If you’re going to stop at the visitor center at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, chances are you’ll at least walk a portion of the Wacahoota Trail.
It’s the way you get to the tallest observation point in the park, the five-story observation tower along the south rim. The lowest deck, which provides a nice view, is also wheelchair accessible.
Length: 0.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.5484, -82.2914
Fees / Permits: $6 per vehicle
Restroom: At the visitor center and at the picnic area
Land Manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset. Bikes are not permitted on this trail. This trail is wheelchair accessible right up to the tower, but a steep grade is involved to get down and back up the bluff. Assistance would be needed.
From Interstate 75, take the Micanopy exit and drive east to US 441. Turn left and watch for the park entrance on your right within a mile. After you enter the park and pay your fee, drive straight back along Savannah Blvd to where it ends in a circle around a parking area. Park here for trail access.
From the large Great Florida Birding Trail kiosk at the edge of the parking lot, follow the sidewalk into the woods. It curves past a picnic area with restrooms.
Down the straightaway, it emerges into an open area facing the visitor center. Pop in here for an overview of the park, including its natural habitats and human history.
You pass the top end of the loop – a footpath off to the left – while following the accessible path down the bluff. Slipping into the deep shade of a hardwood hammock, it leads you to the base of the tower.
If you’re not up for climbing the whole thing, no worries. The view is clear from the lowest deck. But we’ve always found it worth the scramble to the top.
From the highest perch, we’ve caught sight of both wild horses and bison on the prairie.
You can also see hikers off in the distance on the Cones Dike Trail.
Coming down to the bottom of the tower, turn right. Follow the footpath deeper into the woods, passing an outdoor classroom with a big kettle. You can see the prairie through a screen of trees.
Enormous live oaks shade a portion of the trail. Pass a jumble of limestone boulders as the trail ascends the bluff into a pine forest.
The trail curves left under a series of grapevine-laden live oaks and Southern magnolia. After crossing a bridge, it emerges back onto the sidewalk adjoining the visitor center.
Turn right to follow the paved path back to the parking area.
Exploring Paynes Prairie
More trails in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Walk along a bluff where early explorers and native peoples once looked out over vastness of Paynes Prairie to discover a panorama that invites you to immerse in it
For the longest loop hike in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, tackle the Chacala Trail for a 6.2-mile circuit that brings you to a view of Chacala Pond
To fully immerse in the vastness of Paynes Prairie, follow the Cones Dike Trail, the longest of the footpaths that leads out into the prairie
Providing the easiest-to-reach panorama of Paynes Prairie, the Ecopassage Observation Boardwalk encourages you to stop and take it all in
One of North Florida’s oldest bike paths, the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail provides a mostly shaded rural ride
There are a handful of places that stand out as excellent locations for wildlife watching in Florida, but the best place to see alligators is in the home of the Gators, Gainesville
Along the Lake Trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve, Lake Wauberg and the wildlife that lives in it is the star attraction
Other trails worth exploring while you’re in this area.