|Yes, I hike in pearls :)|
Having grown up in the rolling hills of upstate New York, I always feel like I'm more in my element when I'm surrounded by that kind of terrain. And although Ryan is a born and raised Florida boy/southern gentlemen, he loves the North (he DID fall in love with a Yankee!) So, long story short, we take every chance we get to travel as far North as possible (with the time we have) - and love hiking with altitude!
But as Double Gators (UF undergraduate and law school), we've spent our fair share of time in and around Gainesville, Florida (not to mention, Ryan grew up in the area). When seven years under our belts, we know that you can't just dismiss central Florida as a no man's land - it is definitely beautiful in its own way and there's plenty of outdoorsy stuff to do. On weekends (when the Gators aren't playing, of course) you can find people biking, hiking, fishing, boating, kayaking, floating down the springs on tubes, or driving to the beach, etc. (you get the point)
That being said, all you altitude haters, I have the perfect hike for you. If you're ever in the Gainesville/Ocala area, head over to Paynes Prairie and do the ~8.25 mile Cone's Dike Trail!
Cone's Dike Trail is a flat walk (4 miles in and 4 miles out) through the prairie. Although there's not a lot to the terrain, I still think it's worth the morning or afternoon to check it out. We did the hike on a Saturday with our friend, Byron. After parking ($6 parking fee per car) and starting on the trail, we came across several groups of hikers, runners and photographers (and although we didn't see them that day, the trail is popular with bicyclists as well).
One thing to note is that there are very few shady areas. So, either go in the morning or later afternoon if you think the sun will be too much for you. Also, make sure to bring a daypack with some food, lots of water, a camera, and sunscreen even if it's cloudy (you are hiking in Florida after all!) And although you don't have to worry about climbing or uneven ground, make sure to wear good hiking boots/sneakers with comfortable socks (please don't be that guy walking around in flip flops on this trail!)
Cone's Dike Trail is also a great place for bird watchers! You may come across egrets, herons, hawks, eagles in addition to the alligators, bison and turtles. Note that no pets are allowed on this particular trail and that while Paynes Prairie is open 365 days a year, the park opens at 8AM and closes at sundown - so you want to give yourself quite a bit of time to do the 8+ miles, especially considering the heat.
If you want to bring your dog or try a shorter trail, Paynes Prairie has lots of other trails! Check out those trails here.
Here are some photos from the day we were there:
|View of the prairie from the observation tower near the visitor's center|
|Some of the wildlife you may see!|
|I don't suggest you get this close to the wildlife...lol|
To get to Paynes Prairie from Gainesville: travel south on 13th St (SR 441). Once you drive through the prairie, keep an eye out on the left for brown signs marking the Paynes Prairie entrance.
100 Savannah Boulevard, Micanopy, Florida 32667 (352) 466 - 3397 Website Map