Yesterday we went hiking at Paynes Prairie, which is located in the Micanopy, Florida (in the Gainesville area). This is a beautiful place to go hiking, biking, and camping (they offer tent and RV camping and the rates are quite affordable). Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park offers 22,000 acres of protected land that is known for having wild horses and bison. What a wonderful place to go take a family hike!
There are several hiking trails offered at Paynes Prairie. We started out by going to the visitor center to check that out. Then we decided to take a hike on what is called Cone's Dike Trail. This trail is 8 miles long round trip, but we just planned on going about 1.25 miles and turning back (which is what we did). This is a great trail that starts out in a canopied area, but leads back to the more of an open trail that does not provide shade. This was fine for us, as it was an overcast day and the temperature was just fine. But if it is a sunny day and you are taking this trail you will want proper protection from the sun. We lucked out with beautiful overcast weather for this hike.
Wow, did we see a lot! We didn't get to see the bison and horses that I really wanted to see, but there were so many other things to see. We saw five whitetail deer, a cow killer (the red velvet ant ant pictured below that is really a type of wasp and has a nasty sting), dragonflies, baby snake, various birds, insects, butteflies, loads of different kinds of mushrooms (I love taking pictures of mushrooms in the wild), spiders, toads, wildflowers, and so many beautiful pickerel weed's in bloom (the purple flower pictured below). It was just so beautiful how they were all so purple and there were so many of them.
When we came across the family of five whitetail deer they were near the water, munching on some shrub leaves. They stopped and watched us, just as we watched them. We stayed there watching each other for about five minutes. As we walked on they hid behind some bushes, and then came back out. We saw them again on our way back through and again they stopped to observe us as we did them. It was very cool!
In another area of Paynes Prairie we got to walk out on a long boardwalk that offered beautiful views. We looked down and there was an alligator right there. We watched that for a while. Wonderful! I will note that I thought it was sad that right next to his head was two pieces of human trash (plastic containers).
Two thumbs up for Paynes Prairie. I cannot wait to go back there again and hike some more. All in all we hiked about 2.5 miles (which with my kids I usually think about 3 miles is the limit). The kids loved it just as much as we did. It's a wonderful place that offers such diversity of plants and animals. And I'm holding out hope that on our next trip we get to see the bison and horses!
You can get more information on this park at their site here. Here are some pictures from our hike at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Micanopy, near Gainesville: