When I spotted an alligator guarding a gate on the La Chua Trail (3-mile round trip) in Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Florida showed me her wild side. As the gator basked in the sun with his eyes closed, I gave him plenty of room before tip-toeing through the gate towards the viewing platform and my goal of seeing a bison.

Baby boomers, if you think Florida is all beaches and palm trees, well, think again. A 22,000-acre prairie wilderness stretches from Gainesville to Micanopy  in the northeastern portion of the state. Wildlife viewing, birdwatching, hiking, biking and kayaking are just a few of the activities available in the preserve.

The La Chua trail is accessed from the prairie’s North Rim on the outskirts of Gainesville. In the winter thousands of sandhill cranes call the area home. Paynes Prairie State Preserve’s main entrance is located ten miles south at Micanopy where a visitor’s center introduces guests to the history, geology and biology of the preserve. From the 50-foot-high observation tower, lucky viewers catch glimpses of wild horses.

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