Gold Head Branch State Park: Discovering Old Florida

Lisa Fritscher December 13, 2010 No Comments

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Gold Head Branch State Park

Welcome to Gold Head Branch State Park

Located in Keystone Heights, Florida, a small town south of Jacksonville, Gold Head Branch State Park is a throwback to a simpler time. We stopped by on an RV trip from Williamsburg, Virginia to Orlando, Florida. We were looking for an inexpensive campsite, but discovered so much more.

History of the Park

Civilian Conservation Corps Florida

Gold Head Branch was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s

Gold Head Branch State Park is one of Florida’s oldest state parks. It was carved into the sand hills in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was developed during the Great Depression to put young men to work developing the country’s natural resources. Gold Head Branch was officially dedicated in 1939, and most of the original buildings remain today.

Moss Man

Moss Man Legend Florida

See if you can spot Moss Man

Moss Man is a Central Florida urban legend. According to an article in the Lakeland Ledger, the story begins with an Air Force pilot who was training at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Bay Florida. During a flight over the Withlacoochee Forest, the plane crashed in a blazing fireball. The pilot survived by rolling in the moss to extinguish the flames, melting moss into his skin in the process. Although he lived, he became something other than human, driven by an unbridled rage. Supposedly he stalks the campgrounds and state parks throughout Florida.

Although the legend is a bit far-fetched, it does make a fascinating campfire tale. Meanwhile, the ranger staff at Gold Head Branch State Park celebrates a kinder, gentler version of Moss Man. His likeness can be seen throughout the park, and you can pick up a less gory version of his tale free of charge at the ranger station.

Exploring the Park

Gold Head Branch State Park Ravine

The Ravine hosts an almost primeval world

Although much of Gold Head Branch State Park has been preserved in its original 1930s state, the flora and fauna continue to evolve and expand. Throughout the park are markers and plaques that describe the natural changes that have occurred over the years. One of the most interesting spots is the Ravine.

Known as the central ridge, this area of Florida consists of a series of hills and dunes formed over millennia by the ebb and flow of water. Today the Gold Head Branch State Park Ravine is roughly six stories deep with a river fed by rainfall running through it. You can access the Ravine Overlook near the ranger station at the front of the park, but to be truly immersed in Florida’s natural wonders, look for the Ravine Stairway a bit further down the main park road.

Gold Head Branch State Park Stairway

It’s worth descending the steep concrete stairway

The concrete stairway is quite steep, so make sure you’re securely holding on to smaller children. Take your time going down, especially if the stairs are wet from rain. Once you reach the bottom, you will be immersed in an almost primeval world far removed from the blacktop and steel of Florida’s better-known tourist attractions. The full hiking loop is two miles, but the shorter Fern Loop offers plenty of photo opportunities. There is parking at the top of the stairway.

Kids Activities

Like all state parks, the activity schedule at Gold Head Branch varies by day and by season, with the most activities taking place on summer and holiday weekends. Even during the off-season, though, there are sure to be a few things that your kids are invited to join. Look for arts and crafts, writing tasks and other immersive activities.

Campfire Programs

Gold Head Branch State Park Camping

Campfire programs are fun for the entire family

Campfire programs are held most weekends throughout the year. Join with park rangers at the Campfire Circle to share myths and legends, creepy ghost stories, or tales of previous camping trips. The programs are laid back and participatory, with everyone encouraged to share a story or song. Although geared toward children, the programs are fun for adults as well. Bring a lawn chair or blanket–although the rangers provide a blanket or two, there may not be enough room for a large group.

Where to Stay

Gold Head Branch State Park Cabins

A variety of cabins offer rustic comfort

The park has 74 campsites throughout three campgrounds that can accommodate tents or RVs up to 65 feet long. All sites have water hookups and barbecue grills, and all but a few offer electric hookups as well. There are no sewer hookups, but dump stations are easy to access. Two sites and the bath house closest to them are ADA accessible.

Gold Head Branch also offers a variety of cabins for those who prefer not to camp. The nine Rustic cabins were built by the CCC. These cabins offer wood-burning fireplaces, electric heating and cooling, flush toilets, showers or bathtubs and fully-equipped kitchens. The newer Block cabins are similarly equipped, but do not have fireplaces. Two ADA accessible cabins have gas fireplaces along with central heat and air.

What’s Nearby

Although the park offers plenty of entertainment for a back-to-nature vacation, it is also close to the town of Keystone Heights, where you will find grocery stores, restaurants and a quaint downtown shopping district. Further afield are the county seat of Green Cove Springs and the city of Jacksonville, both easily accessible as a day trip.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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