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“This is our Gainesville campground choice!” 4 of 5 bubbles
Review of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Ranked #1 of 15 things to do in Micanopy
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Owner description: Nature area with woods and swamp as well as an information center describing the wildlife in the area.
Fort Myers, Florida
1 review
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
“This is our Gainesville campground choice!”
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed July 29, 2010

We stayed there and were very impressed with the seclusion and beautiful surroundings. We only stayed one night, but we are going back in September.

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2 Thank TERRIYOUNGHAIR
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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197 reviews from our community

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English first
Daytona, FL
Level Contributor
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 15 helpful votes
“Payne's Prairie Preserve - Just about everything you need to see in Florida”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 27, 2009

My husband and I have been trying to take advantage of the lovely winter camping here in Florida and decided to make Payne's Prairie Preserve our campground of choice for the Xmas holiday weekend. Generally, we visit the thrift stores in the area and try to check out a couple other local attractions.
Unfortunately, the thrift stores were subpar in the Ocala and Gainesville area. After checking out about 8 of them, we had found a disappointing mix of limited selection or high prices. However, I'm sure that changes weekly and perhaps you may have better luck. After a half day of thrift-shopping we gave up and decided to explore the park instead. That turned out to be a wise decision, we wished we had foregone the thrifting entirely as we did not quite have enough time to see everything.
The park is north of the small historic town of Micanopy. We drove through it, but most places were closed for the holiday weekend. The park is gated with a key pad for campers to enter after dark while providing a secured entrance. We've come across this feature a lot more often recently and definitely appreciate it. You do still have to arrive before the park closes to check-in the first night, but after that you can come back into the park late if you need to.
We only had the time to walk a couple of the trails and check out the visitor center. Our favorite trail was the La Chua which you access by exiting the park and driving north on the 441. There is a map available at the visitors center that has the location marked for you along with other local points of interest.
The La Chua trail starts out with first a limestone trail and then a raised boardwalk around the Alachua Sink. I would guesstimate that the raised boardwalk continues about a half mile into the trail, but I can't remember exactly. We saw plenty of gator including one that was in the middle of consuming a large bird that looked to be some kind of heron. I'm not a bird expert though.. Along the way we did pass what looked to be Blue Heron, Great Egrets, American Bitterns and so on. Overall there was a lot of wildlife for a short 3 mile trail. The trail ends with a short, maybe 20 foot? tall, observation tower. That was the closest we got to seeing Bison on our trip. Apparently you are more likely to see them on the La Chua trail from a distance while the Cone Dyke Trail(sp?) you may get to see them a bit closer though the tall grass makes it difficult. We could barely identify them through our binoculars and did not get around to taking the other trail. We did see the feral horses and they were within a couple hundred feet of the trail. Apparently sightings of them are a lot more common then spotting the bison.
Pets are not allowed on the La Chua trail, probably for good reason. They can frighten some wildlife or possibly attract other wildlife that may consider Fido a tasty snack. For similar reasons this is a trail where you do need to watch children closely. None of the gators were especially close, most were further then 25 feet away. HOWEVER, there is plenty of evidence that they do climb up on the trail to sun as there were flattened paths from the water onto the trail at regular intervals. We did spot one possible mother/baby pair that were on the same bank as the trail and did not spook away when we walked by. While it is rare for gators to be aggressive, it is still wise to pay attention to your surroundings on this trail as they are close and there are lots of them.
The campground itself is interesting in the way it's organized. It starts with a section of RV or tent camping which are sites 1-18. However, if the site does not have a tent pad, it will be quite difficult to set up your tent due to the lime stone. The first 18 sites you can drive into. The next sites are exclusively for tent camping and most have 'tent pads' (elevated 14'X14' boxes filled with dirt) for easy tent setup instead of driving pins through lime stone. You cannot drive right up to the tent sites. Campsites 19-23 have their own little 4 or 5 space parking lot and then there is a little paved loop to walk up to the sites. It's not a far walk, I would guess maybe 100-200 feet to walk to the site in the middle of the loop. That style I believe continues for sites 24-29 and 30-33, but we stayed at site 21 and didn't walk each tent loop. You can see your neighbor, but they aren't right on top of you. There isn't a lot of privacy from your immediate neighbor, but, you may have the loop to yourselves like we did. In our tent loop, there looked like there was water and electricity at each site.
There are two bathhouses and one of them is close to the tent campers. No matter where you camp in the tent loops your still close to the bath-house. The bathrooms were clean, however an early morning shower in 40 degree weather is still a bit brisk despite the hot water.
There is a handout you can get at the Visitors Center about all the trails. It's a shame they don't have more information about the trails online. A lot of them do allow bikes and had we known that, we would have brought ours to cover more ground.
The visitors center is open from 9am to 4pm. If you walk through the visitors center and follow the trail down, you will come to the 50 foot observation tower overlooking Payne's Prairie. It's an interesting view from the top, apparently it is a common place to spot the wild horses though we didn't spot much in the way of wildlife when we walked up. There are some HUGE live oak trees covered in Spanish Moss along the short walk to the observation tower.
The Cones Dike Trail we did not get to go on due to time constraints. It is a 8 mile trail round trip. You are allowed to hike or bike, but no pets allowed. The trail information guide states that it's sunny and long through the "heart of the wet prairie marsh." This is the trail that you MAY be able to spot Bison a bit closer though through tall grass.
The Jackson's Gap trail is 1.2 miles long and you may either hike or bike.
The Chacala Trail is 6.5 miles and is another one that you can either hike or bike.
Bolen Bluff trail is 2.5 miles round trip and can either be hiked or biked and is accessed by exiting the park and driving north on the 441.
The La Chua trail is the one we spend the most time on, that one is 3 miles long round trip and may be hiked only.
Great campsite for a long weekend, it would be difficult to see it all in one day. While in the area you may also want to check out the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville which also houses a Butterfly Rainforest complete with live flying butterflies. When we went, parking was free on Saturday and Sunday and admission to the museum was also free. The Butterfly Rainforest exhibit was $9.50 for adults. It was a bit small and my husband did not feel it was the best value for the money BUT I enjoyed it. There were plenty of different species and reguar releases throughout the day.

There were several other area attractions that we missed and will have to catch next time including that Kanapha Botanical Gardens and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings house.

Overall there's plenty to do in Gainesville and Payne's Prairie Preserve is both a great place to stay for your Gainesville adventure or a great main stop for a long weekend.

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14 Thank JenInFL82
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
A TripAdvisor Member
“Great Family Trip”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed October 11, 2002

Paynes Prarie is great! When I was younger, I used to have field trips to the prarie, where the friendly and knowledgable guides convinced all of the students present that we wanted to work for the park service and work at Paynes Prarie so that we could take care of the land and the animals. My ideas about a future career have changed since then, because I just happen to be better at other things than prariework, but I still love the prarie. I take trips there with my friends and family, and we always have fun. I would recommend it to anyone. Good Luck With Your Trip Search!

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5 Thank A TripAdvisor Member
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
A TripAdvisor Member
“Alligators to see but be smart”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed July 17, 2002

Bison, Buffalo...never seen one.
Gators? A winner.
Want to see florida gators in the wild?
NO supervision. No cost. No place for morons.
Just minutes from the home town of famous music
star Tom Petty.
Imagine driving through wooded rural Florida when
suddenly, the trees dissolve into grassy, bushy,
plains as your tar carpet rises ten feet above the wet swamp level, curbed by 24" cement walls.
Cars pulled over to the grassy banks of the road.
People pointing, waving others to come see!
It's free. It's great. It's scary.
No place to crash and roll your motorcycle!
You will see 100% gators, not just nose n eyes.
It is also illegal to anything the gators!
Gators are blackish not green...
Heh! Maine lobster are greenish not red!
DONOT jump down for kicks. Keep pets leased.
Gators can run faster than dogs. Bummer!

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8 Thank A TripAdvisor Member
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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