Paynes Prairie preserve boasts plenty of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding with access to "more than 20 distinct biological communities provide a rich array of habitats for wildlife and livestock, including alligators, bison, horses and more than 270 species of birds" according to the official website.
While Paynes Prairie is well worth the visit, this page focuses exclusively on the north entrance. Seeking a rugged, forest hike like I so often take, I was disappointed at first. There is a $4 car fee, the place was crowded with others on the weekend, and La Chua Trail started off as paved and then wood. I wasn't getting that "back to nature" vibe I'd hoped for!
My attitude quickly changed as I made my way along the 1.5 mile there and back trail - 3 miles total. For real, you will not get this close to alligators and such a great variety of marshland Florida birds as here except maybe at a zoo. It is a birding north central Florida's great variety of wetland birds and photographer's delight, and I saw many with camera equipment that almost certainly cost more than my car.
Enjoy what I captured. I had great fun enjoying the short hike, taking these snaps, and learning from home (thanks to Google and Pinterest) how to distinguish great egrets, great blue herons, immature great blue herons, and little blue herons, both mature and immature. Photo captions are here to help you distinguish between them - get out there and visit! The earlier in the day the better, and that $4 pass extends to Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Which has a $6 fee, so maybe that is a hack right there! :-)