Activities

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Bicycling icon

Paynes Prairie - Bicycling

Cycling is permitted along the park drive and the following trails: Chacala, Bolen Bluff, Jackson's Gap, Cone's Dike and Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park. Most trails require "fat-tired" bikes.

Helmets are highly recommended for all cyclists and Florida law requires helmets for cyclists age 16 and under.

Campfire circles icon

Paynes Prairie - Campfire Circles

For registered campers only.* Every Saturday evening, from November to February. Enjoy ranger-led campfire programs about Paynes Prairie's cultural and natural resources at the new, Friends-funded campfire amphitheater. Topics vary weekly and may include the Timucua Indians, native medicinal plants, pottery of the past, flint knapping and atlatls, wild horses, bison, cattle and tales of Cracker Cowboys, William Bartram's Travels, wildlife of the Preserve, birds of prey, snakes, alligators, and more. Programs begin at dusk. Bring your marshmallows. The amphitheater is located on the edge of Lake Wauburg to the right of the picnic pavilions.

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Paynes Prairie - Camping

The campsite near Lake Wauburg accommodates tents, trailers or RVs. The RV sites are back-in, and the tent sites are a short walk from the parking area. The campground is heavily shaded. Each site has a limerock surface, lantern post, fire ring with grill, and picnic table, with nearby water and electric service. Most RV sites have 30 amp electric service, but a few have 50 amp service. ADA accessible restroom facilities with hot showers are available in the campground. A centralized dump station is available for RVs. Several nearby trails wind through pine flatwoods, hardwood forest or hammock, baygall, open ponds and old fields.

Saturday evenings from November through February campers can enjoy ranger-led campfire programs about Paynes Prairie's cultural and natural resources at the campfire amphitheater. The park entrance gate is locked at sunset, but a gate combination is provided to registered campers. Pets are allowed on leashes in the campground and on designated trails.

Firewood is available for purchase at the ranger station; firewood collection from the park grounds is prohibited. No internet access is available in the park.

Maximum RV length = 58 ft.

Reservations: Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book Online or call (800) 326-3521 (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) or TDD (888) 433-0287.

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Paynes Prairie - Camping Equestrian

A primitive group campsite is available in the park along the Chacala Trail. Campers must arrive two hours before sunset, as this site requires campers to travel 1.85 miles along the Chacala Trail, which is open to access on foot, by horse or by bicycle. Amenities include three tent pads, a waterless restroom, campfire circle, two grills, horse hitching area, picnic shelter with two tables and a hand operated pitcher pump with non-potable water. Well-behaved pets are allowed.

Firewood collection from the park grounds is prohibited, but firewood is available for purchase at the ranger station. Internet access is not available in the park.

Reservations must be made 48 hours in advance, in person, or by calling the ranger station between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at (352) 466-3397.

Primitive camping icon

Paynes Prairie - Camping Primitive

A primitive campsite is available in the park along the Chacala Trail. The site accommodates up to 20 people. Campers must arrive two hours before sunset, as this site requires campers to travel 1.85 miles along the Chacala Trail, which is open to access on foot, by horse or by bicycle. Amenities include three tent pads, a waterless restroom, campfire circle, two grills, horse hitching area, picnic shelter with two tables and a hand operated pitcher pump with non-potable water. Well-behaved pets are allowed.

Firewood collection from the park grounds is prohibited, but firewood is available for purchase at the ranger station. Internet access is not available in the park.

Reservations must be made 48 hours in advance, in person, or by calling the ranger station between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at (352) 466-3397.

Canoeing and Kayaking icon

Paynes Prairie - Canoeing and Kayaking

Canoeing is available on Lake Wauburg which covers about 300 acres. Access to the lake is available from the public boat ramp located on the east side of Lake Wauburg. There are no canoes for rent at Paynes Prairie.

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Paynes Prairie - Fishing

Fishing is permitted on Lake Wauburg, an approximately 300-acre lake. Bass, bream, and speckled perch are regularly caught species. Areas for fishing along the bank are limited. Access to the lake is available from the public boat ramp located on the east side of Lake Wauburg. The use of gasoline-powered engines is prohibited.

 

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.

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Paynes Prairie - Geo-Seeking

Geocaching is an outdoor game using hand-held global positioning systems (GPS) devices. It's effectively an inexpensive, interactive, high-tech treasure hunt that's a great way to learn geography. Participants use location coordinates to find caches. Some caches are easy to find; others are more difficult. The biggest reward is the thrill of the search and the discovery of a place where you have never been. Geocaching should have minimal impact to the environment and conscientious land use ethics should be followed.

The Operation Recreation GeoTour hosted by Geocaching.com, stretches from Pensacola to Key West and includes 71 of the First Three Time National Gold Medal Award Winning Florida State Parks and Trails. Visit 20 caches and win the Official Operation Recreation Geocoin. Download and print the Official Tracking Sheet to begin your adventure. Remember to cache and save with unlimited entry for a year with the Florida State Parks Annual Pass.

The Florida Park Service is proud to announce it has launched the Operation Recreation Kids GeoTour. Look inside Operation Recreation GeoTour geocaches for one of six possible Nature Cards. Every cache has one of six species. Record the name of the Florida State Park where you first find each of the six species on the Kids Official Tracking Sheet. Find all six species and win the ORGT Kids GeoTour Geocoin!

 

There are more than 25 geocaches hidden at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, as well as an Earthcache. Educational Multi-Caches and Challenges are in development.

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Paynes Prairie - Hiking Nature Trail

NOTE: Due to potential conflict with alligators, snakes, and bison, pets are not allowed on some of the trails.

1. LA CHUA TRAIL - Pets are not allowed on this trail.

During drought conditions, vegetation may limit wildlife viewing opportunities along the LaChua Trail. This is part of the natural fluctuation of water levels. Abundant water and alligators sightings will return when mother nature provides a wetter rain cycle.

The LaChua Trail is three miles round-trip from the North Rim of the Prairie to the observation tower. This trail provides scenic views of wet-prairie and marsh habitat including Alachua Sink and Alachua Lake. Main access is 4801 Camp Ranch Road. LaChua Trail opens at 8:00 a.m. and is open 7 days a week. For safety and wildlife disturbance reasons, the trail closes 1 hour before sunset. Alternate access is from Boulware Springs at 3500 SE 15th Street. (Boulware Springs is also the starting point of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State park). Foot traffic only! Pets are not allowed on this trail.

2. BOLEN BLUFF TRAIL - Pets are not allowed on this trail.
The 2.6 mile roundtrip trail is named after a family of pioneer settlers who lived on the south rim or bluff of Paynes Prairie. The trail leads to a wildlife viewing deck after it passes beneath the shady canopy of a hardwood forest dominated by large oaks -- the most impressive of which are southern live oak. Other species of oaks as well as sweetgum, hickory, palm, magnolia and holly trees flourish along the trail. In Florida, communities of broad-leaved evergreens or hardwood-dominated forests are called "hammocks." This name probably originated from early native Americans that inhabited the region. Hammocks grow on high well-drained soils and thus provide an ideal habitat for a large diversity of animal species including Virginia white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat, gray fox, barred owl and raccoon.

Located halfway along the loop-trail is an open, grassy knoll-- Bolen Bluff. The bluff affords the visitor a scenic vista of the low-lying freshwater marsh, wet prairie and open water of Alachua Lake. From the bluff a 0.5-mile spur-trail heads out onto the prairie basin along an old earthen dike. During the 1920-30's, the Camp family constructed an extensive system of dikes and canals into the vast wetland to reduce the flooding and thus create drier conditions for cattle ranching. In 1970 the Camp Ranch was sold to the State of Florida establishing the first state preserve in the Florida Park System.

Today upland areas once cleared for agriculture and cattle grazing are slowly returning to their previous hammock state.

The trailhead is accessed off of US 441 south of Gainesville. Open daily 8 a.m. to sundown. Foot and bike traffic.

3. WACAHOOTA TRAIL
About a quarter mile round-trip. Begins at Visitor Center and loops through hammock to a 50' observation tower along the edge of the prairie. Closes at sunset. Foot traffic only!

4. CONE'S DIKE TRAIL - Pets are not allowed on this trail.
This trail is an 8.25 mile round-trip hike from the Visitor Center parking area trailhead. The earthen dike trail travels into the center of the prairie creek waterway. The flat terrain of the basin is quite open and has limited shade for hikers or bicyclists. Closes at sunset. Foot and bike traffic.

5. CHACALA TRAIL
A series of loop trails encompassing 6.5 miles in length. Chacala Trail is named after a small freshwater pond just outside the preserve boundary. The level trail winds through several distinct biological communities including pine flatwoods, hardwood forest or hammock, baygall, open ponds and old fields. For the quiet observer, a diversity of wildlife may be observed including Virginia white-tailed deer, bobcat, wild turkey, pileated woodpecker, bald eagle, and various woodpeckers. Horse, bike and foot traffic.

6. GAINESVILLE-to-HAWTHORNE STATE TRAIL
Sixteen miles in length. Access from Boulware Springs at 3500 SE 15th Street. Boulware Springs is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. November through April and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. May through October. Gainesville-to-Hawthorne State Trail, however, is open 8 a.m. to sundown daily. Horse, bike and foot traffic. To learn more visit the Gainesville-to-Hawthorne State Trail website.

Well behaved dogs are allowed on a six foot hand-held leash on the Gainesville-to-Hawthorne State Trail.

7. LAKE TRAIL
A little less than a mile in length from Lake Wauburg parking area to Savannah Boulevard. Foot and bike traffic.

8. JACKSON'S GAP TRAIL
This 1.3 mile trail passes through shady hammock and pine flatwoods to connect two of the longest trails within the preserve, Cone's Dike and Chacala Trail.

Jackson Gap Trail was named after a pioneering cattle rancher from the turn of the 19th century, Archie L. Jackson, who moved cattle through a gap in the fence where the trail passes near Chacala Pond.

Jackson Gap Trail connects with Cone's Dike Trail 0.15-mile down the trail. Wetland wildlife that inhabits the area includes sandhill crane, American alligator, egrets and herons, and rails. Occasionally, the Spanish horses or American bison may be seen grazing in the marsh.

9. SAVANNAH BOULEVARD
Visitors can also enjoy walking down the paved park entrance road.

Horse and equestrian trails icon

Paynes Prairie - Horse Equestrian Trail

The Chacala Trail is a multi-use trail and is a series of loop trails encompassing 6.5 miles in length. The level trail winds through several distinct biological communities including pine flatwoods, hardwood forest or hammock, baygall, open ponds and old fields. A diversity of wildlife may be observed including deer, bobcat, wild turkey, and the pileated woodpecker. This trail is open to horse, bike and foot traffic. This trail is accessed from the main park entrance.

Horses are allowed on the trail except east of the Lochloosa trailhead. For most of the distance, a grassy equestrian pathway is available.

Horse riders are required to have proof of negative Coggins on their person or in their saddlebag.

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Paynes Prairie - Pets

Well behaved dogs are welcome at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. They must be kept on a hand held 6-foot leash at all times and cannot be left unattended for more than a half-hour. Pets are not permitted in playgrounds, bathing areas, or park buildings. Due to potential conflict with alligators, snakes and bison, pets are not allowed on the Bolen Bluff Trail, Cone's Dike Trail and La Chua Trail.

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Paynes Prairie - Picnicking

Picnic tables are located throughout the park. Barbecue grills are located at the Lake Picnic Area as well as by the covered pavilions. For a fee, the covered pavilions may be reserved in advance.  To reserve a picnic pavilion, call the Ranger Station at 352-466-3397.

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Paynes Prairie - Visitor Center

A visitor center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily. Several exhibits and an audio-visual program interpret the natural and cultural history of the preserve.

 

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Paynes Prairie - Weddings

Four observation platforms offer beautiful views of the prairie. The westward-facing amphitheater provides views of Lake Wauburg through moss-draped oaks and cabbage palms. The amphitheater is a wonderful setting for a ceremony and is conveniently located near two pavilions that can be reserved, a restroom, playground and parking--amenities to help you celebrate your special day with family and friends. The amphitheater has electricity, lights, and bench style seating. Pavilion I has power and water, and Pavilion II has water only. There is a large grilling area located between the two pavilions. Beautiful canopied campground in the park and numerous nearby lodging options in historic Micanopy and Gainesville.

Two picnic pavilions seating 65 people each are available and may be reserved for $30.00 plus tax, per pavilion. Amphitheater seats approximately 50 people. Park entrance fees apply.

For pictures and more information, download Your Dream Wedding at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

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Paynes Prairie - Wildlife Viewing

There are over 420 vertebrates identified in the park and over 270 of them are birds. Paynes Prarie is part of The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. There are many observation platforms and wildlife viewing areas located throughout the park. Some of the animals commonly seen in the park include: sandhill cranes, bald eagles, alligators, otters, deer, bobcat and snakes.