Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Encompassing 22,000-acres of wet and dry savanna in Micanopy, Florida, south of Gainesville, this Florida State Park features more than 20 distinct biological communities which provide a rich array of habitats for wildlife and livestock. Waves of diverse people settled the area for over 12,000 years. A rich prehistory of Paleo, Cades Pond, and Alachua people were followed by the historic Potano Indians, Spanish adventurers, Seminole Indians and finally Americans from the north. The wilderness, now called Paynes Prairie, has always proved an irresistible lure to the explorer and the adventurer. 

photo by Ellie Wolf

The prairie became the stronghold of the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe under Chief Ahaya the Cowkeeper by the mid-1700s. The Seminole town of Cuscowilla was located near modern Micanopy, Florida. By the 1790s, Cuscowilla had been relocated to a site east of Lake Wauburg and become known as Paynes Town. The town and the surrounding prairie was named for Chief Cowkeeper's eldest surviving son, Payne. Paynes Town was destroyed by Tennessee Volunteers in 1813. Fort Tarver and Ford Crane were both located in Paynes Prairie during the Second Seminole War.

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Paynes Prairie is part of the Southeastern conifer forests ecoregion. The prairie itself is a large Floridian highlands freshwater marsh, composed of different herbaceous plant communities that vary based on water depth. Wet, forested areas have southern coastal plain non-riverine basin swamps of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora). Southern coastal plain blackwater river floodplain forests grow along streams. On drier uplands, southern coastal plain oak domes and hammocks of southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) grow in areas with moderately moist soils, and Florida longleaf pine sandhills grow on drier, sandier soils.

Over 270 species of birds, including large migratory flocks of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes, can be seen in the park as well as American Alligators and small herds of Florida Cracker Horses and Florida Cracker Cattle (both containing descendants of horses and cattle from the Spanish Colonial Period). The plains bison were reintroduced to the park from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in 1975, as part of the park service goal of restoring Florida's natural resources to pre-European settler conditions; they roamed this area until the late 18th century. When bison sightings occur, they usually appear along the Cone's Dike trail.

A good place to start explorations of the Preserve is the visitor center near the historic town of Micanopy. Exhibits, stunning photography and an audio-visual program explain the area’s natural significance and cultural history. A 50-foot-high observation tower provides panoramic views and a chance to see the bison or wild horses. Reconnect to nature at Paynes Prairie on more than 30 miles of trails for equestrians, hikers and bicyclists through a variety of ecosystems. Spend a night camped under the stars at the full facility campground. Participate in a ranger-led activity on weekends, November to April. A public boat ramp for canoes, kayaks and small boats with electric motors is located on the east side of nearly 300-acre Lake Wauberg. For anglers, the day’s catch may include bass, bream or speckled perch. Florida freshwater fishing license required.


ADDRESS: 100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667
PHONE: (352) 466-3397
HOURS: Park - 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Ranger Station: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; 8:00 a.m. to Sundown Fridays, Saturdays, and Holidays.


page information credit: Florida State Parks, Florida Memory Project, Visit Gainesville, Explore Southern History, Wikipedia 
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors