La Chua Trail, Paynes Prairie, Gainesville, FL
by Mary Miller
Train Trestle from 1800s
Located on the north side of the prairie, not at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park main entrance on 441 in Micanopy. Pets are not allowed. Open 7 days 8 a.m. until 1 hour before sunset.
I was in Gainesville last week to see my daughter. Side trips are always part of our visit. I had never been to the La Chua Trail.
Angela had been several times and told me she had seen the wild horses, gators and amazing birds. I wanted to be there first thing in the morning. We both hoped we would also see the bison that roam freely.
Parking was available, but I can see how it may get crowded on a cooler day. We passed under an old train trestle, built in the late 1800s and went through an old concrete block barn (leftover from the days of cattle ranching) and continued to the Trail.
The plan was to hike the three mile round trip from beginning to the 50 foot observation tower and return. Photographers were already there when we arrived. There had been lots of rain, so there were plenty of birds and gators seemingly posing. The sandhill cranes were especially popular.
We were almost to the observation tower when we came face to face with one of the largest gators I've ever seen. (I lived in South Florida for many years and went to the Everglades often. I thought I knew what big alligators looked like. This one was huge!) Since it showed no signs of moving off the trail, we chose not to cross its path.
I saw no horses or bison that day, but the grandeur of the prairie was well worth the walk. I will go back soon!
Although Gainesville is known for being a college town, it has much more to offer. If you are a nature lover, bird watcher, hiker, history buff or photographer the La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie is not to be missed.
Thanks for sharing your experience at La Chua Trail, Mary. It sounds like a place that is well worth visiting.