Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Paynes Prairie is biologically, geologically, and historically unique. This park became Florida´s first state preserve in 1971 and is now designated as a National Natural Landmark. Noted artist and naturalist William Bartram called it the great Alachua Savannah when he wrote about his visit to the prairie in 1774.
Over 20 distinct biological communities provide a rich array of habitats for wildlife, including alligators, bison, wild horses, and over 270 species of birds. Exhibits and an audio-visual program at the visitor center explain the area´s natural and cultural history. A 50-foot-high observation tower near the visitor center provides a panoramic view of the preserve.
Eight trails provide opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling. Ranger-led activities are offered on weekends, November through April. Fishing on Lake Wauberg is allowed and a boat ramp provides access for canoes and boats with electric motors. Gasoline powered boats are not allowed. Full-facility campsites are available for overnight visitors. Located on U.S. 441, 10 miles south of Gainesville. For Information about Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, please call 352-466-3397.
Peacock Springs State Park
This park has two major springs, a spring run, and six sinkholes-all in near pristine condition. One of the longest underwater cave systems in the continental United States, about 28,000 feet of underwater passages have been explored and surveyed by cave divers. Only divers who have proof of their scuba certification are allowed to explore the underwater caverns. Mature forest stands around the springs represent four major natural plant communities. A nature trail leads visitors on a path tracing the twisting tunnels of the caves far below their feet. Swimming in Peacock Spring and Orange Grove Sink are popular activities during the summer. Grills and pavilions are available for picnicking. Located 16 miles southwest of Live Oak on State Road 51, two miles east of Luraville on Peacock Springs Road. For Information about Peacock Springs State Park, please call 386-776-2194.
Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park
East of Jacksonville’s skyscrapers and west of the beaches, this state park protects one of the largest contiguous areas of coastal uplands remaining in Duval County. The uplands protect the water quality of the Nassau and St. Johns rivers, ensuring the survival of aquatic plants and animals, and providing an important refuge for birds. Wildlife is abundant and ranges from the threatened American alligator to the endangered wood stork. Equestrians, hikers, and off-road bicyclists can explore five miles of multi-use trails that wind through the park’s many different natural communities. The park has a canoe/kayak launch accessible by a 500 foot portage to the marshes. Located off I-95 or 9A, head east on Heckscher Drive. Turn north on New Berlin Road, then east on Cedar Point Drive. Turn north on Pumpkin Hill Road. Trailhead parking is approximately one mile on the left. For Information about Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, please call 904-696-5980.
Rainbow Springs State Park
Archaeological evidence indicates that people have been using this spring for nearly 10,000 years. Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring and, from the 1930s through the 1970s, was the site of a popular, privately-owned attraction. The Rainbow River is popular for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at both the headsprings and the campground. A picnic area at the spring includes tables, grills, and pavilions. For large gatherings, private pavilions can be reserved. Tubing is not allowed in the headsprings area of the park, but tubers can launch at nearby K.P. Hole County Park. The full-facility campground is about six miles from the day use area. The day use area is located three miles north of Dunnellon on the east side of U.S. 41. The campground is located on S.W. 180th Avenue Road about two miles north of County Road 484 and two miles south of State Road 40. For Information about Rainbow Springs State Park, please call 352-465-8555 Campground: 352-465-8550.
River Rise Preserve State Park
The Santa Fe River goes underground in O’Leno State Park and reemerges over three miles away in River Rise State Park as a circular pool before resuming its journey to the Suwannee River. Surrounded by quiet woods and huge trees, anglers can spend a relaxing afternoon fishing on the river. Hiking and wildlife viewing is also a favorite pastimes for park visitors.
Equestrians can explore over 20 miles of trails and end the day camping overnight with their horses. Located near the entrance to the park, the horse camp has primitive campsites, restrooms, and a 20-stall horse barn available on a first-come-first-served basis. Equestrian fees and camping fees are paid first at O´Leno State Park before entering River Rise State park. The equestrian fee includes park admission. Proof of negative Coggins is required. O´Leno State Park is located on U.S. 441, six miles north of High Springs. The entrance to the River Rise is two miles west of High Springs on U.S. 27. For Information about River Rise Preserve State Park, please call 386-454-1853.
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
This preserve has one of the few remaining mature forests in Florida. The limestone outcrops and extreme changes in elevation provide ideal conditions for many species of hardwood trees, including several champion trees. Bobcats, white-tailed deer, gray foxes, turkeys, and many species of songbirds make their homes in the 18 natural communities found in the preserve. The park offers outdoor adventure to hikers, off-road bicyclists, horseback riders, and nature lovers. To ensure solitude and quiet for a true wilderness experience, the southern two-thirds of the park is designated for hiking only. The northern third of the park has horse trails, off-road cycling, and hiking. Equestrians must carry proof of a negative Coggins test. The hiking trailhead is located four miles northwest of Gainesville on State Road 232. The horseback and bicycle trailheads are located off U.S. 441 just south of Alachua. For Information about San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, please call 386-462-7905.
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
Situated on the banks of the legendary Suwannee River, this center honors the memory of American composer Stephen Foster, who wrote “Old Folks at Home,” the song that made the river famous. The museum features exhibits about Foster’s most famous songs and his music can be heard emanating from the park’s 97-bell carillon throughout the day. In Craft Square, visitors can watch demonstrations of quilting, blacksmithing, stain glass making, and other crafts, or visit the gift shop. Hiking, bicycling, canoeing, and wildlife viewing are popular activities. Miles of trails wind through some of the most scenic areas of North Florida. For overnight stays, visitors can camp in the full-facility campground or stay in a cabin. Every Memorial Day weekend (last weekend in May), the park hosts the Florida Folk Festival. Other special events include concerts, weekend retreats, a monthly coffeehouse, a regional quilt show, and an antique tractor show. Located in White Springs off U.S. 41 North. For Information about Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, please call 386-397-2733.
Suwannee River State Park
About a quarter mile past the ranger station, a high bluff overlooks the spot where the Withlacoochee River joins the Suwannee River on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Vestiges of history in the park show how important the Suwannee River was to Florida history. Along the river are long mounds of earthworks built during the Civil War to guard against incursions by Union Navy gunboats. Other remnants from the past include one of the state´s oldest cemeteries, and a paddle-wheel shaft from a 19th century steamboat. Five trails, ranging from a quarter mile to 18 miles, loop through surrounding woodlands and provide panoramic views of the rivers. Other activities include fishing, picnicking, and canoeing; for overnight stays, the park has a full-facility campground and cabins. Located 13 miles west of Live Oak, off U.S. 90. For Information about Suwannee River State Park, please call 386-362-2746.
Troy Spring State Park
The depths of this spring contain the remains of the Civil War-era steamboat Madison, scuttled in the spring run in 1863 to keep it from being captured. A recent addition to the state park system, Troy Spring now has an entrance road, restrooms, an accessible walkway, picnic tables, and a riverside dock for canoeists and boaters on the Suwannee River. This 70-foot deep, first magnitude spring offers opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Only open-water scuba diving is permitted and divers must be certified; no solo diving is allowed. Trails for hiking and horseback riding are being developed. Located off County Road 425, 1.3 miles north of U.S. 27. For Information about Troy Spring State Park, please call 386-935-4835.
Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park
Accessible only by boat, this preserve is a favorite of anglers because it boasts both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Bordering Florida’s Gulf Coast between Cedar Key and Yankeetown, extensive salt marshes and tidal creeks create habitats for saltwater fish, crabs, and shellfish. The park’s uplands protect a remnant of the Gulf Hammock that once spanned thousands of acres between the Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers. Endangered and threatened species-including West Indian manatees, bald eagles, American alligators, and Florida black bears-live or feed within the preserve. Although there aren’t any marked foot trails, nature enthusiasts can enjoy wildlife viewing from a canoe. A primitive campsite on the Waccasassa River, accessible only by private boat, is available on a first-come-first-served basis. Boat access is from County Road 40 in Yankeetown, County Road 326 in Gulf Hammock, and Cedar Key. For Information about Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park, please call 352-543-5567.