What to do in Paynes Prairie State Preserve

Paynes Prairies is an extraordinary State Preserve frequently referred to as "one of a kind." The park encompasses 21,000 acres in a shallow basin located below Gainesville. Everyday the basin grows inch by inch from the slowly dissolving limestone bedrock that is adversely affected by rain mixing with decomposing vegetation. The water seeps through sink holes as large as Alachua Sink creating an every changing place thousands of years old. With nature constantly evolving, Alachua Sink was blocked during the late 1800s thus creating a lake where it was once prairie. Entrepreneurs quickly reacted establishing a cargo paddleboat route slicing the interior. This ended as quickly as it began when the blockage naturally passed through Alachua Sink and waters flowed once more thus leaving boats on high ground. The majority of the expansive area is covered with wet prairie, marsh and areas of placid waters. The uplands are even more diverse containing pine flatwoods, swamps, ponds and canopied hammocks. As a result, wildlife thrives attracting thousands of snakes, alligators, and wading birds. Also, several notable animals including wild horses and bison have been reintroduced successfully. Wading birds by the thousands flock to this important wintering ground. Sandhill cranes are one of the most popular varieties with numbers exceeding 2,000.

Artifacts from 10,000 years ago have been recovered on this site. The last known Indian tribe to inhabit the prairie was the Seminole Tribe. During the 1600s, this prairie was the site of the Spanish colonists' largest cattle ranch.

Paynes Prairie State Preserve has two developed areas with thousands of additional acres of marshes and uplands. The best place to begin your visit is at Lake Wauberg Recreation Area located off U.S. Highway 441. The entrance has a large visitor center where the preserve's wildlife communities and twenty different biological communities are presented through exhibits, interpretive materials and audio-visuals. Adjacent to the visitor center is a short loop trail leading to an observation tower giving guests a panoramic view of the great expanse. Here is where visitors can view the re-introduced bison herd. Also in this area is a picnic grove and several multi-use trails. Before the visitor center, a park road bears left taking visitors to the shores of Lake Wauberg where they will find a boat launch, large lakeside picnic area, a boardwalk and children's playground.

Located to the north, off State Route 331 and Camp Ranch Road is North Rim Interpretive Center, the trailhead to Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, many of the Preserve's shorter multi-use trails, and Chacala Pond. Visitors should note that the interpretive center has limited hours.

Between the two entrances, several parking lots with accompanying observation towers and trailheads offer different perspectives of the vast prairie.

Visitors to Paynes Prairie State Preserve are never disappointed. Special events occur year-round featuring historical crafts and wildlife walks. Full-service camping offers 35 RV sites, 15 tent sites, all of which are handicapped accessible. Biking, canoeing, boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and picnicking fill the day at this fabulous natural area.

USA 441 and State Route 331

Florida experiences mild, comfortable winters and warm to hot, humid summers. The area offers a great warm escape for outdoor recreation during the cold northern months. Summer temperatures average in the low 80's Fahrenheit and mid 20's Celsius. Winters are mild with temperatures averaging between the high 40's to the high 50's Fahrenheit. The average precipitation for the north central area is diverse. The central western area receives more than 60 inches per year while the central eastern tract receives about 50 inches. August and September are peak months of the hurricane season that lasts from June 1 through November 30.

100 Savannah Boulevard
Micanopy, FL 32667

Phone: 352-466-3397

  • Paynes Prairie State Preserve Travel Q&A