Camping at Paynes Prairie State Park

Paynes Prairie from Vistor Center
View of the Prairie from the Tower. Two deer graze in the middle ground.

Driving US 441 either into or out of Gainesville involves driving through Paynes Prairie. This prairie basin stretches across nearly 16,000 acres, and at times in history fills with water and becomes Lake Alachua. The prairie itself is mostly wetland, especially after heavy rains, and absolutely beautiful. Paynes Prairie State Park consists of the prairie basin and another 6,000 acres of upland. We camp here frequently. The camping in most Florida state parks feature vegetation and plenty of spacing between the campsites, and this campground is particularly generous in that area.

Last week we arrived just as several days of rain ended, so some of the trails we hoped to hike remained partially closed due to high water. The weather stayed hot and humid all week, so we rose early, and hiked a different area each day. We returned by lunch, had a nice cook-out, and by early afternoon as the temperatures and humidity soared, and/or the rain started we sat under the awning or in the RV reading, playing board games, on the computer working on the photographs taken that day, or even watching a DVD.

Viewing Tour from Hiking Trail
View of the tower from the trail

We started our first morning at the Visitor’s Center parking lot; the center itself remained closed due to COVID, and walked the trail toward the tower. We noticed as we rounded one curve that the wild horses grazed directly in front of us, so stopped to watch them then continued to the tower. We took photographs, but also just absorbed the view.

Horses 1
Wild horses on the Prairie. We hiked the trail seen in the background the next day

Karl and I are happy the parks re-opened to camping. Distancing is no problem with the large amount of space between each site. We did not see the casual socializing and talking between us campers that normally occurs, we all maintained a friendly distance. Even those walking dogs smiled and reined in the dog as they kept walking. Usually we stop at least briefly to exchange pleasantries and of course give the dog some attention, but understandably we are all maintaining respectful distances as requested.

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