Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Updated: Feb 2, 2019
We weren’t at Paynes Prairie Preserve very long, so this should be a short post. We stopped here for a couple of nights on our way to Cedar Key, FL from Jacksonville, but we wished we could have stayed longer! It was a nice campground with water and electric hookups and a dump station. Cell signal was solid for both AT&T and Verizon, the bathrooms were decent, and they had showers with hot water. Our site was spacious with a bit of privacy from the spanish-moss covered trees. I wish we had gotten a photo!
We spoke with the camp host for a while to get an idea of which trails to go on, and he even gave us some fresh oranges from his house in Florida! Although the campground was great, we loved exploring the park itself even more. If you go, you have to make it to the Visitor Center which has many trails beginning nearby it. The campground is connected to the visitors center by a trail, but it’s pretty long and we didn’t have bikes yet so we drove instead. From the Visitor’s Center, we climbed to the observation deck over the prairie and saw wild horses as well as other wildlife from the deck.
We also explored some of the trails (which were also driving distance from the campground) where we saw armadillos, wild horses, and deer.
Apparently sometimes the horses get pretty close to the observation tower and you can also see bison out there as well! The horses we saw were pretty far out and we didn’t see any bison while we were there.
One con was we didn’t find a great place to exercise our dogs during our stay. Many of the trails do not allow pets because of the wildlife and alligators, so we couldn’t take them with us on some hikes. But the trails nearby the campground did allow pets for the most part which was nice, and had we had their e-collars we probably could have bent the rules and let them run a bit on some of the wider, grassier trails :).
Overall, this was a great stop! It’s only a 15 minute drive to Gainesville, yet you are surrounded by nature and wildlife. We would definitely be back here to explore more of the trails (especially once we have bikes since the park is large and spread out)!