Located in North Central Florida, this sprawling 2300 acres is made for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers! Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park was established in 1935 and is one of Florida’s first and oldest state parks. A true testament to the dedication and hard work of conservationists, this Park was set up under an initiative by President Roosevelt to create new jobs during the Great Depression. Today it stands as a monument to the importance of nature and preserving the environment.
The Park’s beauty is unmatched at times. One of the last abodes for longleaf pines, a ravine runs through the middle of the park, allowing for a truly wonderful hiking experience. In fact, the Park is recognized by the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. The wildlife at the park is also quite thriving. Many songbirds use the Park as a temporary home during migration. Rabbits and deer run through the trees as well.
As far as the recreational activities go, the Park has a significant bit of fun to offer. Horseback riding, swimming, and fishing are only some of the options available. The Park is also used as a venue for weddings, reunions, or gatherings. This Park has enough to keep you and your family occupied for a true RV wildlife getaway.
Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is located on State Road 21, six miles north of Keystone Heights and midway between Gainesville and Jacksonville in northeast Florida. If coming from Orlando, it’s a two and a half hour drive on the Florida Turnpike, which leads directly to the Park. The roads leading to the park are wide and can easily accommodate RVs and motorhomes. Gravel and paved roads inside the park lead to the many amenities and facilities making for a comfortable and convenient camping holiday.
Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park has two campgrounds that can accommodate RV camping as well as tent and group campsites. The park has a total of 39 RV or tent sites, 26 tent only sites and 16 cabins for a total of 81 campsites for visitors to choose from.
The Lake View Camping area overlooks the Little Lake Johnson and Big Lake Johnson providing amazing lakeside views of this picturesque setting. The campgrounds has spacious sites that offer decent privacy and are situated close to washrooms, playgrounds and public phones. Campsites offer 30/50-amp electric and water hook-ups and are pet-friendly. Picnic tables and firepits are also available on each campsite.
The Sandhill campground is located further away from the lake and offers a more wooded setting for a 'more with nature' camping experience. The 18 campsites offer plenty of privacy and shade and are suitable for smaller RVs and motorhomes. The campsites offer 30-amp electric and water hook-ups with a picnic table and fire ring available at each campsite. Pets are allowed and their are two playgrounds available on-site as well as washrooms and shower facilities.
The only lake where visitors are permitted to fish is Little Lake Johnson, where anglers are free to fish along the shore or by using a canoe or small sized non-motorized boat. Anglers try their luck at catching panfish, catfish or bass. There is a possibility that certain restrictions may apply as to the number of catch and methods that are used, so you should check with the Florida Wildlife Commission before planning your fishing trip.
Similar to fishing, the Park only allows canoeing or paddling on Little Lake Johnson. Visitors are allowed to bring their own kayak or canoes, but you should know that it’s a long stretch to carry something heavy all the way from the parking lot. It's easier to rent one of the eight canoes available on the beach. You can contact the park’s front office to rent them at nominal prices, and get the keys, paddles, and lifejackets that you should wear at all times when you’re on the water. So hop into a canoe and row out into the middle of the lake to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, the diverse wildlife and a certain serenity that only nature can offer.
Being part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, it’s no surprise that Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park has multiple hiking and nature trails in its vicinity. 5.4 miles of the Scenic Trail run through the Park and allows for some of the most breathtaking views available in the Sunshine State. The trail distances range from about one mile for beginner to more than 5 miles for the more experienced hiker. Be one with nature along some of the most scenic hiking trails available in the country.
The horseback riding experience at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is truly unique! Equestrian aficionados can enjoy a seven-mile ride through beautiful longleaf pine and oak forest, leading to a majestic view of Little Lake Johnson. This is a must-try activity when you’re at the park, as you’re connected to nature and wildlife in a very different manner. However, you need to bring your own horse as there are no horses available to hire. Also, not all hiking trails are open to horse riding. You should follow the designated trail at all times to avoid injuring yourself and your horse. It is advised that you contact the Park’s front office and consult with them before you plan your trip. This would avoid any uncomfortable situations both for you and your beloved horse.
The Park is not a designated portion of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail without reason. Due to the different habitats, there is some amazing bird watching experiences available. During spring and fall, many different birds use the Park as a stop on their migration routes. Songbirds such as warblers and thrushes, the Bachman’s sparrow, American kestrel, Northern Harrier, and Swallow-Tailed Kite, all make appearances at different places. The Park is the hunting ground of the Eastern Screech Owl, and the Great Horned Owl as well as the famous bald eagle. Wherever you’re walking in the Park, you’re bound to come across one of these majestic birds at some point or another.
The park is lucky enough to boast an absence of light pollution, making it an ideal location for stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts. For the best views, you should go to either the ball field in the picnic area or the boat ramp. Lucky for those staying overnight, day visitors are required to leave at sundown, meaning there’s more space for you and allows for a more intimate experience.