Hiking Payne’s Prairie in Alachua County offers so much. In fact, you’ll take in an open savanna view…in Central Florida!
You’ll also find miles of flat trail hiking here, including a view of Lake Wauberg, marshland and swamp from a boardwalk at Sawgrass Pond, dense hardwood canopy forest, open prairie, and places that feel like a stroll down an old country
road. Hiking Payne’s Prairie is easy too, with packed, gray-white sand and little sweet sand. You’ll rarely get an “away from it all” natural feel as the trails are well-traveled and you encounter meandering, paved roads throughout as well as a boat ramp, camping, a lakeside picnic area (Google Map), and basic restroom facilities, making this a great place for a family outing.
Do at Paynes Prairie Preserve
The Google map below leads you just past the front gate to the ranger station – this helps avoid wrong turn with Google Maps. From there, you will follow a paved road with numerous parking areas along the way. I went the full distance to the last parking area near the visitor center (Google Map below), as you can find from my AllTrails map above. This is a very short walk to the fully wheelchair accessible visitor center where you can grab brochures and talk with a friendly ranger. From there, the observation tower overlooking the prairies is only about a minute’s walk away. This Wacahoota Trail also has a short circle worth taking, about a half mile long at most, and you’ll find your way back to the visitor center.
Hiking Payne’s Prairie
Jackson Gap Trail
But if you’re up for hiking, you’re just getting started! Watch for a sign to Jackson Gap and Cones Dike Trail. I followed Jacksons Gap to Chacala Trail, which landed on some paved road, and then down Lake Trail back to Jacksons gap leading to where I started. The signs are a little confusing, as it is hard to tell if they designate trail heads or are pointing the way to the next trail head. The good news is that the trails are all so clear that it’s hard to actually get lost, so enjoy exploring by following your nose.
The only additional advice I have is that when Lake Trail ends at Savannah Blvd, you just follow that road to your right (east) for maybe 20 yards before turning back onto Jacksons Gap. If you use my AllTrails recording with the mobile app, or look closely at the PDF map provided above, and you will have no problem.
I saw some deer, a heron, and turkey vultures but human activity here seems to keep wildlife fairly shy. I have heard many people speak of wild horse and buffalo sightings across the prairie though have not seen myself after a few visits. But you’ll find a diversity of plant life up close, plus great views. My six miles of hiking is at best half of what is there.