Though it’s a fairly long route from the Daytona Beach area, Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville, Florida is worth the drive. Just about 10 miles south of the city of Gainesville, in the town of Micanopy, the Preserve is home to an incredible array of wildlife including turkeys, coyotes, bobcats, bison, otters, alligators, snakes and more than 250 species of birds including sandhill cranes. Once a range for cattle, today the Preserve is notable for being a great place to hike, camp, birdwatch, bike and horseback ride.
With over 20,000 acres of prairie grass Paynes Prairie has been designated a National Natural Landmark since 1974. The park is a great source of education about the natural resources, early Florida history and native flora and fauna for children and adults alike. A Visitor Center open 9 am to 4 pm daily makes a good starting point for orientation. Exhibits, restrooms and gift items can be accessed from the Center. A short walk from the Center is a 50′ high wooden observation tower. The tower is not recommended for those people with a fear of heights! From the tower, views of the prairie are readily available. Should visitors desire more energetic activities, then opportunities abound.
Hikers, equestrians and bikers will enjoy the loops of trails within the preserve. There are eight trails available, several of which are multi-use trails, so hikers may encounter people riding bikes or horses. With names like Chacala Trail, Wacahoota Trail and La Chua Trail the Native American influence is notable. In fact portions of Paynes Prairie Preserve once served as a cattle range for tribes of Seminoles.
For those visitors interested in water activities, kayaking, fishing and canoeing are popular on the 300 acre Lake Wauberg. You must bring your own watercraft and equipment as there are no canoe or kayak rentals available within the park. Boats with electric motors are also allowed and there is a ramp for easy access. For those interested in fishing, a license may be required.
Picnic tables for day trippers are available throughout the park. There are BBQ grills and covered pavilions available at the Lake Wauberg Recreation picnic area. The pavilions can be reserved but they require a fee.
Camping opportunities available within the park include primitive camping, equestrian camping and full facility camping. One of many opportunities available to campers from November through February include Ranger led campfire programs at the campfire amphitheater. Reservations are definitely recommended.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is open from 8 am to sundown daily. A relatively budget-minded entrance fee is required. Depending on mode of transportation, number of people entering and type of activity the daily fee (late 2012) currently runs from $2.00 – $6.00. Camping fees and trail fees are additional.