring is in full swing and our family’s favorite place to be is the great outdoors. With 175 official state parks throughout Florida, there’s plenty to choose from to commune with nature. This past month, we chose one of the OGs – Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park.
In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933 as part of the New Deal programs. Designed as a way to combat unemployment and create much needed jobs for Americans, while also sheltering precious environmental areas, the CCC began creating state and national parks throughout the country. In 1935, hundreds of CCC youth and skilled craftsmen began work on Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park.
Located in Keystone Heights, about 30 minutes northeast of Gainesville, the park is named after the man who graciously donated the land for preservation. As one of the first eight state parks in Florida, the CCC cleared roads and campsites and gave access to a slice of natural Florida to visitors seeking the
Throughout the New Deal era, the CCC would go on to construct buildings and trails throughout 800 parks nationwide and plant more than three billion trees. Nearly 90 years later, the roughly 2400-acre Gold Head Branch State Park is still home to stunning landscapes and many of the original CCC built structures including the picnic pavilion and several cabins available for rental.
Like many state parks, this one is also pet-friendly. We decided to bring along our newest rescue, BamBam, for his first big family adventure and a day of hiking and exploration. If you plan to bring a leashed pet, do plan ahead with plenty of water for your best bud and keep in mind that not all areas (including cabin areas) are permitted for furry ones. However, pets are allowed to join you at your campsite.
With Avery in tow, the two of them delighted in roaming the trails. BamBam, a goofy, muttly mix of some sort of terrier mixed with a lab (maybe?), lives up to his name and BAMS his way through life. He took great joy in clumsily splashing through the cool creek, known as the Gold Head Branch, that runs through the center of the park from Little Lake Johnson. Together they spied tiny fish in the stream and hunted down rocks for her ever-growing collection.
The park offers access via several trails to a variety of Florida landscapes. You have your pick of difficulty and length ranging from a quick 0.2-mile jaunt on a wooden boardwalk to the more strenuous Ridge Trail that runs the length of the park. Many trails also cross or run along the famed Florida Trail, which runs 1,500 miles, from Big Cypress National Preserve to Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach, and is one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the US. One end of the park is home to the Trail Ridge Province, where you can climb greater elevations, while the opposite end slopes down and sinkholes are common.
We took a sandy hike to the overlook of Deer Lake before heading back to the overlook of the ravine. The two areas are in drastic contrast, with the ravine sloping down into more of a rainforest-esque scenery. Just around the corner, the Ravine Stairway allows you to make your way down into the landscape and view from a new perspective.
If hiking isn’t your thing, both of these areas are accessible by car with parking close by. Do keep in mind, however, that the second option involves plenty of steps, which may not be suitable for everyone.
Further into the park, near a trio of lakes, are 73 camping sites, plenty of picnic areas, swimming areas, cabins and a playground. Canoes and kayaks are available for rental or you can launch your own. This area also offers plenty of freshwater fishing spots.
Nearby is the Loblolly Loop, a one-mile loop trail through the woods that was a ton of fun to hike. It crosses over the Gold Head Branch several times and offers access to different points of the stream. After a heavy rain, parts of the trail may be underwater so dress accordingly. We had a great time working together to cross over the water, cracking up while BamBam gleefully divebombed the muddy water.
Together, our family kicked off our spring with a new adventure. At Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park, you’ll be sure to find an adventure of your own to suit every member of your fam – even the four-legged ones!
Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
6239 State Road 21, Keystone Heights 32656
Admission: $5 per vehicle
Open daily from 8 a.m. – sundown
Camping and Cabins: Reserve.FloridaStateParks.org