Friday, August 28, 2015

Biking Florida's Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville is biologically, geologically, and historically unique. Naturalist William Bartrum called it the great Alachua Savannah when he visited in 1774, and in 1971 it became Florida's first state preserve. It offers 20 distinct biological communities and has a rich array of wildlife habitats, supporting alligators, bison, horses, and over 270 species of birds. The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Bike Trail traverses its northern end and mountain biking is allowed within its southern confines.

Paynes Prairie Preserve is just a few miles south of Gainesville on Route 441 and offers 20 miles of mountain bike trail, much shared with horses. Though prairie occupies the majority of the 21,000 acre preserve and its 20 distinct biological communities, there is lovely forest as seen below which contains most of the biking trails.

The Cones Dike Trail goes 4 miles out into the prairie/wetlands area where I saw free ranging bison, deer, cattle, egrets, vultures, and an alligator. The first half mile or so has much loose sand, but then bumpy grass terrain begins as seen above. The views are magnificent and expansive and few venture out this far, so solitude is guaranteed.

Near the visitor center is this five story tall observation tower...

...providing views like this...

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