Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Paynes Praire State Park

Fred looking out over the wetlands
There is a Savannah in Central Florida.It's name is Paynes. Prairie.
It is a Florida State park, part of the real Florida.
The 22,000 acre preserve includes a pine forest, fallow fields, ponds, scrub growth, wet prairie, open water and marsh.
Great Blue Heron


Glossy Ibis
You can see large expanses of the Prairie while driving on Route 75 between Gainesville and Ocala.  It is an unusual landscape for Florida and made us want to investigate the area.

Fred and I drove to Micanopy yesterday and hiked two of its trails.
We walked the Wacahoota Trail from the Visitors Center.
The Wacahoota winds through a forest of pine and live oak draped with Spanish moss. There were many small birds, Blue Tailed Skink rustling in the fallen leaves and a Pileated Woodpecker that we could here but not spot as it was above the canopy.
The trail ended at a 3 story observation platform that allowed us to look out over the Savannah.

Paynes Prairie is home to 3 large species. There are small herds of Bison, Spanish horses and small cows called Cracker Cattle.
We were lucky enough to spot some of the horses from the Observation Deck.

A short drive out Route 441 took us to the Ecopassage Observation Boardwalk, an observation platform over the wetlands. This was a beautiful spot but in the middle of the day we only saw frogs, fish and turtles. I would love to go back at sunset to watch the change of colors over that sea of grasses.

We then drove into Gainesville to access the La Chua Trail a 3 mile round trip walk to the Alchua Sink at the center of the prairie marsh. The trailhead was a short distance from the parking lot. We crossed the Gainesville-Hawthorne bike trail, passed a sign warning us to keep our distance from the wild animals, walked under an old railroad bridge and across a cattle guard to gain access.

Wild Spanish Horses on Paynes Prairie
We hadn't walked very far when we began to hear the rumbling bellows of alligators. The marsh was full of them, swimming, sunning themselves warm on the banks, and lying very still almost hidden in water plants.   There was even one multitasking by sunbathing in the mud with a camouflage of Water Hyacinth decorating his back.

American Alligator on Alachua Sink
The La Chua Trail also gave us glimpses of many water birds such as Great Blue Heron, Glossy Ibis, Cormorant, American Coot, Moorhen and Snowy Egret.

American Alligator sunbathing
An old Railroad bridge leads to the trail
There were other people on the trail Monday, but voices were kept soft in respect for the beautiful environment and sounds of abundant animal life.

We didn't spot any large mammals on the La Chua, a pile of Bison poo was as close as we got to seeing them in the wild, but it was a great day.

To see more photos of Paynes Prairie visit our Flickr Photo Album.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
100 Savannah Blvd
Micanopy, Florida
(352) 466-3397


  1. Are the bison indigineous, Bonnie? I've seen that prairie so many times on I-75 and wondered why on earth they would have built a highway through it. I guess they didn't care as much about the environment in those days as they do now.


  2. The bison were once indigenous. there is documentation of them by Spanish explorers. They were reintroduced in the 70's. The Cracker cattle and horses are descended from those brought over by the Spanish and other Europeans. We were told that local roads are built on dykes that were created to control the water when the land was used for farming. Route 441 that parallels I-75 has a series of culverts built under it called and Eco-passage. I-75 is another story.