Small ponds are common in the sinkholes of the karst geology of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

When naturalist William Bartram visited this area in 1774, he called this "the great Alachua Savannah" ("alachua" is a Timucuan word meaning "sinkhole"). The prairie is here primarily because of the large number of sinkholes in the karst geology underlying the area. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park contains more than twenty distinct biological communities within its boundaries, including habitat for livestock, alligators, horses, bison and more than 270 species of resident and migratory birds. Near the visitor center is a 50-foot observation tower, high enough to give you a pretty good overview of the the property.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park offers biking, hiking, horseback riding trails, camping, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, picnicking and wildlife watching on more than 21,000 acres of recreational paradise. Most visitors come November through April when the birds are in. The park rangers also offer activities on the weekends during those months.

Bicycling is allowed on Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park (which crosses the far north section of Paynes Prairie Preserve in Gainesville) and on the Bolen Bluff, Chacala, Cone's Dike and Jackson's Gap trails only. You'll probably want to have fat tires for most of these trails. The four other main trails in the park are for foot traffic only.

There is an equestrian/primitive campground located along the Chacala Trail, about 1.85 miles from the nearest parking area. There are three tent pads, two grills, a fire circle, horse-hitching rail, waterless restroom, and two picnic tables under a shelter with a hand pump delivering non-potable water. Reservations need to be made at least 48 hours in advance of your arrival.

The full-facility campground is near Lake Wauberg. The tent sites are a bit of a walk and the RV sites are all back-in. Each site has a limerock surface, fire ring with grill, picnic table, lantern post and nearby water and electric. Some sites offer 50 amp electric but most are 30 amp. Universally accessible restrooms and showers are available in the campground. Maximum RV length: 50 feet.

Canoeing, kayaking and fishing are allowed on Lake Wauberg. No gasoline-powered motors are allowed.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is open for day use from 8 am to sunset every day of the year. The visitor center is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily. Admission fees: $6 per vehicle with two to eight occupants. $4 per single occupany vehicle. $2 per pedestrian, bicyclist or extra passenger. The 65-person picnic pavilion rents for $30 (plus tax) per day. Camping: $18 per site per night (plus tax), includes electric and water. Group Camping: $4 per person per night (plus tax) for a minimum of five people.

To get there: Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is located on the east side of US Highway 441, about 10 miles south of Gainesville in the northern part of Micanopy. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a premier location on the Great Florida Birding Trail.