Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park

6239 State Road 21

One of Florida's first state parks, the park was developed on a 600-acre site by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s. The extraordinary craftsmanship of the CCC is still evident today.

Gold Head is located on rolling sandhills on the North Central Ridge of Florida with one of the few remaining examples of an old growth stand of longleaf pines. A steep head ravine with seepage springs forms Gold Head Branch and bisects the park. Marshes, lakes and scrub provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.

Visitors to the park can enjoy hiking and wildlife viewing along the park's nature trails and a 5.44-mile stretch of the Florida National Scenic Trail.

For aquatic recreation, visitors can swim or fish in Little Lake Johnson, or spend a lazy afternoon canoeing. A large picnic area, with tables and grills, pavilions and a playground, is available for visitors to enjoy. Nestled under the trees are three campgrounds providing water and electricity. Primitive campsites for small or large groups are available as are fully equipped lakefront vacation cabins, some of which were built by the CCC.


Bicyclists are welcome to enjoy over three miles of paved park road throughout the park. There are no off-road biking trails, however. The main entrance of Gold Head on State Road 21 has a paved, six mile connector trail that leads to the Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail. Please remember to watch out for traffic at road crossings and obey all traffic signals. Please avoid theft and do not leave your bicycle unattended in the park.  Helmets are highly recommended for all cyclists and Florida law requires helmets for cyclists age 16 and under.

The park offers many birding opportunities in a variety of habitats. During the spring and fall migrations, the lush hardwood forest of the ravine attracts many migrating warblers, thrushes, and other songbirds. You can start at the ravine stairway and take the Fern Loop Trail or the Ridge Trail. Alternatively, you can start at the Mill Site parking lot and take the Loblolly Loop Trail. Take the Florida National Scenic Trail through the longleaf pine forest which features Bachman's sparrow, and other Sandhill wildlife. In the winter, many migrating bird species can be observed. Drive slowly along the main park drive and you may see wild turkey, bobwhite quail or raptors such as the American kestrel. Wading birds can be viewed around the park's lake edges, as well as bald eagles, which have nested in the park for many years. Birds soaring around the lakes and marsh include raptors such as the Northern Harrier and the Swallow-Tailed Kite. In the winter, waterfowl frequents Little Lake Johnson. Overnight visitors can listen for the eerie call of the Eastern Screech Owl, or the hoot of the Great Horned Owl. On summer nights, the Chuck-Will’s-Widow’s distinctive call can be heard. Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is a designated portion of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail.

Sixteen vacation cabins overlook scenic Little Lake Johnson. Linens and towels are provided at the beginning of your stay. For an extended stay, please bring extra towels. We do not provide beach towels. All cabins include air conditioning and heating units, a picnic table, a ground grill and fully equipped kitchen. Each kitchen includes a refrigerator/freezer, range, and basic cooking and eating utensils. Firewood and ice are available for a donation to the park's Citizen's Support Organizations at the Ranger Station. For our guests' relaxation, televisions, phones, and internet are not provided.

Historic Cabins (Cabins 101 - 109)

Nine cabins were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Each cabin accommodates up to four people. The cabins have a combined living room/bedroom, a separate bathroom, a separate fully equipped kitchen, and a screened porch. There is a full size bed that sleeps two people and a futon/couch that will sleep two people. Bathrooms are furnished with flush toilets and hot water showers. Two CCC cabins (Numbers 101 and 109) are equipped with standard size bathtubs with showers. If you would like one of these cabins, please specify this when making reservations. In addition to a/c and heat, there are ceiling fans and wood burning fireplaces. The fireplaces are available for use between October 1st and April 30th. There is a fire ring/grill outside. $65 per night, plus tax.

Block Cabins (Cabins 110 - 114)

Five block cabins were built in the 1950s and they each accommodate up to six people. The cabins have a separate bedroom, a living room/dining room, a bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen, and a screened porch. The bedroom has a full size bed that sleeps two, and the living room has a bunk bed and one futon/couch that each sleeps two people. The bathroom has a standard size bathtub and shower. These cabins have central heating and cooling, but they do not have fireplaces. There is a fire ring/grill outside. $75 per night, plus tax.

Modern Cabins (Cabins 115 - 116)

Two fully ADA-accessible cabins were built in the 2000s and they each accommodate up to six people. These spacious cabins have a living room/dining room, bathroom, two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a screened porch. Cabins include a full size bed in the master bedroom, two twin beds in the second bedroom and a pull-out couch in the living room. These cabins have central heating and cooling, ceiling fans and a gas fireplace. $100 per night, plus tax.

Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book Online or call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or TDD (888) 433-0287. Pets are not permitted in cabins.
There is a minimum two nights stay in cabins on weekends and holidays, either Friday and Saturday night, or Saturday and Sunday nights. A single Friday or Saturday night may be reserved only if the following Saturday or Sunday night is already reserved.

Gold Head has three campground loops, Sandhill, Turkey Oak, and Lakeview. The park's 73 campsites accommodate tents, trailers, and motorized campers. Each site includes a picnic table, fire ring/grill and potable water. A centralized dump station is available for use. 20 and 30 amp electrical service is available at all campsites except for sites 57 and 60-67 in the Lakeview campground loop. Sites 16-18, 58, and 59 feature 50 amp service in addition to 20 and 30 amp service. Each campground has its own bathhouse facility with hot showers. The Lakeview bathhouse is fully accessible and sites 58 and 59 are the closest, with paved sidewalks leading from the sites directly to the bathhouse. Well-behaved domestic pets are welcome in the campgrounds but are not allowed inside the bathhouses. View our parks pet policy for more information. A coin-operated washer and dryer are available at the Sandhill and Lakeview bathhouses.

Each site may have up to two vehicles, two tents, and 8 people. A site with a recreational vehicle may have up to one tent.
Reservations: reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book online or call (800) 326-3521 or TDD (888) 433-0287. Visit the ReserveAmerica page for additional information such as RV lengths.

Primitive Camping
Two primitive campsites are located within the southern end of the park just off the Florida National Scenic Trail. These sites include a picnic table, fire ring and a common pavilion. There is no water or electricity in the primitive campground. Each site accommodates up to six people.

The primitive camping area is a hike-in site, inaccessible by vehicles.
The hike is approximately three-quarters of a mile from the parking area to the primitive campsites.
Campers are required to pack in all supplies and pack out all trash.
Collecting firewood is prohibited, but you can obtain firewood for a donation to the park's Citizen Support Organization at the Ranger Station.
Pets are prohibited in the primitive camping area.
Reservations are recommended and may be made by contacting the Ranger Station at 352-473-4701 during business hours, Monday through Thursday.

Primitive Group Camping
Three primitive group campsites are available for organized youth and adult groups. An organized group is six or more people camping together who are members of, or sponsored by, a recognized community organization, such as a church, benevolent society, or civic service club.

Each of the three sites has a water spigot, and shares access to an outside cold shower and a restroom with sinks and flushing toilets. Electricity is not available. Picnic tables and a ground fire ring are provided. Only one fire is permitted per site. Each group site will accommodate a maximum of 25 people. Group campsites are equipped for tent camping and check-out time is 1 p.m.
Reservations are recommended and may be made by contacting the Ranger Station at 352-473-4701 during business hours, Monday through Thursday. Priority is given to organized youth groups with chaperones and they may reserve a site up to 11 months in advance. Adult groups may reserve a site up to 30 days in advance. Camping fees are $5 per night per adult, and $1 per night per youth (under 18).

Enjoy the beauty of Little Lake Johnson by canoe or kayak. There are eight canoes available for rent, seven days a week, starting at 8 a.m. and ending two hours before sundown. Visit the Ranger Station to pick up the paddles, life jacket and the keys to unlock the canoes which are already at the beach. There are no kayaks available for rent. You are welcome to bring your own canoe or kayak, however it is a long walk down the hill from the parking area to the lake.

Rental Rates

$4 per hour
$10 per half day (4 hours)
$20 per day (8 hours)

Fishing is permitted at Little Lake Johnson. The present lake level sustains a population of pan fish, catfish and bass but the lake depth is not what it used to be, so large bass are unlikely. You may fish from the shore, from a canoe, or other small non-motorized boat. There is no way to launch a large boat at this time due to the low water levels. Fishing is not allowed in the swimming area. Fishing is prohibited in Sheeler Lake, Deer Lake, and Pebble Lake.

All fishing within the park must conform to regulations concerning size, number, method of capture and season.  A fishing license may be required.  More information is available at the Florida Wildlife Commission’s Fishing in Florida.

Explore the park in a new and challenging way. Experienced Geocachers have requested permission to hide caches containing trinkets, treasures, or information in various places around the park.  Please check the Geocaching website for the most current and up-to-date information and clues to locate these caches.

Operation Recreation GeoTour

Gold Head has multiple hiking and nature trails. The Ridge Trail (1.1 miles) meanders along the upper ridge of the Ravine between the stairway and the Mill Site. From the ridge, hikers can see the contrasts between the Sandhill and the Ravine natural communities.

The Loblolly Loop (1 mile) begins and ends at the Mill Site and winds past the largest loblolly pine trees in the park. The Fern Loop (0.8 miles) nature trail begins at the bottom of the Ravine stairway and passes by the headsprings of Gold Head Branch.
A nature trail (0.1 miles) leads from the roadside to Sheeler Lake, one of the oldest lakes in Florida.
The Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) passes through 5.4 miles of the park and connects to other public lands. Visit the Florida Trail Association for more information on the FNST.

Main picnic area

The large picnic area overlooks Little Lake Johnson as well as Pebble Lake, and features ample parking spaces, potable water, accessible restroom facilities, 8 sheltered picnic pavilions, stone picnic tables, a playground, and shaded areas. Every pavilion has a charcoal grill, and there are additional grills scattered throughout the picnic area.
Ravine overlook

The ravine overlook area has a single picnic table nestled in the shade. There are no restroom facilities, water, or grills at this location.
Equestrian trailhead

Picnic tables are available to equestrian trail users at the trailhead. There are no restroom facilities, water, or grills at the equestrian trailhead. Approximately 3.5 miles from the trailhead there is a rest station with a hitching post and picnic table.

Star Gazing
Overnight campers can take advantage of the park's absence of light pollution to view the night sky. To take advantage of this star gazing opportunity, visit the boat ramp or the ball field in the picnic area. For the best stargazing experience, allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness. To avoid compromising your night vision use a red lens over your light. Unfortunately, day visitors must leave the park at sundown. Annual pass holders may apply for an after-hours permit directly from the Ranger Station.

Swimming is popular during the warmer months in Little Lake Johnson. This fresh water lake is fed from Gold Head Branch which travels through the Ravine and eventually makes its way to the lake. There is a large, sandy beach downhill from the picnic area.

The swimming area is located within easy walking distance from the cabins but is a longer walk from the campgrounds. Please carefully watch children and non-swimmers because no lifeguard is on duty. Pets are not allowed on the beach or in the swimming area. Swimming is allowed in the designated swimming area only.
There is a restroom facility near the swimming area but it does not have electricity or showers.
The lake is presently open for swimming. Contact the park for more information about present water levels (352) 473-4701.

Wildlife Viewing
In addition to great birding opportunities, Gold Head offers many wildlife viewing opportunities.

Some of the commonly seen mammals are gray squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and white-tailed deer. Sherman’s Fox Squirrel is a large squirrel with a long, bushy tail and can occasionally be seen along the road and trails. The large, sandy mounds of the Southeastern Pocket Gopher are visible throughout the park, although the actual gopher is rarely seen.

Common reptiles include the threatened Gopher Tortoise, Southern Fence Lizard, Six-Lined Racerunner, and Green Anole, as well as many kinds of non-venomous snakes.
Please remember to keep a respectful distance to avoid disturbing the wildlife.


Equestrian Trail
A seven-mile trail ride through the longleaf pine forest and scrub oak forest takes the horse enthusiast to a picnic area overlooking Big Lake Johnson. Visitors must first stop at the Ranger Station to pay the admission fee and receive the combination to the locked gate at the equestrian trailhead. This trail is rated intermediate because of the soft sand on the trail. Picnic tables are available at the parking area. For a shorter trail ride, there is an alternate path that makes the ride approximately five miles instead of seven. Equestrian trail users are not permitted to take their horses on the Florida National Scenic Trail or other designated park trails.

All horse riders are required to have proof of negative Coggins on their person or in their saddlebag.
Visitors must bring their own horse and riding accessories. There is no horse rental at the state park.

Well-behaved domestic pets are welcome in most areas of the park, including the picnic area, the hiking trails, and the full-facility campgrounds. They must be kept on a handheld leash that is six feet or shorter. Pet owners are required to pick up after their pets and properly dispose of their droppings. Pets are not permitted inside of any buildings, the cabins and cabin area, the playground, the primitive group camping area, the swimming area, the beach, and the lake.

Picnic Pavilion
Are you looking for a gathering place? The park has a variety of sheltered picnic pavilions in the picnic area. All pavilions have picnic tables and charcoal grills for cooking. The pavilions are available on a first come, first served basis or they can be reserved in advance. Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance and payment is due 10 days after the reservation is made. To make a reservation, call the ranger station office during business hours, Monday through Thursday. Alcohol consumption is not permitted in the pavilions or picnic area. The picnic area closes at sundown.

Small Pavilions

All small pavilions have 6 picnic tables and cost $35 plus tax to reserve, and include pavilions 15*, 16*, 48, 49, 50 and 51.

*Pavilion 16 is next to the playground and is ADA-accessible.
*Pavilion 15 only has 2 picnic tables but it has a large barbecue pit.

Medium Pavilions

Pavilion 18 is a historic CCC structure and has 6 picnic tables, lights and electricity, a bench, two charcoal grills, and restroom facilities.
The pavilion overlooks scenic Pebble Lake and costs $45 plus tax to reserve.

Large Pavilions

Pavilion 32 is a historic CCC structure and has 15 picnic tables, lights, electricity, two charcoal grills and accommodates up to 100 people.
The pavilion costs $70 plus tax to reserve.

The main picnic area has a children's playground under the shade of hardwood trees. The playground has a tower, bridge, slide, swings, ladder, and ramp. Please do not leave children unsupervised. Pets are not permitted in the playground.