Gainesville is a city in North Central Florida best known as the home of the Florida Gators at University of Florida. But Gainesville is also a nature hotspot with some amazing parks. Gainesville has four completely distinct Florida State Parks within the city limit, a State Trail, and several other county parks, gardens, and even a State Forest!
Devils Millhopper Geological State Park
Devils Millhopper is one of the most unique state parks, because you can climb down 120 feet into a sinkhole! Although the park is small, the stairs and boardwalk down into the lush tropical sinkhole are really worth the trip! After a rain, waterfalls even trickle down into the sinkhole!
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
For a big dose of nature right inside the city, San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is the perfect place. There are two entrances to the park- the south entrance inside Gainesville is for hiking; and the north entrance just north of Gainesville in Alachua is mainly for mountain biking. With over 6 miles of scenic hiking trails at the south entrance, and miles of mountain biking trails from beginner to advanced at the north entrance, San Felasco has something for everyone.
Dudley Farm Historic State Park
Another unique state park in Gainesville is Dudley Farm Historic State Park. In the 1800s and 1900s, the Dudley Family lived here and established a farm in this area. It’s a unique historic farmstead because all the buildings are original to this farm and have not been relocated. The farm is currently still in operation with crops and livestock, and you can even catch volunteers dressed in period clothing working around the farm.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a unique Florida State Park with 1 entrance in Gainesville and 2 more just outside of Gainesville. The park encompasses over 21,000 acres of Florida wetlands and prairie, miles of hiking trails and a campground. The main entrance has the majority of trails and activities, the La Chua Trail & Alachua Sink entrance is the best place to spot alligators and birds at the water, and the Bolen Bluff trailhead is the best chance to spot the wild bison and horses.
Loblolly Woods Nature Park
This is a hidden gem in the heart of Gainesville. The picturesque Hoggetown Creek runs through Loblolly Woods Nature Park and alongside the hiking trails and boardwalks. This shady forested park is perfect for a hike.
Morningside Nature Center
Morningside Nature Center is a very cool park with a living history farm which includes buildings and structures representing an 1800s family farm. Sometimes there are volunteers who will give you information about the structures and allow you to walk inside them. There are also over 6 miles of trails in the park.
Newnans Lake State Forest
One of the newest State Forests, Newnans Lake State Forest is located on the east side of Gainesville. There are several different trails to choose from and a variety of ecosystems to explore around Newnans Lake. The trails get pretty wet due to the proximity to the lake, and don’t forget bug spray!
Cellon Oak Park
Cellon Oak Park is home to the largest live oak tree in Florida, the Cellon Oak. The oak’s circumference is 30 feet and it is 80 feet tall!
Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
There are several State Trails that are considered part of the 175 Florida State Parks, and the Gainesville- Hawthorne State Trail is one of them. The paved trail stretches 16-miles between the cities of Gainesville and Hawthorne. The trail is perfect for biking. There are some scenic overlooks, historic markers, and the trail passes through the La Chua Trailhead of Paynes Prairie.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park
Sweetwater Wetlands Park was created in recent years as a means to filter the water going into Paynes Prairie. There are boardwalks and gravel pathways through several different wetlands areas. It’s a great place to spot wildlife!
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
If you’re looking for an enjoyable stroll through beautiful gardens, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is perfect. There are beautiful blooms and plants year round, including the largest bamboo garden in the state of Florida.
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The information in this post was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit any of the sites mentioned in this post, we recommend checking the most up-to-date information on their respective websites.