Walk on the wild side at Florida’s Paynes Prairie State Preserve

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paynes-prairie-florida-preserve-alligatorWhen I spotted an alligator guarding a gate on the La Chua Trail (3-mile round trip) in Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Florida showed this baby boomer her wild side. As the gator basked in the sun with his eyes closed, I gave him plenty of room before tip-toeing through the gate towards the viewing platform and my goal of seeing a bison.

If you think Florida is all beaches and palm trees, well, think again. A 22,000-acre prairie wilderness stretches from Gainesville to Micanopy in the northeastern portion of the state. Wildlife viewing, birdwatching, hiking, biking and kayaking are just a few of the baby boomer adventures available in the preserve.

The La Chua Trail is accessed from the prairie’s North Rim on the outskirts of Gainesville. In the winter thousands of sandhill cranes call the area home. Paynes Prairie State Preserve’s main entrance is located ten miles south at Micanopy where a visitor’s center introduces visitors to the history, geology and biology of the preserve. From the 50-foot-high observation tower, lucky viewers catch glimpses of wild horses.

micanopy-florida-paynes-prairie-preserveOn this visit, a bison herd gathered under low scrub trees looking like brown blobs under a green canopy from my vantage point on the La Chua Trail. Crickets chirped and the air buzzed with the sound of insects. A mother alligator rested in shallow water near blue water hyacinths as a baby slept on her back.

The alligator had not left his post beside the gate on my return down the trail. Awake now, he warily viewed a photographer who was getting too close for my comfort. Joining a group of visitors making their way through the gate, I walked at a quick, quiet pace to safety avoiding the gator’s stare. That was wild enough for this baby boomer.

Sweetwater Branch Inn, 15 minutes away in Gainesville, makes a convenient baby boomer headquarters for visiting Paynes Prairie State Preserve. While you’re in the area, save time for visiting butterflies, kayaking the Ichetucknee or walking the garden paths at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

This travel experience was provided by the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

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