Discover Our Natural Beauty
If an active lifestyle is part of your daily routine, Greater Gainesville has you covered with a myriad of nature preserves, neighborhood parks, community centers, gardens, and a number of man-made and natural aquatic wonders to fit any taste or exertion proclivity. The outdoors is calling with a variety of nature parks that offer up an abundance of fun activities; including, tubing, snorkeling, horseback riding, cycling, hiking, stargazing, and just general exploring.
Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park and its 30 miles of trails and paths offer visitors the opportunity to come face-to-face with alligators, wild horses, the once-plentiful bison, and a wealth of birds and unique plant species. Whether on horseback or on foot, from atop your bike or atop the observation tower affording sweeping panoramic views, you’ll be in awe of the rolling terrain and diverse wildlife that call this park home.
For a more educational experience, Morningside Nature Center offers up wildlife and natural habitat preservation tours, while Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park enables visitors to learn about Florida’s natural history via fossils and remains as you journey 120 feet deep into a majestic sinkhole nestled within a lush pine forest. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is home to the largest public display of bamboo in Florida and the largest herb garden in the entire Southeast, with 24 distinct collections of greenery dispersed along the mile and half paved pathway. The sky-bound pleasures of the Bat Houses and Butterfly Rainforest at UF’s Florida Museum provide other pleasurable educational opportunities.
Beat that unavoidable Florida heat with a number of refreshing public swimming options, offering everything from diving to aqua yoga to lifeguard clinics to simply lounging poolside. If you prefer a more natural way to cool off, Greater Gainesville is home to the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the nation, the majority of which are less than an hour away by car. Generally hovering around 70 degrees year-round, these invigorating waters’ color palette ranges from hypnotically crystal clear to every luminous shade and nuance of blue and green imaginable. Nature’s canvas knows no bounds, and neither does the assortment of activities. Lash together a few rafts and inner tubes and float down the Ichetucknee Springs for an aquatic-bound picnic. Rent a canoe or kayak and soak in all the beauty and wildlife that teems on the shores and in the shallows. If you prefer an underwater point-of-view, there are boundless and beautiful snorkeling and scuba diving vistas to behold. You can up the adrenaline factor, grab your waterproof light, and test your claustrophobic threshold and fears as you venture into subterranean caves filled with strange wildlife, dark nooks, and miles of barely explored aquatic terrain.
Gainesville’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs manages 90 parks and facilities and is one of only 173 agencies in the country to hold the distinction of being twice accredited by the Federal agency empowered to bestow such laurels. A source of pride for the community, this department at the intersection of nature, culture, and recreation strives to sustain the array of man-made and natural environments in a socially and economically beneficial manner.
City parks equipped with basketball hoops, tennis courts, playgrounds, and picnic areas provide the perfect backdrop for a birthday party, weekend BBQ, or simply just relaxing with the family among the trees and good friends. Cozily integrated into a kaleidoscope of flourishing neighborhoods, these well-designed and maintained community parks present the opportunity for a therapeutic day outside for everyone, no matter where you live. Most also happen to be free and pet-friendly, so don’t forget to bring along your furry friends.
Also managed by the Parks and Recreation Department, the Alachua County Fairgrounds is home to the annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, a magical journey back to the Middle Ages where knights and wizards fight alongside jesters and kings on a human chessboard. Jugglers, knife throwers, falconers, and jousters display their medieval skill sets on nine stages of robust entertainment. Roam the bustling marketplace to procure crafts and jewelry of lore or try your hand at axe-throwing or blacksmithing, and don’t forget to grab a medieval pastry or a gigantic turkey leg to gorge on like knights of ole’. Craving something modern day: The Parks Department has you covered with the Downtown Festival and Arts show, a celebration of talent and creation to meet all your artistic needs. JestFest!, a collection of comedy, variety, and circus acts spanning five different stages; the Free Friday Concert series, as well the annual Holiday Tree Lighting, all make good use of the Parks and Recreation Department’s vast reach.
So, whether it’s exploring the variety of nature preserves, bicycling along the gorgeous Hawthorne Trail, titillating cultural events, the joy of neighborhood parks and community centers, refreshing springs or convenient pools, Greater Gainesville has recreational options for every taste and level of leisurely ambition.
For a complete listing of outdoors locations to explore in Greater Gainesville visit guidetogreatergainesville.com/directory.
The outdoors is calling with a variety of nature parks that offer up an abundance of fun activities; including, tubing, snorkeling, horseback riding, cycling, hiking, stargazing and just general exploring.
Author- Brandon Duff