Connecting the university town of Gainesville with rural Hawthorne, this 16.5-mile trail makes for a great day trip, complete with a hill or two and plenty of wildlife. While the path roughly parallels State Route 20, it also traverses one of Florida's most environmentally sensitive areas: Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Just south of Gainesville, the park—though not the trail—is accessible via US Highway 441.
The well-maintained trail accommodates users with a 10-foot-wide paved path, regular trailheads and benches and even a convenience store here and there. Between the Gainesville and Lochloosa trailheads, equestrians are given free rein on an adjacent grassy trail.
From its western endpoint in Gainesville's Boulware Springs Park, the trail soon leads to the Paynes Prairie overlook, and 2 miles from the trailhead you'll enter the preserve itself. This area boasted a thriving lake with routine steamboat activity until 1891, when a sinkhole drained the basin, leaving behind a mixed landscape of prairie, marsh and open water.
Several trailside overlooks offer views of the prairie, home to bison, wild horses and numerous alligators. Park regulations ban visitors from feeding the gators, and dogs are not permitted, even if leashed. Rangers strictly enforce these rules. A half-mile into the park, a side trip on the La Chua Trail leads to another viewing area; bicycles are not permitted on this unpaved spur.
The trail connects with the Waldo Road Greenway - Depot Avenue Rail-Trail - Kermit Sigmon Bike Trail.
To reach the Boulware Springs Park trailhead from downtown Gainesville, take University Avenue east, fork right on Route 20 and take the next right on SE 15th Street. Boulware Springs Park (3500 SE 15th Street) is a couple of miles down on the right. Follow signs to the trail.
To reach the Lochloosa trailhead (7209 SE 200th Drive) from Hawthorne, take Route 2082 west, then turn left on SE 200th Drive. Park where the trail intersects the road.
To reach the Hawthorne trailhead (300 SW Second Avenue), take US Highway 301 south through Hawthorne and follow the brown signs along residential streets to the trailhead.
Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
3300 SE 15 Street
Gainesville, FL 32641