**La Chua Trail is currently closed after the boardwalk due to high water levels**
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The more time I spend in Gainesville, the more I want to get out and see the area. One of my favorite things to do in Gainesville so far is hike La Chua Trail. I did a post about it after my first visit, but I’ve gone back two more times since then. The first time I was able to hike the whole trail, but the last two times the section of the trail after the boardwalk was flooded.
Well, when my parents came to visit last year we spent an afternoon on La Chua Trail and in Sweetwater Wetlands Park, just ten minutes away. These are two of my favorite hiking trails in Gainesville because it’s almost guaranteed you’ll see alligators and if you don’t, then you’ll see tons of birds (at least in the winter) and maybe even some snakes. So, here is how you can see La Chua Trail and Sweetwater Wetlands in one afternoon of hiking in Gainesville.
La Chua Trail
Like I mentioned above, La Chua Trail is flooded and you can’t hike the whole thing right now, but it’s still worth a visit. Once you get to La Chua Trail, there is a little sign for Paynes Prairie showing where everything is, then a paved trail taking you through an old barn before getting to the good part, the boardwalk.
If you’re new here or just forgot, I love me a good boardwalk and Florida is full of them. As soon as you get onto the boardwalk, start looking down on both sides for gators. They can blend in pretty well with all the flora and fauna in the water, especially the baby gators, but they’re still pretty easy to spot.
I tend to walk looking back and forth at the water below, then stop and look up to see what kind of birds are hanging around closer to eye level. Lather, rinse, repeat along the whole boardwalk. There are a couple of bigger gazebo areas (one has a Geocache!) that I spend a little more time at.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to see alligators here, or so I thought. I saw tons the first two times I went then, last year, I didn’t see a single one! I did get to see a tiny little lizard, tons of birds, and a snake though, so it was still worth the visit. I think there weren’t as many near the boardwalk because of the water levels, but I honestly have no idea, that’s just a guess.
When La Chua Trail is not flooded, after the boardwalk, there is a grassy trail that will take you to a lookout tower. This was a great place to see gators along the trail, relaxing on the banks of the water. And even though I just took forever looking for gators on the way in, I’ll do the exact same thing on the way out. Is there such a thing as too many gator pictures? No. No, there is not.
Where is La Chua Trail
La Chua Trailhead is in the southeast part of Gainesville and the north part of Paynes Prairie State Park.
How much is La Chua Trail
The entrance fee is just $6 per vehicle and they are open 8 AM to sundown everyday.
Once we finished up at La Chua Trail, it was time to head over to the Sweeetwater Weetlands Park. I had visited last year, but didn’t write about it. Sweetwater Wetlands Park is a nice, mostly paved walking are that is great for spotting wildlife in Gainesville. You can see birds of all sorts, turtles, gators, snakes, and lizards, just to name what I saw.
There are three loops that you can walk, part boarwalk, part paved, part grass (if I’m remembering correctly) called wetland cells. There are quite a few view points scattered along the trails, but you can spot wildlife from anywhere as long as you keep your eyes peeled. On my first trip I did all three loops and on the second, I think we just did loop one, the loop with the boardwalk section. It was pretty hot that day so I didn’t want to do all of them.
Right away we saw a giant gator relaxing in the water, then a duck with a red head and a turtle right in front of us. It was a pretty good start. At least we got to see a gator after not finding any at La Chua Trail. We got lucky and saw a few more along the trail, but most of them were right along the shore on the same side as us and behind a lot of tall grasses so they were all pretty hard to see. Birds though, we got to see tons.
I loved seeing the storks and the red headed ducks. Birds of a feather flock together, right? (because I have red hair). Then, tucked under the boardwalk railing, we saw this loopy noodle black snake. He just sat there in the shade for a while letting us take his picture. Or her, I’m not sure, but I am sure that I loved it and the tiny bird and adorable lizard we saw right after. If you like small wildlife, Sweetwater Wetlands Park is the place for you.
Where is Sweetwater Wetlands Park
Sweetwater Wetlands Trailhead is just ten mintes northwest from the La Chua Trailhead. It’s also at the north side of Paynes Prairie. It is it’s own park though, not part of Paynes Prairie.
How much is Sweetwater Wetlands Park
Sweetwater Wetlands Park is $5 per vehicle and is open 7 AM to sundown daily. The gate closes 30 minutes before sunset.
How to get to Sweetwater Wetlands from La Chua Tailhead
Other things to do in Paynes Prairie State Park:
- Hike Bolen Bluff Trail
- Go Geocaching
- Hike the Wacahoota Trail
- Hike Cone’s Dike Trail
- Hike Chacala Trail
- Hike Jackson’s Gap Trail
- Do some birdwatching
- Go canoeing on Lake Wauburg (rentals not available in the park)
Important things to know for visiting:
- Pets are not allowed on most trails due to wildlife, like alligators. They are definitely not allowed in Sweetwater Wetlands.
- You won’t need to bring anything special, just lots of water, sunscreen, and probably a hat because it’s sunny AF.
- You can easily spend a whole day visiting different parts of Paynes Prairie.
- I would plan 2-5 hours to do La Chua Trail and Sweetwater Wetlands. You’ll need more time if you plan to do all three loops (as in closer to the five hours for the whole day) than if you just do one. It also depends on how much you stop.
Overall, I would say these are both really awesome things you should do if you’re visiting Gainesville, or even just passing through with a few hours to spare as part of a larger Florida road trip. They may not be the Everglades, but you can see just as much wildlife with a lot fewer people.
Have you hiked La Chua Trail or visited Sweetwater Wetlands Park? What did you uthink of them? Do you want to see either of them? What is your favorite hike in Gainesville?