|Paynes Prairie: Hiking|
When you drive by Paynes Prairie off of U.S. 441, it might be easy to think that it only welcomes wildlife. There are miles and miles of land that seem non-friendly to humans. However, the preserve was designed for the wildlife as much as the humans.
There are over 30 miles of hiking trails within the park itself. Unfortunately, there is only one trail that allows pets: Savannah Boulevard. This trail was named after William Bartram who described the basin as "the Great Alachua Savannah." This trail is paved and is considered the entrance to the park. Pets must be on a six-foot, hand-held leash to be in this area so they can not harm any of the wildlife.
If you prefer a longer trail, your best bet is the Chacala trail. This trail is made up of three connecting, looping trails that total 6 and a half miles. The trail is open to biking, walking or horseback riding. It is named after a small pond outside the preserve boundary. It is one of the most diverse trails since it winds through different biological communities, including open ponds, old fields, hardwood forests and pine flatwood regions. If you are quiet when hiking and observing you might be able to catch a sighting of a wild turkey, bobcat, Virginia white-tailed deer or bald eagle on this trail.
If you want to get a good sun tan, take Cone's Dike trail. This trail is a round-trip hike from the Visitor Center parking area. It leads hikers into the center of the prairie creek waterway. Because the flat terrain of the path and the basin is open, there is limited shade. This trail closes at sunset, but allows for foot and bike traffic.
Perhaps you don't want to get run over by a bicyclist on your hike. The Wacahoota trail is designed only for foot traffic. Although this trail closes at sunset, it includes a 50 foot observation tower. Breath taking sights can be seen from this tower, especially at the sunset time. This trail is about a quarter mile round-trip.
Overall, the park offers a trail for the interests of everyone. Take a look at every trail that is available for ambitious hikers. Although no wildlife sightings are guaranteed, some of the most breath taking pictures have been taken by photographers on these very same trails. Enjoy!