Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a Florida State Park, encompassing a 21,000-acre savanna in Alachua County, Florida lying between Micanopy and Gainesville. It is also a U.S. National Natural Landmark. It is crossed by both I-75 and U.S. 441 (which has a scenic outlook ramp). It is in the center of the Paynes Prairie Basin. The basin's primary source of drainage is Alachua Sink.
During occasional wet periods, the basin will become full. A notable period occurred from 1871 to 1891 when the Alachua Sink was temporarily blocked. During this period, shallow draft steamboats were a frequent sight on Alachua Lake in the center of the prairie. The region was also historically known as the Alachua Savannah. Its drainage has been modified by several canals. Since 1927, Camps Canal has linked the basin to the River Styx which leads to Orange Lake and eventually the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Johns River. That reduced the basins water intake by half. Additional changes to the prairie's environment have been detrimental to its hydrology. In 1970, the state of Florida acquired the land and has been in the process of restoring the environment to a more natural condition ever since. Heavy rains have temporarily restored Alachua Lake on several occasions, most recently in September 2017, when Hurricane Irma dropped several inches of rain and damaged a levee, flooding much of the basin for months.
The park has a visitor center and restrooms at the main entrance. The visitor center is nice but not to the level one would expect at a National Park. We found the bathrooms to be very clean. The park includes a very nice 50 foot observation tower which allows you to look over the prairie where often the wild bison and horses can be seen at a distance. There are several trails, one of which spans roughly 2.5 miles one-way and takes you out to the middle of the prairie where you are very likely to see alligators, sandhill cranes, the wild bison, and horses which now roam freely on the prairie.
Wildlife to expect include the American Alligator, wild Bison and Horses, a variety of birds to include Sandhill Cranes and Hawks.
Our experience: This is one of our favorite parks in the Florida Park System because it is easily accessible from Interstate 75 and because of our chances to see different types of wildlife. This should be a definite stop if you like wildlife and hiking and happen to be traveling in Florida.
Park location and contact:
100 Savannah Blvd.
Micanopy FL 32667
Phone: (352) 466-3397
Hours of Operation: 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year
Current Fee: $6 per vehicle.