Fall in Florida doesn’t really exist. We are lucky if temperatures drop below 80 degrees in December. We typically experience our best weather months during late Winter and early Spring (better late than never, right?) Still, we love to participate in the act of Fall and grab onto every bit of what’s out there available to us that reminds us of Fall. Because, afterall, it’s a magical time. That’s why on our camping trip at Paynes Prairie State Park, I was pleasantly surprised when bits of Fall began to shine through as we hiked our way through the grounds.
It wasn’t until last year that I discovered this little area of Florida. After seeing an Instagram post about the historic town of Micanopy (where the park is located), I booked an impromptu camping trip to Paynes Prairie state park because I had the sudden urge to explore the world of Florida camping. Plus, we had an adopted our rescue pup, Koa, earlier in the year and I was dying to get our herding dog outdoors.
As we head into October, I can’t help but reminisce about my time spent at this park. I can practically feel the cool (not exactly cold) crisp Fall air as I revisit our experience through these photos.
While most of the park was full of the green and brownish hues we are used to here in Florida, every once in a while I would see a pop of redish orange or yellow shine through as we walked along the hiking trails.
I was instantly in awe of this beautiful place.
The state park is located just south of Gainesville. You can literally see the prairie as you are driving along I-75 north. So much so that I’m not sure how I could have missed something of it’s magnitude and beauty. A popular spot among UF students due to the short proximity to campus. Students also have access to the North and South Lake Wauburg parks for recreational use. This lake can also be seen from Paynes Prairie and is kayak and canoe accessible as long as you bring your own. Unfortunately, at this time there are no rentals available through the state park.
There are numerous trails within Paynes Prairie. Only some of which are dog friendly due potential run ins with gators, bison or snakes. All of which I myself would be okay with avoiding so I’m not complaining about missing out on those hikes. However, if you choose to camp fur-baby free, they are there for you. Also, if horses are your thing, they have equestrian camping available as well.
We were in the primitive camping area and right off our campsite was the Lake Trail that takes you past Lake Wauburg on a peaceful journey into a more woodsy area.
This is where the magic happened.
I don’t remember exactly which trail it was (one of the few dog-friendly ones) but at some point we were looking up and around in amazement. Impressively tall trees covered with red, orange and yellow leaves. The fallen leaves crunching at our feet as we marched onward. I suddenly had the urge to pick up a handful and throw in the air as I imagined I would have as child. So that’s what I did.
Let me say this. To others who have seen their fair share of Fall colored leaves, this was nothing. But to a born and raised Floridian, this was everything.
Not that the rest of the park where the Fall foliage was lacking wasn’t just as spectacular. Because it was.
A little bit of Fall mixed in with the Florida scenes I have to come know and love.
One of the other highlights of the park is the 50 foot observation tower that looks out onto Paynes Prairie. We opted to drive to this trail since it wasn’t as walkable from the campsite. You can park in the Visitor’s Center lot, which is a quick walk to the tower.
Brave yourself as the walk up the wobbly, although safe, tower isn’t for the faint of heart.
I promise the view at the top is worth it.
Once we reached the top, we had a panoramic view of the impressive 21,000 acre prairie. Again, how did I not know about this place?
The state park is actually located in the town of Micanopy. You absolutely cannot leave without making a stop in the historic downtown area Micanopy. In fact, this town is the reason we even made the trip to Paynes Prairie in the first place.
It’s southern charm isn’t something you find many places in Florida (to me, Florida is the pseudo south.) Every one in the town knows each other and the community prides themselves on southern hospitality.
Also, It’s antique lovers dream. We probably walked into three or four antique shops in a couple block radius. The streets are lined with them. Some shops were packed with rare antique finds, others with vintage clothing and accessories and one with vintage musical instruments (my boyfriend’s favorite.) It made for a great couple hours of browsing.
We had lunch on the patio of Old Florida Cafe. I gobbled down a delicious cuban sandwiches with a side of black bean soup while listening to the folks next to me chat with their church friends about happenings in the town. I suspect this was a typical Sunday for them.
Micanopy’s claim to fame is the movie Doc Hollywood because it was filmed there (even though the movie is set in South Carlolina – see it’s that kind of town.) This place, like many others, had the DVD on display at the checkout, which made me giggle.
I felt like this town was straight out of a movie (and you will, too.) So the fact that a movie like that was actually filmed there makes it that much more special.
Things to Know:
- The ranger station closes at 6pm and you will not be able to get in after as the gate locks.
- The park is dog friendly but dogs aren’t permitted on all of the trails.
- No parking on the actual campsites when tent camping but parking is very close to the site (approx. 100 feet away.)
- Bring your own kayaks or paddleboards to use on Lake Wauburg as there is no place to rent within the state park.
- Refer to the Florida State Parks website for more info: https://www.floridastateparks.org/park-history/Paynes-Prairie
(FYI – this trip to Paynes Priaire and Micanopy was taken in early December and we were in a primitive camping site)
Have you been to Paynes Praire state park or historic downtown Micanopy? Or do you have more questions about this area? Leave me a comment and let me know!