Outdoor pursuits in and around Gainesville
Florida has incredible state parks— springs, ocean, forests, sinkholes, manatees, mermaid shows, dwarf cypress trees… what more could you ask for? A year-long state parks pass costs $68 and gets you in free to any state park. You can also pay as you go— entrance to parks are in the $2-10 range.
Paynes Prairie is a large state park just south of Shands on 441, surrounding the parts of Lake Wauburg not owned by the school. The park encompasses a wide range of ecosystems and is home to bison, horses, and alligators, as well as being a prime spot for bird watching and a winter habitat for sandhill cranes. The park is criss-crossed by a number of trails, including the LaChua trail, which will get you closer to more and bigger alligators than you should probably feel comfortable being near. The park also has a 50-foot observation tower and a smaller boardwalk and observation deck just off 441— a perfect place to stargaze.
The Gainesville-Hawthorne bike trail is an easy and exceptional place to go for an outdoor outing. The 16-mile paved trail goes from Gainesville to the town of Hawthorne, passing through the northern part of Paynes Prairie. It is a beautiful ride that takes you through a number of different ecosystems, with many stops along the way for scenic overlooks.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is a beautiful place to get lost for an hour or two. Off Archer Road west of 1-75, the gardens have a huge variety of very cool plants organized thematically into different types of gardens, including the largest herb garden in the Southeast. Guided tours are available, or you can walk the 1.5-mile trail that meanders through the garden. Admission is $7, but go during the annual plant sale in the fall and admission is free! They also offer a number of events and workshops for anyone even slightly botanically inclined.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is a magical place, like stepping into Ferngully. The park features a sinkhole filled with all kinds of cool plants not seen elsewhere in the region. There is a half-mile nature trail and a long staircase leading down into the sinkhole—a great alternative to running stairs at the stadium! Pets are welcome on a leash and there are picnic tables available, as well as a nature center and guided tours are available on Saturday mornings. Definitely worth a visit!
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is a large park and offers longer trails than most of the other parks in the area. There are a variety of hiking trails from a 1-mile loop to a 6-mile trail. The park also has biking trails (20 miles of them!) and horseback riding trails (if you happen to have a horse). Trails are pretty flat (Florida) and traverse a variety of ecosystems, including pine forest, which has a very different feel than the other large parks.
The city of Gainesville also has a great parks system offering everything from disc golf to kickball fields to dog social gathering spaces to trails to picnic shelters to alligators….Free! Find out more about all the parks here: http://www.cityofgainesville.org/tabid/182/Default.aspx#ColcloughPond
Other options for outdoor activities around the state:
Cross Creek: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the author of The Yearling, lived here at Cross Creek. You can see her home and tour the farm. 2013 is the 75th anniverary of the book’s publication so several special events are planned through 2014.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park – Take a trip up to Itchetucknee on a Saturday for tubing and swimming. On your way home, stop at the High Spring farmers’ market, then make your way to A Secret Garden Bakery for delicious treats (key lime cheesecake!).
McIntosh/Micanopy – antique/boutique shopping
Paintball – Looking to use your pent up energy in a productive way? Consider going paintballing! First Strike Paintball is located 30 minutes away from school, and Rocky Creek Paintball is 10 minutes down Archer Road. Groups of med students often take part of this activity on their own or with their small group leaders. Call ahead and they can offer you a group rate for hours of messy, exciting, and sometimes painful fun!
University of Florida Outdoor Recreational Facilities
- Lake Wauburg – Lake Wauburg is owned by the University of Florida and is located 10 miles south on 441 / 13th St. Admission is free with your Gator1 ID card. Open six days a week, it offers a place to kayak, canoe, water ski, wave board, paddle boat, and swim. You can also take advantage of its Frisbee golf course, rock climbing wall, biking trails, and challenge course. It is a great place for a fun picnic with your fellow students or quiet reflection during the weekends. And it’s FREE for you and your guests!
- Swimming– With three pools to choose from (outdoor and indoor) swimmers have great access to the UF facilities. These are great places for the triathlon athletes!
- UF Recreational Sports Calendar – What’s Going On Right Now!