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Latest update: November 2022

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park... Florida

Includes the La Chua Trail - A Popular Hike Near Gainesville

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is located just north of Micanopy, FL and south of Gainesville, FL. Park roads are open to biking. There are also five trails labeled "biking" within the park, totaling about 20 miles - however, fat tires only as most are very sandy. For a paved trail ride, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail goes through the north section of the Park, passing the entrance for the La Chua Trail (hiking, no biking), with great wildlife viewing - maybe see alligators, bison or wild horses together! Per person park day-use fee. (Map link and photos below.)

Payne's Prairie, Florida eco-biking

Map Link...
Paynes Prairie Biking & Hiking

View Larger Map

Location: Alachua County (Micanopy, Gainesville)
Surface: Gravel, packed dirt, grass, sand
Trailheads: Visitors Center, Chacala Trail access, La Chua Trail access
Nearby points of interest: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park (Cross Creek), University of Florida

Bike Shops/Rentals:

Support and Advocacy:
Friends of Paynes Prairie

 Page Summary:

  1. Eco-biking and Hiking at Paynes Prairie Preserve
  2. Visitor Center
  3. La Chua Trail
  4. Bike/Hike Trails
    - Cone Dike, Jackson Gap, Chacala, Lake, Bolen Bluff
  5. More Nearby
    - Ecopassage Observation Boardwalk
    - Lake Pithlachocco Trails
  6. Some History
  7. More Information and Resources


Eco-biking and Hiking at Paynes Prairie Preserve... Comments and Photos

Activities on the park's 21,000 acres include hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The park includes a Visitor Center, picnic areas, restrooms and parking. There are observation towers and decks for wildlife viewing. 300-acre Lake Wauburg has a boat ramp and is popular for kayaking and canoeing, boating and fishing. Part of The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, the park features 270 bird species. Wildlife include sandhill cranes, bald eagles, alligators, otters, deer, bobcat and snakes. Habitats include uplands and freshwater wetlands. The Alachua Sink, a swallow hole with direct surface water to groundwater connections, is a notable feature.

Visitor Center

This is considered the main section of the park due to campgrounds and Lake Wauberg, and entrances to the mountain biking trails are in this area. However, the best wildlife viewing is in the northern section at the La Chua Trail, including access to the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail for paved biking.

La Chua Trail

The trailhead is located at the Paynes Prairie North Entrance along Camp Ranch Rd. The best location for wildlife viewing. Hiking only, no bikes, but worth the 3-mile round-trip hike on boardwalk and dike along Alachua Sink to a viewing platform. Note: The dike trail may be closed from time to time due to flooding. When hiking the dike trail, stay alert as wild horses, bison, and alligators roam freely here. Due to the presence of wildlife, dogs are not permitted. Interpretative signs give information about the sink.

Starting from the parking area, follow the path across the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and to La Chua Trail entrance. The trail in this section is paved, passing under an old railroad trestle, then through an old stable with interpretative signage. The pass-through gate to the boardwalk and dike trail is past here, and the pavement ends. Ironically, the pass-through gate here was wide enough for bikes but none allowed! The Boardwalk borders the sink including views of the prairie, many birds here. Along the dike trail, we saw a variety of birds, a herd of wild horses, some extremely large alligators, and bison.

Trailhead to Boardwalk


Dike Trail

Bike/Hike Trails

Among the park trails, five are open to biking (Cone Dike, Jackson Gap, Chacala, Lake, Bolen Bluff). While there were some sections bikeable for us (full disclosure: this is not our preferred style!), we found most to be sandy and difficult if not impossible to ride. Fortunately for us, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail (paved, link below) runs through the park and can be accessed from the La Chua Trail parking area. Florida law requires bikers under 16 wear a helmet, but we recommend wearing one anyway especially when riding off-road.

Cone Dike Trail

Access from the Visitor Center, 8 miles round-trip. This was hard-packed but rutty, and access was not easy as shown below. Bison can be seen in this area, we didn't see any but we thought some large dung heaps on the trail might be from bison. The pass-through at the gate was too narrow for a bike, someone pulled a plank from the fence and we lifted our bikes over.

Jackson's Gap Trail

Access from the Visitor Center, 1.2 miles, connects Cones Dike and Chacala Trails. We started to ride from Cones Dike, but ran into deep sand and turned back.

Chacala Trails

There's a parking area off the main park road at Puggy Rd. (across the road from the campgrounds). Three loops totaling 6.5 miles. This was the Yellow Blaze trail - there also are White and Blue Blaze trails. A workout, mostly sand, fat tires only.


Lake Trail

From the main park road to Lake Wauberg and the campground, 0.8 mile. Parking, boardwalk, boat ramp, restroom, playground, picnic.

Bolen Bluff Trail

Access from US 441 about 3 miles north of the main park entrance. 2.5-mile loop trail. We didn't bike since there was a tall locked fence and the pass-through (again) was too narrow for bicycles. So, we took a nice hike though not all the way to the observation tower.



More Nearby

Ecopassage Observation Boardwalk

Off US 441 about 4 miles north of the main park entrance. The boardwalk is about 1/10 mile out and back, the shortest "hike" in the Preserve. Good views of the prairie; a wall and tunnels allow wildlife to cross US 441.

Lake Pithlachocco Trails

Nearby at Newnan's Lake State Forest, route 26 in Gainesville. Follow the blue bike trail markers (vs. hiking trails). Also has a nice 5.5 mile mountain bike course for those who enjoy this type of riding.

Some History

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park was Florida's first state preserve in 1971 and is a designated National Natural Landmark ("The Great Alachua Savannah"). With more than 20 distinct biological communities, it is important habitat for a variety of plant and animal life. Its cultural significance spans over 12,000 years having been inhabited since prehistoric times. The wild horses and cattle that inhabit the prairie allegedly can be traced back to Spanish ranching in the 1600's. Bison once roamed here and were reintroduced in 1975.

More Information and Resources

Nearby Biking:

Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
Gainesville Biking (4 trails)
North FL Region - More trails plus Regional Overview map

Nearby Paddling:

Potano Paddling Trail

Related Resources:

Florida State Parks - Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

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