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While Florida is known for its pristine beaches and coastline, nature enthusiasts that dig a bit deeper will discover that the Sunshine State also boasts a unique natural wonder filled with the untouched wilderness that spans 20,000 acres of diverse ecosystems, home to roaming wild horses and bison.
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Paynes Prairie Preserve is so special that it has been designated as one of the 18 Florida National Natural Landmarks. A big, open prairie with beautiful vistas, Paynes Prairie is filled with miles of natural landscapes along its forest trails, scenic lake areas, and wetlands that stretch to the horizon.
Located just a short drive from Gainesville in Micanopy, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is geologically and historically unique. It was the first state preserve in 1971, famous for its rich array of habitats and chance to observe alligators, bison, horses and nearly 300 species of birds that call this place home.
Not only that, but the park’s history dates back to 10,000 B.C. with the inclusion of an Indian occupation many centuries ago. Especially in Florida’s cooler months, this area is ideal for a day of horseback riding and hiking through the scenic forest.
There are eight trails, including a 16 mile long paved Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail for bikers. Perfect for an overnight adventure under the stars, the park’s full-facility campsites are a great way to get off the grid for a few days.
You can access the Paynes Prairie on either the northern or southern end, both offering distinctly different experiences. Tons of wildlife can be found at the northern end of the park at the famous La Chua Trail, where a boardwalk snakes past the Alachua Sink filled with alligators piled in a heap in the marshy areas.
Those looking for a more leisurely experience might want to hike the 2.5-mile shady loop at Bolen Bluff Trail, where you’ll find various wildlife viewing platforms at the park’s southern end.
If you’d like to explore the Paynes Prairie from a safe distance, climb to the top of the 50-foot-high observation tower near the Wacahoota Trail, where you’ll get an awe-inspiring bird’s-eye view of the natural landscapes.
Nicknamed the “Little Town That Time Forgot”, those who don’t want to camp overnight can stay in nearby Micanopy, one of Florida’s small town gems. Boasting a historic downtown area lined with rustic shops and Old Florida ambiance, it is the oldest inland town in Florida and is the self-proclaimed antique capital of the state.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park:
Address: 100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667
Phone: (352) 466-3397