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If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Gainesville, Florida area over the last few winters. While the city itself can be pretty busy, there are plenty of places in or near it to get outside and do some hiking. These are some of the best trails in Gainesville.
I’ve separated this into two parts, one is hikes in Gainesville and the other is state parks near Gainesville, so those will be a little farther out of town, mostly north towards High Springs and Alachua. I’ve also included a handy little map so you can see where everything is. And if you need somewhere to stay, don’t worry. There are tons of hotels in Gainesville to choose from.
Best trails In Gainesville
Now for the best trails in Gainesville. I love that you can easily get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city with a short drive. Some of these still feel like they’re in the city but just far enough away, too.
La Chua Trail is one of my favorite trails in Gainesville. It’s one of the first hikes I did there and it was the first place I got to see alligators! The first part of the trail is a boardwalk over the wetlands where you can usually spot gators, maybe snakes, and birds of all kinds.
The second part of the trail is currently closed due to flooding, though. The boardwalk ends and the rest is flat ground. Even though that part is closed, it’s still worth visiting and spending some time here. You’ll only need an hour or so for this and even though it’s short, bring water because it gets hot. The entrance fee is $6.
The Sweetwater Wetlands trail is the perfect addition to La Chua Trail for an afternoon outside in Gainesville. This is close to Paynes Prairie State Park, but not technically in it. There are three loops, called Wetland cells, made up of part boardwalk, part dirt trail.
You can either do all three or just one, whatever you have time for. You could easily spend 2-3 hours here walking and admiring wildlife. Your chances of seeing gators are pretty high, along with lizards, snakes, and birds. There are benches and a few covered areas for shade along the loops but most of it is open. The entrance fee is $5.
The Bolen Bluff trail is also part of Paynes Prairie, but in a different area than the previous two hikes. Paynes Prairie is huge. This trail is three miles round-trip, but part of it may be flooded as well.
This is a great trail if you’re looking for something a little shady. It takes you through a hardwood forest and palm hammock before going out onto Paynes Prairie. The prairie is the flooded part though, so that part may not be accessible.
The Devil’s Millhopper is a sinkhole just outside of town and it’s attracted visitors since the 1880’s. There is a short (0.5-mile) nature trail around the top of the sinkhole and stairs that take you down into the sinkhole.
While this isn’t a long hike, it’s a great way to spend an hour or so of spare time if you want to get outside. It’s shady, which is nice, so you won’t be cooking in the sun the whole time. The stairs are currently open but can close if there is hurricane damage. The entrance fee is $4.
This 2.6-mile loop takes you to the shores of Newnans Lake (also known as Lake Pithlachoco) at the halfway point. It’s a nice, easy walk and perfect if you’re looking for something a little longer than La Chua trail or Devil’s Millhopper.
The trail is easy to follow and crosses the path of a mountain biking trail along the way. This is also a good choice if you’d like to bring your furry friends, as long as you keep them on a leash. If you go in the summer, ticks and mosquitos may be a problem, so be prepared for that.
There are just over ten miles of hiking trails in San Felasco so there is plenty to keep you busy. And if you want something different, there are also lots of biking and equestrian trails in the park!
Keep an eye out for bobcats, foxes, and deer in the park. The southern 2/3 of the park are dedicated to hiking, so you’ll have plenty of solitude for your day out on the trail. The entrance fee is $4.
Best Springs and State Parks near Gainesville
There are so many amazing state parks near Gainesville, you could easily spend weeks, if not more, exploring all of them. And along with the state parks, there are tons of springs here, which are perfect for swimming, paddling, snorkeling, and diving. It really is an outdoor lovers paradise.
O’Leno is one of the many awesome state parks close to Gainesville. It has three popular hiking trails, Paraners Branch being the longest at 3.69 miles round-trip. You can occasionally see turtles, armadillos, and even alligators. Nearby is River Rise State Park with 35 more miles of hiking trails.
This is also a great place to do some biking, fishing, paddling, Geocaching, swimming, and birding. It’s a nice, quiet state park and great for a short break from the city for a day. The entrance fee is $5
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a must-visit whether you like hiking or water activities, you’ll be able to spend all day here, for sure. The most popular activity here is tubing on the Ichetucknee River. This can be done year-round on your own tubes or rented tubes. Swimming, snorkeling, and Scuba diving are all allowed in specific areas. You can find all the specifics here. If you’re diving, you must be cave or cavern certified.
Don’t want to be on the water? Don’t worry! There are three hiking trails to keep you busy. They aren’t super long, so you could probably do all of them easily in one day. It’s also great for Geocaching. The park is also great for birding and paddling. The entrance fee is $4-6, but there may be other fees for rentals or shuttles.
Not to be confused with Blue Spring State Park (with the manatees) by Orlando, this little park is perfect for swimming and hiking! Since it’s a spring, it will be nice and cool for swimming in the summer (72 degrees year-round) and like a warm bath in the winter.
You can do some paddling, snorkeling, and swimming at the spring head and rent canoes and kayaks at the park. If you’re standing and facing the spring, to your right will be some hiking trails. I’m not sure how long the trail is, but it’s definitely a nice walk. It’s also a great place for Geocaching. The entrance fee is $4-6.
If you are a water enthusiast, Ginnie Springs will be perfect for you. You can dive, snorkel, tube, paddle, kayak, canoe, and swim. These crystal clear waters will blow your mind. Swimming and snorkeling can be done in any of the seven springs. Tubing, paddling, and kayaking can be done on the Santa Fe River.
There are three dive sites at Ginnie Springs and there may be different requirements for each location (like certified cave diving). If you’re not sure about diving, you can do a Discover Scuba lesson to see if you like it. If you are a diver, this area is perfect for a spring diving road trip. The entrance fee $14.02 per person, but any rentals will have another fee, as well as diving.
Like the springs above, if you want to cool off on a hot summer day or just do some swimming in the winter, check out Rum Island Springs on the Santa Fe River. It’s perfect for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming, and sunning.
This is just a county park so it doesn’t have any camping or amenities, but there are bathrooms and water equipment can be rented at nearby Rum 138 or in High Springs or Gainesville. There is no entrance fee for the park.
Gainesville is a Geocachers dream. There are almost 2,400 caches just within 30 miles of Gainesville. 2400! Within 60 miles there are almost 10,000! That’s crazy. Even if you don’t want to go on any trails, looking for some caches is a great way to get outside and maybe see something new. Whether you live there or are just visiting, there will be plenty near you to go look for.
Have you done any of these? What is your favorite trail in Gainesville? What about springs or state parks?