Home of the University of Florida, Gainesville is surrounded with outdoor recreation opportunities.
The biggest and most obvious is Paynes Prairie, a landform defining the south rim of the city, protected by a string of parks and preserves. The popular Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail extends east from Boulware Springs, the city’s original water source and an access point for both the trail, Sweetwater Preserve, and the northern portion of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. This is a bike-friendly city, with bike commuters and students using its many dedicated bike paths.
The City of Gainesville has set aside many smaller public lands within city limits to conserve unique natural features. Beyond city limits, you’ll find plenty of places to play, especially to the east, where conservation lands protect portions of the shorelines of the many lakes within Alachua County. To the west are the springs of the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers.
Trails and Parks near Gainesville
- Alfred A. Ring Park- Alfred A. Ring Park features a dense slope forest along Hogtown Creek with old-growth trees and rare wildflowers along Appalachian-style ravines, a scenic hike
- Barr Hammock Preserve- Encompassing more than 5,700 acres, Barr Hammock Preserve near Gainesville includes an expansive wetland area, the Levy Prairie, an excellent birding destination.
- Bivens Arm Nature Park- The City of Gainesville's very first nature park, Bivens Arm surrounds a marshy "arm" of Paynes Prairie, where trees tower above the network of nature trails.
- Cellon Oak Park- The largest live oak tree in Florida, the Cellon Oak north of Gainesville is more than 30 feet in diameter and shades a space that puts most other oaks to shame.
- Cofrin Nature Park- One of Gainesville's urban nature parks, Cofrin Nature Park is right near the Oaks Mall on Newberry Rd and features a half-mile trail in a shady forest
- Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park- It's the trickle of water that catches your attention, the steady drip and splash down the rocky rim and into the depths of one of Florida's largest sinkholes at Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park.
- Devil’s Millhopper Nature Trail- The nature trail at Devil's Millhopper State Park circles the lip of an enormous sinkhole before plunging down into it on a series of staircases with views of natural waterfalls.
- Dudley Farm Historic State Park- For a ramble through a authentic, preserved Florida pioneer homestead, visit Dudley Farm Historic State Park, interpreting the life of the 1800s Florida farm family who lived here.
- Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park- Cradling a collection of spectacular springs in a forested glen along the Santa Fe River, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park is Florida's newest state park and one of the finest places to experience a spring up close.
- Hogtown Creek Greenway- On the Hogtown Creek Greenway, get lost in the woods in the heart of old Gainesville while getting in touch with the past
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park- A swimming hole as a work of natural art, the deep gash in the earth that is Ichetucknee Spring glows an unearthly robin's-egg blue, cradled in a limestone bowl within a leafy glen.
- John Mahon Nature Park- Ten acres isn't a lot for a natural area, but at John Mahon Nature Park in Gainesville, it's plenty for a quick, refreshing walk in the woods off Newberry Road.
- Kanapaha Botanical Gardens- One of the most beautiful and complex gardens in Florida, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens sits beneath grand live oaks with more than a dozen themed gardens on 62 acres. Bamboo is their specialty, with Florida's best collection of these tall grasses.
- La Chua Trail- Located at the north end of Paynes Prairie, the La Chua Trail is an excellent wildlife watching site, with an elevated boardwalk and lengthy dike out to an observation tower.
- Loblolly Woods Nature Park- Protecting 159 acres of lush forests along the confluence of Possum Creek and Hogtown Creek, Loblolly Woods Nature Park is a beauty spot in urban Gainesville.
- Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve- Amid the vast uplands between Orange Lake, Lake Lochloosa, and Paynes Prairie southeast of Gainesville, Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve offers a scenic day hiking destination on a series of loops created for equestrian use.
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park- At Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, docents in 1940s dress take you through the living and working space of this Pulitzer-winning novelist beloved by regional historians for her accurate depictions of rural North Florida.
- Mill Creek Preserve West- Mill Creek Preserve encompasses 5-plus miles of hiking on nearly 1,200 acres of unexpected delights in an area well-known for its sinkholes and disappearing streams.
- Moonshine Creek Trails- The Moonshine Creek Trails immerse you in the botanical beauty and karst weirdness that are important facets of San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park.
- Morningside Nature Center- Since 1970, Morningside Nature Center has been Gainesville's flagship nature park, protecting the largest stand of longleaf pine savanna remaining within city limits.
- O’Leno State Park- Once a pioneer community along the Old Bellamy Road connecting St. Augustine and Tallahassee in 1826, O'Leno State Park protects one of North Florida's weirder geologic wonders, a disappearing river.
- Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park- At Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, bison and wild horse roam free amid one of the state's largest and northernmost grasslands, a shallow basin cradled in a park 21,000 acres in size.
- Poe Springs Park- At Poe Springs Park, the Poe Springs Nature Trail carries you across a landscape shaped by water acting on limestone, where surface rock is obvious and studded with fossils.
- Prairie Creek Preserve- Offering hiking trails in the deep shade of the floodplain of Prairie Creek near Gainesville, Prairie Creek Preserve is a beauty spot provided to the public by the Alachua Conservation Trust
- River Rise Preserve State Park- A passive preserve, River Rise Preserve State Park adjoins O'Leno State Park, taking up where O'Leno leaves off with the Santa Fe River flowing underground. The river emerges all at once at River Rise, a significant geologic feature that bars paddlers from heading any farther upstream.
- San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park- As the site of a significant Spanish mission, weird karst geology, and an array of Appalachian plants and trees that simply don't creep much farther south, San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is a passive preserve that most visitors only get to know a corner of.
- Sweetwater Preserve- The 125-acre Sweetwater Preserve in Gainesville provides a buffer and wildlife corridor on the northern rim of Paynes Prairie, with a hiking loop on its eastern side and bike trails on its western side.
- UF NATL Nature Trails- Circling restoration and natural areas on the campus of the University of Florida, the UF NATL Nature Trails provide an excellent orientation to Florida's native trees, plants, and grasses.
- Watermelon Pond WEA- With more than 4,200 acres in this FWC Wildlife Environmental Area, Watermelon Pond WEA offers both solitude and scenery along a vast system of prairie habitats.
More near Gainesville
- Grand opening of Santa Fe River Preserve (Nov 2017)- On November 18, Alachua Conservation Trust opens a brand new preserve to the public: Santa Fe River Preserve, more than 900 acres along the Santa Fe River near Worthington Springs.
- Florida’s Best Urban Parks (Oct 2016)- When you live in a tightly packed space, you need somewhere green as your go-to place nearby. These are our top picks for parks in Florida's urban areas, chosen for their diversity of outdoor activities and/or their unique green spaces.
- Paynes Prairie in purple (May 2016)- Resplendent in the royal purples of pickerelweed blooms, Paynes Prairie is a showy place to cross as spring fades to summer.
- Five Star Trails Gainesville & Ocala has launched (Dec 2013)- While we were roaming the trails of South Florida, a box of books arrived at our home: our author copies of Five Star Trails Gainesville & Ocala! We started working on this guide to the best trails in the Gainesville and Ocala vicinity last fall, nibbling away at hikes at the south end of the […]
- At San Felasco Hammock (May 2013)- At San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, two hiking trail systems offer two different perspectives on karst landscapes and dense deciduous forests.
- Camp WhereUWanna (Mar 2013)- With our second adventure in our VW camper, Primrose, behind us, it’s good to be home. Before the trip I had a good friend “freshen up” some of the 30-year-old systems on Primrose. I’ve read too many stories, and have had a close friend lose his camper because of old fuel lines letting go. Seeing […]
- How to Identify a Coral Snake (Aug 2011)- Coral snake or king snake? Their coloration is similar so it's tough to tell, but remember the rhyme, "red touch yellow, kill a fellow." Don't pick snakes up!
- Gator time at Alachua Sink (Jun 2011)- Alligators are in abundance along the La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, so it shouldn't be a surprise that we saw some of them mating.
- Gator growl at La Chua (Apr 2009)- In the heart of Gator Country, a deep sinkhole swallows the waters of Paynes Prairie at its northeastern rim in Gainesville: La Chua Sink. A brand new boardwalk now provides a closer look.
- Wild horses on Paynes Prairie (Apr 2009)- That magical moment when you climb to the top of the observation tower on the rim of Paynes Prairie and see the wild horses on the prairie for the first time: priceless.