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Reported: Nov. 2016

Florida Eco-biking... Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park

Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park is located just north of Micanopy, FL and south of Gainesville, FL. Park roads are open to biking. There are also five trails labeled "biking" within the park, totaling about 20 miles - however, fat tires only as most are very sandy. For paved trail riding, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail goes through the north section of the park. Visit during cool weather, many gators. Pay a per person day-use fee at the entrance. (Detailed map and photos below.)

Payne's Prairie, Florida eco-biking

Location: Alachua County (Micanopy, Gainesville)
Mileage:
Various
Surface: Gravel, packed dirt, grass, sand
Trailheads: Visitors Center, Chacala Trail access, La Chua Trail access (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park (Cross Creek), University of Florida

Bike Shops/Rentals

N/A

Support and Advocacy

Friends of Paynes Prairie

PAYNE'S PRAIRIE PRESERVE... Comments and Photos

Among the park trails, 5 are open to biking (Cone Dike, Jackson Gap, Chacala, Lake, Bolen Bluff). While there were some sections bikeable for us (full disclosure: this is not our preferred style!), we found most to be sandy and difficult if not impossible to ride. Fortunately for us, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail (paved, link below) runs through the park and can be accessed from the La Chua Trail parking area. Florida law requires bikers under 16 wear a helmet, but we recommend wearing one anyway especially when riding off-road.

Activities on the park's 21,000 acres include hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The park includes a Visitor Center, picnic areas, restrooms and parking. There are observation towers and decks for wildlife viewing. 300-acre Lake Wauburg has a boat ramp and is popular for kayaking and canoeing, boating and fishing. Part of The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, the park features 270 bird species. Wildlife include sandhill cranes, bald eagles, alligators, otters, deer, bobcat and snakes. Habitats include uplands and freshwater wetlands. The Alachua Sink, a swallow hole with direct surface water to groundwater connections, is a notable feature.


Visitor Center

This is considered the main section of the park due to campgrounds and Lake Wauberg, and entrances to the mountain biking trails are in this area. However, the best wildlife viewing is in the northern section at the La Chua Trail, including access to the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail for paved biking.


Cone Dike Trail

Access from the Visitor Center, 8 miles roundtrip. This was hard-packed but rutty, and access was not easy as shown below. Bison can be seen in this area, we didn't see any but we thought some large dung heaps on the trail might be from bison. The pass-through at the gate was too narrow for a bike, someone pulled a plank from the fence and we lifted our bikes over.


Jackson's Gap Trail

Access from the Visitor Center, 1.2 miles, connects Cones Dike and Chacala Trails. We started to ride from Cones Dike, but ran into deep sand and turned back.


Chacala Trails

There's a parking area off the main park road at Puggy Rd. (across the road from the campgrounds). Three loops totaling 6.5 miles. This was the Yellow Blaze trail - there also are White and Blue Blaze trails. A workout, mostly sand, fat tires only.


Lake Trail

From the main park road to Lake Wauberg and the campground, 0.8 mile. Parking, boardwalk, boat ramp, restroom, playground, picnic.


Bolen Bluff Trail

Access from US441 about 3 miles north of the main park entrance. 2.5-mile loop trail. We didn't bike since there was a tall locked fence and the pass-through (again) was too narrow for bicycles. So, we took a nice hike though not all the way to the observation tower.


La Chua Trail

 The best location for wildlife viewing. No bikes, but worth the 3-mile round-trip hike on boardwalk and dike along Alachua Sink to a viewing platform. We saw a variety of birds, a herd of wild horses and some extremely large alligators, but no bison. Ironically, the pass-through gate here was wide enough for bikes but none allowed!


Ecopassage Observation Boardwalk

Off US441 about 4 miles north of the main park entrance. Good views of the prairie; a wall and tunnels allow wildlife to cross 441.


Lake Pithlachocco Trails

Not actually at Payne's Prairie but at Newnan's Lake State Forest, route 26 in Gainesville. New in 2016, a nice 5.5 mile mountain bike course for those who enjoy this type of riding. Follow the blue trail markers (vs. hiking trails).


History: Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park was Florida's first state preserve in 1971 and is a designated National Natural Landmark ("The Great Alachua Savannah"). With more than 20 distinct biological communities, it is important habitat for a variety of plant and animal life. Its cultural significance spans over 12,000 years having been inhabited since prehistoric times. The wild horses and cattle that inhabit the prairie allegedly can be traced back to Spanish ranching in the 1600's. Bison once roamed here and were reintroduced in 1975.

Also visit us here:

Paddling on Potano Paddling Trail

Biking on Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail

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