Gold Head Branch State Park

Gold Head Branch State Park is probably like hundreds of state parks across the United States. Our afternoon there was probably like thousands of other afternoons passed by good friends together in any one of these state parks.

Here are some pictures of ours, memorable to us, and poignant, for one. It was here that she passed many a summer weekend together with her family. But that was long ago, when her parents were both living and she was just a girl.

She planned our daycation afternoon at Gold Head Branch with an eagerness I recognized only after we’d been there a while. At first I didn’t understand why she’d wanted to go to this place, so far from the sea-breezy coast, on a hot July day. We were three moms in three cars with nine kids between us. We drove 70 miles from Atlantic Beach to this state park, south of Middleburg, Florida. When we saw this slender doe as soon as we entered the park my mood changed. It’s always a little magical, spotting a deer in the wild.

Deer sightings are common along Michigan highways; in the nine years I’ve lived at my Florida beach the only deer I’ve seen were those glimpsed during my summer vacations in Michigan. So my daughter and I – the only occupants of our car – gazed at this one for as long as she let us. We stared each other down for about two minutes; then she got bored, and bounded off into the trees.

Down by the small lake about two miles inside the wooded park, my nostalgic friend was beaming, lit from within with her own memories. Nine kids played in the water; it was a carefree summer day. As we sat together on the ordinary dirt-sand beach I listened to her stories and I understood that she was sharing something precious to her. I realized that Gold Head Branch was her Sleepy Hollow (my family vacation place on the shore of Lake Michigan in South Haven)… and if you are lucky enough to have childhood memories that make you smile the way she did that day, then you’re lucky enough.

It was easy to imagine Gold Head Branch being the same 70 years ago as it is, today. It’s a simple park; unharmed acres of trees, trails, lake, ravine, streams. Cabins and canoes. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the cabins rent for $60.50 – $99.00 ( two are ADA accesible) and have been updated, but are modest structures in keeping with their origins. Perfect for people who love the outdoors, but not camping (hello, Jeannie).

The day was one of pure kid fun: swimming; chasing turtles; canoeing; hiking a wooded trail; eating a picnic lunch; climbing down the ravine and tromping in the cold, clear, shallow stream as it threaded its way through the green woods near dusk.

It was so easy to imagine other generations of kids, decades ago, doing the same thing. Or my friend and her family, making the memories that filled her eyes with happy tears, on this afternoon.

(because the day had such a nostalgic quality to it, i processed several shots in sepia tones)

The beauty of friendship is the sharing of our stories. And now that my kids and I have some Gold Head Branch memories of our own, I’m passing them on…to you.

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Don’t forget to share your summer memories or plans on the previous post ‘My Midsummer Giveaway’ in order to be part of the “drawing” for the leather-and-pearl bracelet of your choice on Saturday, August 1.


  1. Joan says:

    Jeannie, I definitely think I need to go to that park. When I was little, we played along the Bush River at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. Lots of droopy, soft willow trees, fish, blue crabs, and deer peeking between the trees. If you sat super still, the ducks would come up and see what you were eating. My dog Inky would sit as patiently as the ducks and wait to see if she could catch one. But she never did. I loved the smell of the trees and the mud and how silky the river bottom felt between my toes. Yep, I am going to Gold Head…

  2. queenmari says:

    this was beautiful to read. oh how i am eager for our summer vacation to arrive. i loved hearing about your time here with friends.


  3. Fearless Nester says:

    Love the sepia tone photos and the lovely way you set the scene for us to show your friend's affinity for this place.

  4. Alyson & Ford says:

    We have been to this park and loved walking in the little stream too! We haven't been back in ages…. loved your writing and pictures.
    If you can stand driving a little farther (or is that further?), head down the coast and in a little west to DeLeon Springs Park; it even has a restaurant where you cook your own (all you can eat) pancakes in front of you, at your table. Great for kids. A spring swimming hole and boat rides. Almost Old Florida heaven.

    Alyzabeth's Mommy for Ten Months!

  5. Cari says:

    Jeannie, you really are quite the blogger! I'm impressed! Can't wait to hear about more of your trips around Florida, seeing as I'm one of those "Florida girls" now. 🙂 And your bracelet giveaway is genius – can't wait for one of us to get a job so I can pick up some Nicholas Landon jewelry myself:)

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