I have a goal to visit every State Park in Florida, and it's going to take me forever to do it! We are really fortunate to have so many parks within a short distance from where we live. Paynes Prairie State Park has been on my 'to visit' list for well over a year now! We see it all the time, driving down I-75 toward Disney World. From that vantage point it looks really marshy and desolate, but I was totally blown away by the life and Floridian beauty up close.
Blake and I spent our Saturday afternoon being totally mesmerized by this park. There are two entrances, so that was pretty confusing. The south entrance is the technical 'main entrance', and that's where our gps took us. I had done some research beforehand, and knew that there was a 3 mile trail that I wanted to do. Turns out that trail was accessed from the north entrance! We did check out the visitor's center and look out tower, but quickly realized we needed to drive around to get to the trail we wanted.
The La Chua trail boasts abundant wildlife, and it did not disappoint. The trail starts off on a boardwalk, then heads straight out into the prairie. It's 1.5 miles out, and then you walk back. The end has a neat observation platform for a better view.
We went on a holiday weekend, so it was actually pretty crowded. Lots of families! The animals didn't seem bothered by the people at all, and were right up next to the trail. We saw literally hundreds of gators, thousands (!) of birds and an amazing herd of wild horses. There were some bison too, but they were really just specs on the horizon.
I could have watched the horses for hours! They were so close to us, but still skittish. In such a developed country, it is really neat to see some things left (mostly) untouched by people.
I loved our little hike! We were really captivated by the trail, but also really enjoyed eachother's company. Afterward we got pizza with friends in Gainesville, and when we got home we looked through our 2016 memory jar. Not a bad way to finish the year!
Paynes Prairie has been at the top of my list for a while, so now that we've checked it off, I have to pick the next State Park we visit! Leave a comment below if you have a suggestion!