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What a Wonderful World: Parks and Recreation in Greater Gainesville

What a Wonderful World: Parks and Recreation in Greater Gainesville

Greater Gainesville is a nature lover’s paradise, with breathtaking natural wonders that showcase the very best of Florida. From ethereal moss-covered live oaks to vast prairies teeming with life, from clear blue springs to enchanting cypress trees lining rivers, from vibrant wildflowers adorning rolling green hills to the deep expanse of caves running beneath, the region is a canvas of nature’s finest creations.

The biodiversity of GG is astounding, with unique plants and wildlife thriving in different habitats, such as wetlands, mesic hammocks, upland scrubs, watersheds and prairies. The protection of these natural areas is a priority to ensure that Florida’s wild side remains intact for generations to come. The commitment to conservation in the region is evident, with 22% of Alachua County dedicated to preservation efforts as of January 2023, according to Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

Throughout the area, local parks not only preserve green spaces, but also provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. An extensive network of trails, both natural and paved, winds its way through parks and public lands, inviting residents to explore on foot or by bike.

One of the area’s most remarkable features is the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the nation, many of which are easily accessible within an hour’s drive. These springs feed the Santa Fe River and various creeks and lakes, creating a network of waterways that support a rich and diverse ecosystem.

Paynes Prairie, located near Micanopy, is home to American plains bison, reintroduced here in 1975, bringing a touch of the Wild West to the Southeast. The prairie is a haven for wildlife, including wild horses, 300 bird species, deer and alligators.

The Morningside Nature Center offers wildlife and natural habitat preservation tours, while Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park provides a glimpse into the region’s natural history through fossils and remains.


Greater Gainesville is a sanctuary of natural treasures, offering a wealth of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and those seeking to connect with the world around them. With its diverse habitats, abundant wildlife and preserved green spaces, GG beckons visitors and residents alike to immerse themselves in the magic of the great outdoors.

  • 7 State Parks
  • 10 County Nature Preserves
  • 23 County Parks
  • 16 trails covering 189 miles (com)


Barr Hammock Preserve

  • 5,719 acres
  • Micanopy
  • This sprawling marshland and lush forest is as wild as Greater Gainesville gets. Stunning, open and bright, the trail offers an unimpeded view into life in the prairie. Careful not to stray from the path –– alligators and deep mud “like pudding” lie just beyond.


Blues Creek Ravine Preserve

  • 160 acres
  • Gainesville
  • Contrary to Florida’s usual flat and swampy terrain, the stream banks along Blues Creek present a rare and remarkable sight with their steep incline. Within this unique preserve, endangered plant species like the crane-fly orchid and Southern lady fern grow freely.


Devil’s Den Prehistoric Spring

  • 1 acre
  • Williston
  • This underground spring in a dry cave has crystal-clear waters that are always 72 degrees. The site earned its name “Devil’s Den” from the steam that rises like smoke from the chimney opening on cold winter mornings. Preserving numerous extinct animal fossils from the Pleistocene Age, the cave is made of ancient rock formations adorned with stalactites and fossil beds dating back an astonishing 33 million years.


Fox Pen Preserve

  • 578 acres
  • Hawthorne
  • At Fox Pen Preserve, a wide array of habitats –– including upland pine, flatwoods, wetlands, mesic hammock and Moss Lee Lake’s picturesque shoreline –– await. As a vital part of the Lockloosa Forest project area, the preserve plays a crucial role in safeguarding portions of the Orange Creek basin.


Herzog Cave Preserve

  • 2 acres
  • Gainesville
  • Descending 32 feet straight down from its modest entrance, the cave resembles a natural well, tapping into the Floridan Aquifer. Despite its mysterious allure, the cave remains unused by bats, distinguishing it from other known cave systems.


Lake Alice

  • 5 acres
  • Gainesville
  • Lake Alice stands as a prominent attraction at the University of Florida. Apart from facilitating groundwater recharge, the lake serves as a thriving habitat for diverse wildlife and doubles as an outdoor classroom for students and faculty. At night, shine a light across the water and see the light reflect in the gators’ eyes.

Little Orange Creek Preserve & Nature Park

  • 2,883 acres
  • Hawthorne
  • This preserve encompasses a large swamp, Fowlers Prairie and is surrounded by pine and hammock forests, providing a vast and diverse ecosystem. It is home to various wildlife and even has regular bear sightings along its scenic two-mile trail.


Marjorie A. Hoy Memorial Park at Orange Lake Overlook

  • 71 acres
  • McIntosh
  • Step into the charm of Old Florida where the Timucua tribe once resided and, later, a bustling citrus grove, complete with a citrus shop, packing house and mill. In March 2023, the Alachua Conservation Trust announced it will be adding 84 more acres to this historic preserve.


O’Leno State Park

  • 6,000 acres
  • High Springs
  • As one of Florida’s earliest state parks –– originally developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps –– O’Leno showcases a diverse landscape, with sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, river swamps and sandhills. Nearly 100 years later, it continues to be a beloved natural retreat.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

  • 23,000 acres
  • Micanopy
  • Witness the rare sight of wild-roaming bison, horses, deer, alligators and nearly 300 bird species living in harmony. Additionally, this vast savannah once hosted a Seminole Indian village. Explore history and observe wildlife up-close or from the panoramic views offered by the 50-foot-high observation tower.


Rockwood Park

  • 1 acre
  • Gainesville
  • The urban park, graciously funded by Don and Joanne Rockwood, welcomed its first visitors in the summer of 2015. Serving as a cherished community resource, the mostly open space provides a serene place for residents to enjoy. With signs identifying various tree species and inviting benches scattered throughout, visitors can also explore the park’s “Little Free Library,” fostering a sense of shared knowledge and camaraderie among community members.


Saarinen Preserve

  • 78 acres
  • Newberry
  • The preserve consists of a mix of forest types; scattered stands of longleaf pine and live oak, some of which are over a century old. Within the mesic hammock, dominated mostly by hardwoods as well as planted slash pine, restoration efforts aim to encourage natural seeding of desirable species to create a mosaic of pines, hardwoods and shrubs.


Santa Fe Springs Preserve

  • 254 acres
  • Alachua
  • Adorned with tall live oaks, cypress trees, and vibrant chickasaw plums, the riverbanks and bluffs capture the essence of pure Florida. It is the most upstream Floridan Aquifer spring on the river, classified as a second magnitude.


Santa Fe River Preserve

  • 1,067 acres
  • Alachua
  • The preserve is home to various wildlife, including large alligators, wading birds, turtles, catfish and garfish, thriving in the river’s water. High bluffs run along the bank and a fascinating tangle of floodplain forest stands at the convergence of the New River and the Santa


Serenola Forest Preserve

  • 124 acres
  • Gainesville
  • Connecting the woodland hammock to Paynes Prairie, Serenola Forest preserve is a vital habitat for threatened plant and wildlife species. Preserving the forest not only benefits the natural environment but also provides opportunities for people to enjoy activities such as hiking, biking, viewing wildlife and gathering with loved ones.


See Also

Sweetwater Preserve

  • 125 acres
  • Gainesville
  • Visitors can explore the diverse ecosystems in the park, from hammocks to pine land, as they follow the interconnecting loops and viewpoints on this route. Do not forget to stay alert, especially in the mornings, to see the abundant local birdlife.


Tuscawilla Preserve

  • 600 acres
  • Micanopy
  • Discover the diverse natural landscapes in this preserve, including a prairie, Lake Tuscawilla, hardwood hammocks, wetlands, small creeks and mesic forests. The name of the preserve, Tuscawilla, originates from the Seminole tribe during the era of Chief Micanopy.


Warren Cave Nature Preserve

  • 2,000 acres
  • Gainesville
  • Warren Cave in Gainesville is the longest known dry cave in Florida, with more than four miles of mapped passage.



Natural Springs

Florida is home to over 1,000 artesian springs, most of which are concentrated in and around Greater Gainesville. Most of the springs in the area are classified as first magnitude springs, discharging at least 64.6 million gallons of water per day, or second magnitude springs, which discharge 6.5 million to 64 million gallons of water per day.

Blue Springs
Ginnie Springs
Ichetucknee Springs
Juniper Springs
K.P. Hole
Otter Springs
Poe Springs
Rainbow Springs
Silver Glen Springs

Pedal Power

North Central Florida has become a mountain biking destination for everyone from seasoned cyclists to beginning bikers. Thanks to the location in the center of the state and in proximity to many springs, rivers and creeks, the variety of terrain, sloping landscapes and many different kinds of forests and scenery, Greater Gainesville is one of the most dynamic places for biking in the Sunshine State.


San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park

With its diverse terrain and breathtaking landscapes, San Felasco in the City of Alachua is a popular venue for mountain bikers. Multiple trails and loops carve through the preserved paradise filled with wildlife.

Tire-testing terrain

  • Rolling hills, creek crossing, sinkholes and log bridge
  • The state park contains Florida’s largest protected mesic hammock
  • 40-mile trail system
  • 7,000 acres

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