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Gold Head Branch State Park
Reported: April 2023
Located along SR 21 north of Keystone Heights, Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is one of Florida's oldest State Parks. The land was donated by Martin J. ("Mike") Roess and the park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's - many original New Deal era structures remain. The park is situated on 2300+ acres with rolling sandhills and long leaf pine along Florida's north central ridge. Biking is permitted on the 3-mile paved park road, trails are hiking only. An unexpected highlight was the scenic ravine, carved out by spring-fed Gold Head Branch and running 1.5 miles through the park. State park fee applies. Gold Head Branch State Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Map link and photos below.)
Map link... Gold Head Branch State Park
Location: Clay County (See map)
End Points: 6239 SR 21, Keystone Heights FL
Mileage: 3 miles of park roads, hiking trails including 5 miles of Florida Trail
Surface: Asphalt, stone, grass
Support and Advocacy:
Gold Head Associates
Bike Shops/Rentals: N/A
Gold Head Branch State Park has parking, restrooms, picnicking with pavilions and grills, a playground, and several lakes. Activities include biking, hiking, equestrian riding; swimming, paddling (rentals available), fishing, birdwatching and wildlife viewing. The park is popular for camping - 73 fully-equipped campsites with water and electricity accommodating RVs, camping trailers and tents, plus group and primitive tent camping. A plus are the 16 vacation cabins, ranging from original 1930's stone and log cabins to new, fully-equipped lakeside cabins. Wildlife include deer, gopher tortoises, Sherman's fox squirrel, snakes, fox, eagles, hawks, turkeys and many other songbirds and waterbirds.
The paved park road runs 3 miles from the park entrance to the E-bird hotspot (186 species observed). Shared by bicycles, hikers and motor vehicles, the road links to all park facilities. Mostly used by campers, this an easy, scenic ride with mixed sun and shade depending on time of day. More biking is on spurs leading to campgrounds and picnicking. A large parking area is located at the main picnic area at Pebble Lake - a scenic spot. For a longer ride, a paved trail starting at the park entrance runs 6 miles south along SR 21 to the Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail at Keystone Heights.
Note: While vehicles on the park road are generally slow-moving, do stay watchful as there can be RVs and trailers being towed here.
Hiking, ranging from easy to experienced, is on 3 park trails and 5 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The Ravine Stairway is off the main road, with a small paved parking area. There are 81 steps down - and then back up. Good advice we received on the way up was to remember to breath and go slow. Winding down into the ravine displays the changing terrain, from sunny sandhill to shady ravine habitat.
Palatka Area Overview
- Palatka to St. Augustine State Trail
- Palatka to Lake Butler State Trail
- Palatka Urban Trail
- Ravine Gardens State Park
North FL Region - More trails plus Regional Overview map
Florida State Parks - Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
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