I was pretty excited to find out that we have a prairie with bison, wild horses, and gators just two hours outside of Orlando. Plains bison originally roamed the area until the late 18th century. They were brought back in 1975 to try and restore Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park to pre-European settler conditions.
Unfortunately, we did not see any bison on our trip at the beginning of January but we did see some bison poop. Yes, we googled to see what it looked like because there was a variety of poop on the trail. Luckily no one stepped in any. We saw plenty of wild horses, including this little guy. So cute!
La Chua trail is a 3 mile, round trip hike. It starts with a boardwalk, which leads to a path and ends with a small observation tower. You will want to visit when it is cool out, as there is no escape from the sun. Admission fee is $4.00 per car for LaChua Trail so make sure you bring cash as it is just a drop box.
We saw so many gators that day and some were on the edge of the trail just hanging out half in and half out of the water.
There are warnings that this is not a zoo and these are wild animals. Warnings not to bring your dogs. That the wild animals may be on the trail and to stay a safe distance away.
The sandhill cranes filled the water and were making all sorts of noises while we were there.
Overall it was worth the drive to Gainesville. There is plenty to do in the area including the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, both of which general admission is free. The art museum was really nice! I wouldn’t mind visiting the prairie again on a weekday with hopefully less people around and maybe even come to see the sunset.
UPDATE: We enjoyed the prairie so much that we decided to visit again in the beginning of March while we were up in Gainesville for another adventure. Guess what? We saw bison this time!! They were quite a distance away but we could see them well with binoculars. You definitely want to bring some with you unless you have a long range lens you can look through. We went in the evening about an hour and a half before sunset. They said that bison sighting is random as there are so many acres and only about 53 bison. It isn’t really dependent on the time of day. I didn’t bring my good camera with me, ugh, so this picture was taken with my iPhone through the binoculars. Yes, that happened LOL.
There were less gators compared to January, not sure if this is because of time of day or time of year. There were also less birds, the sandhill cranes that filled the prairie last time were gone! But we saw wild horses again and some were closer to the trail. It was a nice cool evening and seeing the sun going down was beautiful. So glad we went back!