Florida offers RVers many scenic and interesting places to see and stay, but not many places capture so many unique features in one place like Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The park, centrally located in Florida, was the state’s first state preserve. Today, the park is a National Natural Landmark.
Aside from hiking, fishing, camping, and other recreational activities, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is the center for more than 20 biological communities. While Florida is known for waterfowl and alligators, visitors may be shocked to know that this park is also home to wild-roaming bison and horses. Staying at the park will give any visitor a new and distinct look at a natural and cultural-historical hotspot.
Bring your RV and plan to stay for a few days (or more)! Make sure you check out the observation tower by the Visitor Center, offering panoramic views from 50 feet in the air. While you are at the Visitor Center, explore the exhibits and take an audio-visual tour that explains the history of the park. Once you’ve learned a little about Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, you will want to stay a lot longer! Because there is so much to see and do here, you will want to come back for another stay sooner than later!
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is located in Alachua County in central Florida. It is 10 miles south of Gainsville, 81 miles southwest of Jacksonville, and 101 miles northwest of Orlando. Just eight miles to the south, you can find Price’s Scrub State Park, which boasts 1,000 acres of biodiverse scrubland. If you’re a history buff, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park is 11 miles to the southeast where you can take a house tour.
The main entrance of the park, the Savannah Boulevard entrance, is off of US-441. Depending on which way you are coming from, you can take FL-24, FL-222, or US-301 to reach US-441. Driving through the Florida wetlands and forests, you may spot some wildlife if you keep your eyes peeled. Make sure your passengers have their cameras or phones handy so you can get some pictures.
Most RVers that visit Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park will leave their rig at the campsite and ride bikes, horses, or walk to where they want to go. The park has several nice trails you can choose from to explore the various areas. You can take the trails or park roads to get to the visitor center, day-use areas, and the observation platform as well as the picnic areas and various lakes.
The Puc Puggy Campground is a heavily shaded, year-round campground. The gravel driveways allow for either RVs, trailers, or tents. Each of the 30 back-in spaces, ranging in size from 46 to 58 feet, has a lantern pole, a ground grill to cook on, and a picnic table that seats eight people. Sites offer 30- or 50-amp electrical and water hookups. The campground also provides showers, restrooms, potable water hydrants, and a dump station nearby for registered campers.
Located in the southeast corner of the park, you won’t be far from Lake Wauberg, and the kids will love the nearby playground. If you need to use a generator, please silence them between the hours of 11 PM to 7 AM. Also, be aware that the park entrance gate is locked at sunset. Registered campers can get a gate combination in case they need to leave the park after hours. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance, and pets are welcome so bring your furbaby along for the fun.
If you are a horse lover, bring your pony along because Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park also has an equestrian campground. Located on the Chacala Trail, you will have to leave the RV in the parking lot and walk (or ride) 1.85 miles to this primitive campsite. The campground has three sites for tents, a picnic shelter with two picnic tables, and two BBQ grills to cook on. There is also a horse hitching area and a central campfire circle for everyone to enjoy.
Since you are out in the woods, you won’t be finding a modern restroom with showers here. But there is a chemical toilet (port-a-potty) and a hand-operated water pump. The water is not for drinking or cooking though unless you boil or treat it first. You also won’t have Wi-Fi or phone service, so make sure your loved ones know where you will be and when you will be back. Bring Fido along, because dogs are welcome here too. Reservations have to be set at least two days in advance by phone or in person.
Every month, the park presents several special events and classes for registered guests. At Paynes Prairie Preserve, park rangers give trail chats where they teach visitors information about the importance of the wildlife native to the area. Rangers will help the guests spot some of the animals commonly seen in the park such as birds, snakes, bison, and alligators.
The park also gives living history presentations. A living history presentation is when a character from the past presents information to a group of people while taking on the full persona of that character. The presenter uses real details to teach and educate the audience in a fun and interactive way. Contact the park for the most up to date event information.
There is no better way to explore a Florida State Park than on foot. Get the family prepared for a day in the sun and walk along some of the park’s hiking-only trails. Pay close attention while walking, because you might see many different kinds of wildlife, including alligators, snakes, and bison! The Savannah Boulevard Trail is an easy walk, located just along the park entrance road. Take the Wacahoota Trail for an easy quarter-mile round trip walk that begins at the visitor center and loops along the edge of a prairie. If you are looking for a longer hike, try the La Chua Trail, a three-mile round-trip hike from the north rim of the prairie to the observation tower. Because of wildlife, pets are not allowed on the La Chua Trail.
Bring your fishing pole and spend some time fishing on Lake Wauburg. Fishing areas are limited along the banks of the lake, so bring your boat for the best fishing experience. The public boat ramp is located on the east side of the lake, and only non-gasoline engined boats are allowed. All anglers must adhere to the Florida fishing laws, and all people over the age of 16 who wish to fish will need a valid fishing license. The most common fish caught in Lake Wauburg are bass, bream, and speckled perch. Spend a day on the water and see what you can reel in!
For people who enjoy taking in the scenery on two wheels, bring your fat-tired bikes and ride the multi-use trails that allow cycling. Start out easy by riding the Lake Trail which is less than a mile long and runs from the Lake Wauburg parking area to Savannah Boulevard. Next, give the Bolen Bluff Trail a try at only 2.5 miles round trip.
Jackson’s Gap is a 1.5-mile trail that connects to Cone’s Dike, an eight-mile trek, to the Chacala Trail, a series of loops that is about 6.5 miles long. The longest one, the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, is 16 miles long and allows hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Children under the age of 16 are required to wear a helmet while riding bikes. Because of wildlife, pets are not allowed on the Bolen Bluff or Cone's Dike Trail.
On Saturday nights during the colder months of November through February, the park ranger-led campfire programs bring the campground community together. The campfires are held at the campfire amphitheater, and they focus on topics including the Timucua Indians, pottery of the past, wild horses, bison, tales of Cracker Cowboys, and other cultural and historical issues. Bring your blankets and marshmallows and head to the amphitheater located on the edge of Lake Wauburg to the right of the picnic pavilions.
Are you an experienced geocacher? Do you and your family like a tech-driven adventure? Bring your phone or other handheld GPS unit and locate the caches hidden in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. There are hidden treasures for all levels of cachers. If you have no idea what geocaching is, you are in for a treat. This outdoor activity gets you and the kids hiking as well as learning about nature and geography. Just go to the geocache websites for coordinates and head to the park to find a treasure.