A brief stay at Paynes Prairie

December 27, 2017

Our time at O’Leno State Park was briefly interrupted when we were able to get a last minute reservation at Paynes Prairie. We only got a couple of nights there, but we jumped on it because they have bison and wild horses!

Sadly, we have few photos from Paynes Prairie. I’m not sure what happened. We never did see the bison, but we did see the wild horses. And an alligator. You can just barely make out the wild horses in the shadows here.

wild horses at paynes prairie.

Paynes Prairie Camping

Our campsite was like most at Florida State Parks, lots of foliage and privacy. The Lake Trail connects the campground to the visitor center area, and we enjoyed biking it. Everything is pretty spread out here, so bikes are a great way to get around. But if you don’t want to hike or bike there is a parking lot at the visitor center.

paynes prairie spanish moss.

paynes prairie spanish moss sunset.

Visitor’s Center

Over by the visitor’s center, there’s a short trail to an observation tower. The path feels like a jungle and then when you get to the tower it all of a sudden opens up to the prairie. The contrast is wild!

view of paynes prairie from observation tower.

the edge of paynes prairie.

another view of paynes prairie from observation tower.


We also rode our bikes on the Cones Dike Trail, about 8 miles round trip plus the distance from the campground. It takes you right out on the prairie. That’s where we saw the alligator. If you want to bike this trail, be prepared with knobby tires. There are a few sand patches that were a little squirrelly even with our bikes.


There used to be a lake at Paynes Prairie deep enough that they would run steamboats on it. But it drained away suddenly in the late 1800s and left thousands of dead fish and alligators. The steamboat operators probably weren’t too happy either. After many years of abusing this land for various purposes, the state parks are trying to restore it to close to its natural state.

paynes prairie sunset.

another paynes prairie sunset.

We wish we’d had more time to explore Paynes Prairie. We could have easily spent 5-7 days there. It has many more trails to investigate, and we didn’t even get a chance to kayak.


Laura Nunemaker

About the Author

Laura Nunemaker

vegan. full-time traveler. rv dweller. food lover. cow petter.

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