This Underrated Park In Southeastern America Is A Dream For Wildlife Lovers

When you're overdue for a well-deserved vacation and are endlessly inspired by the great outdoors, time spent exploring state parks across the U.S. might be just what you need. While the options across all 50 states are vast and varied, travelers who have a heart for wildlife will want to make sure to visitĀ Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Florida. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is one of 175 state parks operated by the Florida Park Service that in total, protects around 800,000 acres of scenic terrain.

Sitting just over 12 miles south of Gainesville in Micanopy, Florida, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is unique in that it showcases a combination of dry and wet savanna. Sprawling over 22,000 acres of land, this state park is a rich haven for diverse wildlife for visitors to observe. In a single visit, there's a chance you could encounter up to 20 biological communities that are known to exist right on-site.

Planning a trip to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is simple because it's open to visitors every day of the year between 8 am and sundown. The easy-to-access entrance sits on Savannah Boulevard and there are plenty of convenient parking options available. If you do arrive with a vehicle, just be prepared to pay the $6 parking fee to enjoy a full day of exploring.

Observe incredible creatures in thriving habitats

No matter when you decide to visit Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, packing binoculars is essential. This thrilling destination will put wildlife lovers within viewable reach of around 300 species of birds. From the boardwalks to the trails, you can spot everything from whopping and sandhill cranes to bald eagles. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail which makes it a popular place forĀ tundra swan, golden eagles, vermilion flycatchers, and yellow rail to congregate throughout the year too.

The variety of wildlife soaring overhead is inspiring, but it might be the land creatures at this park that prove unforgettable. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is home to a unique population of wild-roaming bison which were reintroduced in 1975 from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. This was done to restore depleted natural resources and species across the state of Florida and today, the thriving herd is a spectacular sight for visitors. You can also spot free-roaming wild horses, deer, and cattle as you make your way through the park.

Visitors will love that Paynes Prairies Preserve State Park is home to a variety of water-dwelling wildlife to observe as well. It's common to spot wild alligators lingering at the surface of marshy terrain as you wander through this state park and preserve. Beneath the waters of Lake Wauburg on the park's east side, populations of speckled perch, bream, and bass can easily be found.

Routes to enhancing the view

There are many ways to enjoy observing and learning about wildlife at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. A great place to start is the preserve's visitor center. The road leading to the visitor center is lined with towering oaks, magnolias, and pines setting a beautiful scene. Once you step inside, you'll have access to exhibits and displays that highlight the area's natural resources, wildlife, and protected habitats. You can learn more about the region's cultural history and also browse nature photography.

The visitor center provides guests with easy access to the Wacahotta Trail which hosts an observation tower stretching 50 feet into the air. Climbing to the observation deck gives you sweeping views over the terrain as well as a chance to spot bison and wild horses in the distance. The Wacahotta Trail is just part of the park's system of more than 30 miles of trails open for visitors to explore. Many trails can be hiked, biked, or traversed on horseback as you discover unique ecosystems along the way.

The Cone's Dike Trail spans 8.25 miles through the park and can be accessed from the visitor center parking lot. It's open to foot and bike traffic and a prime place for bison viewing during the day. Visitors interested in viewing wildlife from the water are welcome to bring a small boat, kayak, or canoe and spend time observing from Lake Wauburg which is outfitted with a convenient public boat ramp.