Alligator Wildlife Viewing: Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park – La Chua Trail (Micanopy, Florida)
"There are a handful of places that stand out as excellent locations for wildlife watching in Florida… but the place to see alligators is in the home of the Gators, Gainesville. Located at the north end of the prairie, the La Chua Trail provides an excellent place for wildlife watching, with an elevated boardwalk and lengthy dike out to an observation tower." – Florida Hikes
4801 Camp Ranch Rd.
Gainesville, FL 32641
Forecast: Partly Sunny – High 77°
48.5 miles one-way from the Suwannee River Hideaway Campground
- Length: 3 miles roundtrip
- Fees: $2 per person
- Difficulty: easy to moderate
- Bug factor: low to moderate
- Restroom: portable toilet
Scenic Drive to and the La Chua Trail Marsh / Wetlands
Caution Signs Everywhere!!!
Birding along La Chua Trail
Armadillos are not native to Florida…
"But are now common over most of the state. They eat many insects, or other invertebrates, and some plants. They most often feed at night, and have very poor eyesight. "Florida Fish and Wildlife
We spotted two forging for food. They were so focused on their task, they didn’t notice us. Then, after a few minutes of staring and photographing them, they finally acknowledged our presence, stopped what they were doing and decided it was time to scoot away!
Here Gator, Gator, Gator…
We were quite shocked to see how close the gators were to the trail. Our adrenaline kicked in and hearts were pounding as certain areas of the trail narrowed and gators were basking in the sun 2-10 ft away from our path. Typically, you visit a zoo or safari park, pay $2.00 for food to feed the animals. Here at Paynes Prairie State Park you park and pay $2.00/per person to potentially be the food for the gators. Haha…LOL.
(Side Note: At the beginning of the trail, ~25 yards from the parking area, you’ll see a box with envelopes in the middle of the pathway. You tear off the park pass that you’ll need to place on your vehicle’s rearview mirror and put your $2.00/pp payment in the envelope. Then, you stuff it back to a little slit in the box. No ranger or entrance gate asking for payment before you park. That’s different.)
Here there was maybe 10-15 yards of netting to seperate the gators from the trail, but then the netting quickly ended. We were told by a volunteer ranger that they had gator wranglers that morning to help get the gators off the trail. The water level was at its highest in years and it was easy for the gators to cross the trail across one marsh to the other… in the way of pedestrians. Who are these Gator Boys?! That would’ve been a sight to see, too. As you hike the trail, you see areas of flattened high grass. You know, that’s where the gators made their way through. Amazing… Terrifying… hmmmm.
The creepiest feeling were when the gators eyes were open. It was a stare down that gave you goosebumps.
On the path of the Top Florida Predator
We tried to be as quiet with our steps as possible.
Don’t know what I was thinking getting this close…! Pucker factor…
But I got the shot!
We made it out with all our limbs intact.
Complete Photo Gallery
QUESTION: Where and how close have you ever gotten near an alligator?