Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park
Walk back in time to the Old Florida homestead where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Majorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote her classic novel, “The Yearling.” Experience 1930s farm life in the community of Cross Creek, where her cracker-style home has been restored to the way it was when she lived there. Explore her farmyard, grove, seasonal garden and trails through the woods, all described in another of her beloved novels, “Cross Creek.” Geocache enthusiasts will find a fun surprise on the property. The house and property have been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The park is open every day, and visitors may explore the house as part of a guided tour. From October through July, a ranger dressed in period costume gives tours on the hour from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., with the exception of noon. The park grounds are open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Cost to visit: $3 per vehicle to explore the grounds. Correct change is needed to deposit fees in an “honor box.” Tickets to tour the home are $3 for adults and $2 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and under tour for free.
Insider tip:In an adjacent county park, there are picnic facilities, a boat ramp to Orange Lake and a playground.
Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
Bring your bikes, rollerblades, walking shoes or horse and explore this 16-mile linear park. As you roll or stroll, you’re likely to see plenty of wildlife along this rails-to-trails treasure that winds through local and state conservation lands, including the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The trail is a well-maintained, 10-foot-wide paved path (with a grassy path alongside for equestrians) with some benches and overlooks scattered along the way.
The western endpoint is in Gainesville's Boulware Springs Park, just west of Paynes Prairie. That prairie formerly was a large lake with routine steamboat traffic until 1891, when a sinkhole drained the basin, leaving behind a mixed landscape of prairie, marsh and open water.
It’s FREE to enjoy the trail. Avid cyclists can make a full day of exploring connections to the 6.4-mile Waldo Road Greenway - Depot Avenue Rail-Trail - Kermit Sigmon Bike Trail.
Parking and Trail Access
*Boulware Springs Park, 3500 SE 15th St., Gainesville
*Lochloosa trailhead, 7209 SE 200th Dr., Hawthorne
*2182 SE 71st Ave., Hawthorne
Insider Tip: If you make it all the way to Hawthorne and you loved the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling, check out the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park at 18700 S. County Road 325. Mrs. Rawlings was the author of the beloved classic about a young boy and his pet deer.
Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
This 10-acre zoo, located at 3000 NW 83rd St. in Gainesville, is part of the nation’s top community college. It houses about 75 species, and 250 individual animals. One of only two teaching zoos in the nation, its exotic inhabitants include white-handed gibbons, white-throated capuchin monkeys, red-ruffed lemurs, ocelots, bald eagles, Galapagos tortoises, African grey parrots, Asian small-clawed otters and Matschie’s tree kangaroos. There are many other mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and amphibians on display along shady paths that are stroller and wheelchair accessible. Providing care for the animals are the 200 students enrolled the the Zoo Animal Technology Program. There’s no concession area, however there are picnic tables for guests.
Hours and Cost: The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. Admission is $6 for ages 13 - 59. Children 4-12 and adults 60 and older pay $5. Children 3 and under are free.
One of the nation’s top five natural history museums, this facility is located on the University of Florida campus at 3215 Hull Road in Gainesville. It’s open year-round, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It’s FREE to visit, but donations are accepted.
Permanent exhibits have vast collections showcasing fossils, waterways and wildlife around them, Florida native peoples and much more. Changing exhibits cover a wide range of topics. A kids’ area called the Discovery Zone allows for hands-on fun.
Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.; Sundays from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Insider Tip:This museum is close to several other great places to visit that made our list — the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the UF Bat House, where countless bats emerge to create a mid-air feeding frenzy at dusk every night.
This National Landmark became Florida’s first state preserve in 1971. Famous artist and naturalist William Bartram dubbed it the Great Alachua Savannah when he wrote about his visit here in 1774.
As they hike along trails, visitors often encounter alligators, bison, deer, gopher tortoises, wild horses and more, including about 300 species of birds. A visitor center offers an audio-visual program on the area’s natural and cultural history, and a 50-foot observation tower provides stunning views. There are eight trails for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. Get on the water using Lake Wauberg’s fishing pier, or the boat ramp that provides access for canoes and boats with electric motors. Full facilities for campers make it a fun place to stay with lots of interesting night sounds, including the croaking of alligators. During warm months, bug spray will be a handy accessory to help keep you comfortable.
Fees: Cost to visit is $4 for one person in a vehicle, or $6 for up to eight. Trails that begin elsewhere may have a fee of $2-$4 per car.
Hours and Location: The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year, and the Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The park is located 10 miles south of Gainesville in Micanopy. Take Interstate 75 to Exit 374 to Micanopy. Head east at the end of the ramp onto County Road 234. Go 1.4 miles to US Highway 441. Turn left and go .6 miles to the park entrance on the right.
Insider tip:While in Micanopy, check out the charming downtown area. If you enjoyed the film “Doc Hollywood” with Michael J. Fox, you may recognize the community. When it comes to shopping, it’s an antique lover’s dream. And if you head north from the park along US Hwy 441, plan to pull over at the roadside overlook. It’s FREE, and a short boardwalk will allow you to trek out over the water, where you’re likely to see a variety of birds and other wildlife, sometimes including snakes and large alligators lazily eying you. Just please don’t feed the gators. It makes them lose their wariness of humans, makes them dangerous and leads to individual alligators being removed and destroyed.
C Bar Ranch and Organics
Just after sunset, and a little before total darkness, about 400,000 bats emerge nightly from three structures located on the north side of Museum Road, just across from Lake Alice on the University of Florida campus. These are the world's largest occupied bat houses, and are built to provide homes for up to 750,000 bats at a time. For about 20 minutes on most nights, the bats stream out of the bat barns and bat house, swooping over the heads of spectators. They're using echolocation to begin gathering their nightly buffet of 2.5 billion insects. That's roughly 2,500 pounds of "moths, beetles, mosquitoes, flies, gnats, leafhoppers, midges, winged ants and many other pests of lawns, shrubs, trees, crops and humans," according to UF bat experts. Making acrobatic dives in search of flying morsels are three species: Brazilian free-tailed bats, Southeastern bats and evening bats. There's no cost to enjoy the show, but parking spaces in the nearby lot go fast. So plan to arrive early, or search for a parking spot and walk back to the area for viewing the emergence.
Tips for viewing: The bats are most active on calm evenings when temperatures are above 65 degrees. They often make passes startlingly close to humans, probably attracted to the carbon dioxide in human breath. However, when left alone, they don't attack or harm people. High winds, heavy rain or cool may keep them inside, as they only can eat when bugs are flying. It's best to watch looking west over the pine trees near the bat structures and toward the street lights on Museum Road.
Insider tip:Consider holding a small umbrella or wearing a plastic poncho with the hood over your head. The bats often relieve themselves as they head out into flight. The fragrance can be somewhat surprising. Also watch the wily hawks that often show up just in time to pick off the first one or two bats that venture out. Across the street is beautiful Lake Alice, which is surrounded by walking trails, including a boardwalk to a viewing area. Trailwalkers should be on the lookout for alligators, turtles, and a variety of birds and other creatures.
Immerse yourself in a wondrous world of hundreds of free-flying butterflies and birds from around the globe, living alongside other curious critters such as turtles and fish. Wander through tropical plants and flowers, enjoying a gentle symphony of waterfalls. Watch scientists working in the world’s largest butterfly research facility, and ask questions of staffers, who can help you make the most of the experience. The butterflies in this 6,400-squared-foot screened exhibit become active when temperatures are 60 degrees or higher, which is most days in Florida. Witness butterfly releases on most afternoons, weather permitting. (Check the website for the current release schedule, and to watch webcams that will give you a great preview of the action.) Stroll inside the Florida Museum of Natural History next door, and be amazed by the Wall of Wings exhibit displaying thousands of preserved and photographed butterfly and moth specimens.
Cost: Tickets to this exhibit are $13 for adults (Florida residents, seniors and college students pay $11), and $6 for children ages 3-17. Entry to the associated museum next door is free.
Why Alachua is the Southeast's Destination Wedding Hot Spot
Photo Credit: @c_a_photographs
North Central Florida's best country chic wedding venue
Photo credit: @sup_florida
Savvy brides know they can get a lot of bang for their buck at Alachua wedding venues. But will guests enjoy the area? Absolutely!
Whether you and your guests love to soak in the outdoors, explore museums, sample craft beer or scout out wildlife, Alachua will provide unforgettable experiences — many of them very low cost or free! Here are a few of our favorites:
Things To Do Nearby
Photo Credit: @joegoesoutdoors
Visit this park at 4732 Millhopper Road in Gainesville for a unique hike into a lush abyss lined with gentle waterfalls. Just past a small visitor’s center, there’s an unpaved trail that makes .9-mile loop. The loop encircles an ancient sinkhole, 500 feet wide and known as the Devil’s Millhopper. Visitors may walk around the sinkhole, or they can leave the loop and experience a change in climate as they descend into the cool belly of the 120-foot-deep pit. A staircase with about 200 steps is equipped with landings, so the climb down and up can be taken at each hiker’s own pace. Lush plant life is enhanced by the trickling of streams forming small waterfalls along the rock outcroppings. This geological formation is a National Natural Landmark that has attracted visitors since the early 1880s. And in modern times, researchers have visited to glean information about Florida's natural history by studying fossilized shark teeth, marine shells and the fossilized remains of extinct land animals found at the bottom of the sink.
UPDATE: Repairs are ongoing to shore up the boardwalk and steps into the sinkhole that were damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. For the latest on when the path to the bottom will open, call the park office at (352) 955-2008.
Hours and cost to visit: The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is $4 per vehicle. Pedestrians and cyclists pay $2.