From the air, it looks like an arm of Paynes Prairie, detached by human activity. West of Micanopy, Levy Prairie is an important link in a chain of natural prairies in an arc from the edge of Gainesville southwest towards Williston.
It’s also very similar in nature to Paynes Prairie. There are times when it is bone dry, and times when it is a lake. Most of the time, Levy Prairie is a muddy marsh, which is why a healthy alligator population inhabits it.
Within Barr Hammock Preserve, which has more than doubled in size to 12,000 acres since its inception, wildlife can move from Levy Prairie to Ledwith Prairie, the next massive prairie to the south.
This hike description covers the original Levy Loop Trail around Levy Prairie, the first of the trails to open at Barr Hammock Preserve.
In 2017, Barr Hammock South opened along the edge of Ledwith Prairie, with more than 13 miles of marked trails for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians.
We have not hiked the Barr Hammock South part of the preserve yet, but the parking area for it is shown at the bottom of our map. These two segments of the preserve do not yet connect.
Length: 6.8 mile loop
Address: 14920 SE 11th Dr, Micanopy FL
Fees / Permits: free
Land Manager: Alachua County
Open 8-6 Nov-Apr, 8-8 May-Oct. Bicyclists and equestrians welcome. For your safety and theirs, dogs are not permitted because of the alligator population in Levy Prairie. Avoid getting within 20 feet of an alligator.
This hike is a 6.8 mile loop around the prairie with absolutely no shortcuts. You either hike out and back a bit, or commit to the whole thing.
Most of this loop is in full sun. Use sunscreen and a hat. Stay on the levee, as the prairie itself is dangerously muddy and the outer side of the loop has homes along it for the first mile.
From Interstate 75 exit 374, Micanopy, follow CR 234 east to US 441. Turn north on US 441 and continue 1 mile to Wacahoota Road. Turn left and drive 0.6 mile, crossing over I-75 on an overpass.
Immediately after the overpass, take the first left – a sharp, doubling-back left – onto SE 11 Drive. Continue down this sometimes-bumpy dirt road for 0.6 mile. It ends at the trailhead.
Walk through the pass-through stile and stay to the right at the trail junction to walk counterclockwise around the loop. The north levee has no shade, so it’s best to tackle that early.
To your right, a floodplain forest with a natural marsh. To the left, a wet prairie encircled by this levee. The sounds of frogs and birds are everywhere.
In this broad open space, the wind rushes across the water, generating a nice swamp cooler effect off the marsh. You can look across and see mostly open wet prairie with scattered cypresses and young floodplain trees.
When you see the first warning sign, it will make you laugh. The preserve managers don’t want you to step off this levee, and with comical drawings, they tell you why. The threat of alligators and deep mud are enough to say “stay on the dike!”
Atop the broad levee, the trail turns a corner to the right. It’s here the big reveal happens. Levy Prairie is vast.
Wildlife scurries, plops, and chatters through the wetlands. A giant rock on the right turns out to be a gigantic sculpture in front of an even bigger home. A handful of homesteads are hidden behind the trees on the prairie rim.
Passing a pasture on the right, the trail makes a sharp left, heading away from the prairie rim and towards open water. A line runs across the prairie, perhaps a canal cut for the cattle ranch. Beyond is a little bit of open water.
After a mile, prairies flank both sides of the levee. Passing Marker 2, it tells you it’s 1.5 mile back to the trailhead. Dog fennel obscures the views across the marsh. You can smell the deep, thick mud.
Sand cordgrass grows in clumps in the shallower wetlands. Watch out for the occasional divot in the levee as well as fire ant mounds.
As the rim of the prairie is a nice mix of live oaks and cabbage palms, it’s a reminder of what William Bartram described in 1774 as he visited the village of Cuscowilla along Paynes Prairie, not far from here by horseback. It’s highly likely he rode along the edge of this prairie as well.
After 2.7 miles, the trail comes to a junction. You leave the North Levee here. Turn left to stay along the edge of Levy Prairie. The levee becomes a straightaway cutting through the heart of the prairie.
The trail crosses culverts with manual valves enabling the movement of water from the prairie into a lower elevation wetland on the right.
The trail curves right, flanked by canals on both sides, it begins to enter the forest. Up to this point there’s been what seemed like old pavement underfoot since making the sharp turn off the North Levee. It’s now time for a sharp left onto the South Levee.
A shady corridor stretches ahead as you walk along the remains of an old fenceline with weathered wooden posts. The canal on the left is covered in water spangles, obscuring the water, and down on the right is a tannic stream flowing away from the prairie into a gum swamp.
Passing occasional big breaks through the trees on the left, you can look out across the sweep of the prairie. On the right, the blooms of American lotus may catch your eye.
By 3.5 miles, the trail makes a slight jog to head down a long shady straightway. A towering loblolly pine on the left has three trunks, each topped with its own distinct crown.
The South Levee continues its odd little jogs for the remainder of the hike, keeping you in the shade of large trees.
Many of the loblolly pines along this part of the trail are of significant size, along with a mammoth-sized sugar hackberry and some poison ivy vines in proportion to these big trees.
At the base of the levee on the right, the habitat becomes a blackwater swamp, where royal ferns cast reflections against the dark, sluggish water.
Passing through the location of an old gate – this was most recently a cattle ranch, with fenceline dropping down into the soggy prairie grasses – the trail continues along with views across the prairie. The panorama is best along this section.
At 4.5 miles, the trail makes another curve, turning away from the sweeping views. The forest closes in. American lotus drift across patches of open water. Wading birds congregate in shallow pools along the prairie’s edge.
The trail passes through another old gate and fence at 5.4 miles, where an adjoining oak tree has absorbed a section of an old barbed wire fence.
Past the gate, the trail starts to lose elevation. It’s here that you’re most likely to see alligators sunning on the banks. They should plop into the water as you approach.
Passing the next mileage marker at 5.7 miles, the trail remains low to the water before the levee rises up, leaving the open marsh behind to parallel a canal filled with shallow, tannic but clear flowing water.
As the trail curves left, slash pines tower overhead on the right, the habitat transitioning from gum swamp an island of pine flatwoods. Crossing an outflow culvert, the trail continues down a straightaway.
The noise you left behind picks up as you get closer to the trailhead, which directly adjoins Interstate 75. Reaching the T intersection with the beginning of the loop, turn right to exit to the trailhead, completing a 6.8 mile hike.
Our slideshow of hiking Barr Hammock Preserve
More places to hike near Barr Hammock Preserve
A worthwhile wander on water management lands, this loop hike at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve hits the highlights of this colorful 2,850-acre preserve.
Peek through thick curtains of Spanish moss beneath grandfather live oaks along the shores of an ancient lake
Protecting a massive natural basin of prairie between Micanopy and Gainesville, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park combines panoramic views with wildlife watching along its trails