Experiences & Amenities
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 Mike Roess at 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 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 can be heard singing all summer long. In the winter, many other sparrows are possible. All year round, if you drive slowly along the main park road you might see wild turkey, bobwhite quail, or raptors like the American kestrel. Around the park's many lakes you might see wading birds, as well as the bald eagle, which has nested in the park every year for many years. Other birds soaring around the lakes and marsh include other raptors such as the northern harrier and the swallow-tailed kite. In the winter, many ducks frequent Little Lake Johnson. If you’re camping in the park at night, 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 part 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, rocking chairs, 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 can be purchased 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 that will sleep two people. Bathrooms are furnished with flush toilets and hot and cold water showers. Two CCC cabins (Numbers 101 and 109) are equipped with standard size bathtubs. 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. $65.00 per night, plus tax.
Block Cabins (Cabins 110 - 114)
Five block cabins were built in the 1960s and they each accommodate up to six people. The cabins have a separate bedroom, a living 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 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 firering and grill outside. $75.00 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, 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. $100.00 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.
Mike Roess has three full-facility campground loops, Sandhill, Turkey Oak, and Lakeview. The park's 73 campsites accommodate tents, trailers, and motorized campers. Each site includes a picnic table, firering, grill and potable water. 20 and 30 amp electrical service is available at all campsites except for sites 57 and 60-67 in the Lakeview campground loop. 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 is 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.
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 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 picnic 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 purchase firewood at the ranger station. Pets are prohibited in the primitive camping area. Reservations are recommended and may be made by contacting the ranger station office (352-473-4701) during business hours, Monday through Thursday.
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 shared access to water spigots, 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 1:00 p.m.
Reservations are recommended and may be made by contacting the ranger station office during business hours, Monday through Thursday. Priority is given to organized youth groups with chaperones and they may reserve a site up to 60 days in advance. Adult groups may reserve a site up to 30 days in advance. Camping fees are $5.00 per night per adult, and $1.00 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.
- $4 per hour
- $10 per half day (4 hours)
- $20 per day (8 hours)
The large picnic area at Mike Roess can accommodate family reunions of many sizes. There is plenty of parking and multiple facility rental options to choose from. You can rent an outdoor, covered picnic pavilion for as few as 30 people or as many as 100. Additionally, you can rent the enclosed, accessible recreation hall that comes with a kitchen. There are enough tables and chairs to accommodate up to 75 people. The kitchen has a refrigerator, freezer, microwave oven, toaster, coffee maker, stove, oven, and basic cooking utensils. There is central heating and cooling, a serving or buffet counter, ceiling fans, media screen, and a back porch with four picnic tables. To make a reservation, call the ranger station office during business hours, Monday through Thursday (352) 473-4701.
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 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 if people are swimming. Fishing is prohibited in Sheelar 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.
Hiking Nature Trail
Mike Roess 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 view along 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 Sheelar 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.
Meetings and Retreats
The large picnic area at Mike Roess can accommodate meetings and retreats of many sizes. There is plenty of parking and multiple facility rental options to choose from. You can rent an outdoor, covered picnic pavilion for as few as 30 people or as many as 100. Additionally, you can rent the enclosed, accessible recreation hall that comes with a kitchen. There are enough tables and chairs to accommodate up to 75 people. The kitchen has a refrigerator, freezer, microwave oven, toaster, coffee maker, stove, oven, and basic cooking utensils. There is central heating and cooling, a serving or buffet counter, ceiling fans, media screen, and a back porch with four picnic tables. To make a reservation, call the ranger station office during business hours, Monday through Thursday (352) 473-4701. Overnight accommodations are also available.
Main picnic area
The large picnic area looks over Little Lake Johnson as well as Pebble Lake, and features ample parking spaces, potable water, restroom facilities, 8 sheltered picnic pavilions, a playground, and many shady trees. Dozens of stone picnic tables provide opportunities for family recreation. Additionally, the lawn on the hill allows for picnicking on a blanket. Every pavilion has a charcoal grill, and there are additional grills scattered throughout the picnic area.
The ravine overlook area has a single metal picnic table nestled under shady hardwood trees. Just a few feet away is the edge of the ravine. There are no restroom facilities and no water at this picnic area and no grills.
Three picnic tables are available to equestrian trail users at the trailhead. Non-potable water is available for horses only. There are no restroom facilities, no water, and no grills at the equestrian trailhead.
Overnight campers can take advantage of the park's distance from the light pollution of major cities. For open views of the sky, check out the old boat ramp at the dead end of the main park drive. It might take your eyes as long as 15 to 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness, but if you wait, you can see the most of the stars. To keep from resetting this process, use a red light from your head lamp, or cover your flashlight with red cellophane. Unfortunately, day visitors must leave the park at sundown. Annual pass holders may apply for an after-hours permit directly from the park office.
Swimming is popular during the warmer months in Little Lake Johnson. This fresh water lake is fed from a seepage spring that travels through a ravine and eventually makes its way to the lake. There is a large, sandy beach downhill from the large picnic area. Shade and picnic tables are limited near the swimming area but are plentiful uphill.
- 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.
- 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.
Mike Roess features beautiful natural and historic settings for your dream wedding. A large picnic area overlooks Little Lake Johnson and its white sandy beach. Multiple pavilions of different sizes are nearby, plus an indoor recreation building. The facility can accommodate up to 75 people and provides a full kitchen for caterers. The large outdoor pavilion can accommodate up to 100 people. 16 vacation cabins are available for wedding guests. Please call the ranger station for pricing and availability (352) 473-4701.
In addition to great birding opportunities, Mike Roess has many other kinds of 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 regularly seen along the road and trails. The large, sandy mounds of the southeastern pocket gopher are visible all over 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.
Horse 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. Water is available for horses at the equestrian parking site. Picnic tables are also available at the parking area. For a shorter trail ride, there are alternate paths that make the ride approximately five miles instead of seven. Equestrian trail users are not permitted to take their horses on the Florida National Scenic Trail.
- 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.
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s on a 2,000 - acre site, this is one of Florida's first state parks. The extraordinary craftsmanship of the CCC endures today in stone foundations and hand-hewn beams in buildings and cabins.
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 primitive camping area, the swimming area, the beach, and the lake.
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.
All of these 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 3 picnic tables but it has a large barbecue pit.
- Pavilion 18 is a historic CCC structure and has 6 picnic tables, a bench, two charcoal grills, and a men and women's restroom facility.
- The pavilion overlooks scenic Pebble Lake and costs $45 plus tax to reserve.
- Pavilion 32 is a historic CCC structure and has 15 picnic tables and electricity 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, ladder, and ramp. Please do not leave children unsupervised. Pets are not permitted in the playground.