100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667
By Mike Miller Updated November 14, 2022
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a 22,000 acre ecosystem with a rich array of habitats including marshes, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks.
It is located between Gainesville and Micanopy in North Central Florida.
The preserve is just north of Lake Wauburg and is crossed by I-75 and US-441, and is a U.S. National Natural Landmark. The visitor center is near Micanopy.
The cultural history of the prairie is rich with the story of Native Americans, Spanish, Seminole, and early settlers. The Timucua were the first known residents of this area.
When Spain owned Florida they established the La Chua ranch in this area. By the end of the century it became the largest cattle ranch in Spanish Florida at more than 55,000 acres.
The Spanish abandoned the ranch and in the mid 1700s the prairie land came under the control of the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe under their chief, Ahaya the Cowkeeper.
Their headquarters was located near the present day town of Micanopy. The prairie takes its name from Ahaya's son, King Payne.
The naturalist William Bartram visited the prairie in 1774, visited with Ahaya, and called it the Great Alachua Savannah.
The Paynes Prairie drainage basin (land surrounding the prairie) drains naturally into a sinkhole near the center of the prairie.
During periods of heavy rains or blockage of the sinkhole, the prairie fills up with water.
One long period was from 1871 to 1891 when the sinkhole was temporarily blocked and the prairie became known as Alachua Lake. Steamboats were a common site on the lake during this period.
The most recent flooding happened after Hurricane Irma brought with it large amounts of rain in 2017. The prairie was flooded for several months.
This state park is very popular with outdoor adventurers, naturalists, hikers, birdwatchers and cyclists.
The prairie became the state's first preserve in 1971. It has a large variety of ecological areas that furnish abundant habitats for wildlife and even domestic livestock.
You are likely to see many of the almost 300 species of birds, including bald eagles. You will also probably see alligators, turtles, and snakes.
Unlike most preserves, you are also likely to see wild bison and wild horses.
The preserve has more than 30 miles of trails for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders.
La Chua Trail is one of the most popular trails. It leads to Alachua Sink. The sink is one of the best places for seeing sandhill cranes and enjoying general wildlife viewing.
Park rangers lead hikes on this trail most Saturdays from November through March.
The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail makes up 15 of those miles. It is a paved rails to trails route that begins in a Gainesville area park and has four trailheads along the way.
A parking area is provided at each trailhead.
The preserve has four observation platforms that get you up high enough to see for miles around. One of these is a 50 foot high observation tower near the Visitor Center.
The panoramic views are amazing from this tall tower. You get a good understanding of the distinct biological communities that make up the preserve.
Like many state parks, camping is allowed in the park by reservation only.
There are camp sites near Lake Wauburg that include tent sites as well as trailer and RV sites. Each site has a limerock surface, lantern post, fire ring with grill, picnic table, and is close to water and electric service.
The Visitor Center is open from 9am tp 4pm daily and has numerous interpretative exhibits.
More information about current conditions and events:
PAYNES PRAIRIE PRESERVE STATE PARK WEBSITE
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