Family Time in the Land of the Florida Gators
Best known as “The Swamp” and home to the University of Florida Gators, the city of Gainesville stretches across I-75 and North Florida, with only Paynes Prairie to keep it spreading south. And though it’s easy to lose yourself in the university life and suburban sprawl, there are a surprising number of parks and recreational areas to remind you that you are indeed in “the swamp”, and there are more than just Blue and Orange gators sharing the land. Next time you find yourself in the “The Swamp”, check out some of these wonders that are hidden in this incredible university town.
La Chua Trail
Nestled on the south side of Gainesville (you have to drive through a cemetery to get there), you’ll find La Chua Trail. Unlike most trails, La Chua is a walk into the heart of darkness- once you step off of the safety of the boardwalk; you are in true gator country. The trail takes you across Paynes Prairie to an Observation deck by a watering hole. There are more alligators along this trail than you’ll see outside of an alligator farm. If you’re lucky, you may spot the wild horses and bison too- but watch the gators!
Sweetwater Wetlands Park
Near La Chua Trail hides a non-descript parking lot and what appears to be a trailhead. This is the entrance to Sweetwater Wetlands Park. This park was created to filter the dirty water of Sweetwater Creek through a series of aquatic plant-wetland areas, before the creek dumps into Paynes Prairie and then into the Florida Aquifer. Sweetwater Wetlands Park is abundant with bird life- from Limpkins to Purple___ to Marsh Hens & Blue Herons.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
This 62-acre botanical garden sits right near I-75 in Gainesville. You wouldn’t even know this area, lush with bamboo, azaleas & greenery even exists. You can easily lose yourself wandering through the arboretum, let the kids get lost in the winding paths of the Children’s Garden, and marvel at the thickness of the bamboo in the Japanese Garden. You’ll stumble across secret little fountains, garden statues and other surprises.
Florida Museum of Natural History
Explore the many Florida ecosystems represented in the Florida Museum of Natural History, like marshlands, seaside and even a Florida limestone cavern. The the Wicked Plants exhibit has since departed, (it’s a Frog exhibit now), both kids and adults enjoy this tactile museum that encourages you to pull open drawers, push buttons and explore. Adjacent to the Museum is the Butterfly Rainforest, where you can walk among a lush tropical forest filled with colorful butterflies. If you have time, you can explore the trails outside the museum and pop next do to visit the Harn Museum of Art.This Museum also offers some nice air-conditioned respite from our sultry summer temperatures!
Looking to cool off? If the A/C chill of the Oaks Mall is not your thing, the little town of High Springs, home to the coolest swimming holes and the Santa Fe River, is located just north of Gainesville!
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