When you’re in Gainesville, you’re going to want to see some gators -- it’s the home of the Florida Gators, after all! The nature in the city makes for perfect landscapes to spot some awesome wildlife, including the elusive alligator.
La Chua Trail
A peaceful nature walk along the La Chua Trail, located in the Paynes Prairie Preserve is always a delight. The well-kept boardwalk and trail takes you on a that picturesque trip through the raw beauty of Florida. Every time you visit, you will have a different experience -- each equally as unique and enriching as the last. The trail is only about a mile long, but if you really want to see big gators sunbathing and relaxing, this is the place to go. Try coming early in the morning on a sunny day; you can almost guarantee that there will be tons of gators chilling on the banks. Sometimes you can see more than 30 gators at a time.
La Chua Trail doesn’t have any fences or barricades -- the nature is right there for you to enjoy. However, make sure to always proceed with caution and not get too close. Because there can be so many gators at once, seemingly minding their own business, it may be tempting to get up close and take a picture. However, no matter how laid-back a gator may seem, you should always keep your distance and admire them from afar. Aside from the gators, La Chua Trail also attracts tons of other wildlife, including all kinds of birds (especially in migration season), snakes, bison, boars, horses, and cattle that roam freely in the prairie. Take the time to explore the rest of the park beyond La Chua Trail. Paynes Prairie is a 21,000-acre savanna that is unlike any other environment -- biologically, geologically, and historically. La Chua Trail is open year-round, so stop by anytime and take in all that it has to offer.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park
This man-made wetlands habitat is a lush environment that is thriving with all kinds of life, including alligators! The park consists of over 125 acres of wetlands and ponds which are ideal for alligators to float around in. Aside from alligator families, Sweetwater is also home to a wide variety of wildlife like butterflies, cracker horses, bison, deer, rabbits, turtles, snakes, and over 215 species of birds.
Getting around the park is very easy, with the manicured trail and boardwalk that is also stroller-friendly. There isn’t much shade, but the view of the prairie and wetlands is spectacular (make sure to bring a camera!) Because the boardwalk is elevated, visitors have an awesome vantage point to catch glimpses of wildlife. Many people have even experienced seeing baby alligators wading near the shore, eating tadpoles. This is also popular location for kids, including field trips and school activities or family walks, since there is so much to see and so much to learn! Also, not only is Sweetwater a lovely place to view wildlife, it’s also a great way of preserving the environment. The park was actually constructed to help improve the water quality in Paynes Prairie and the Floridian aquifer.
Lake Alice is one of UF’s true treasures, considering its perfectly serene surroundings and dreamy views. Located right across from the Bat Houses, Lake Alice is in the heart of campus and a wonderful place to clear your mind and view wildlife. Besides the bats flying over the moonlit water, during the day you’ll definitely be able to see a few gators swimming or sunbathing.
The lake also features a population of soft-shell turtles -- you may notice one of their heads peeking out from the water sometimes. The northwest side of the lake has a boardwalk that allows you to walk through a preserved wildlife area. Always keep your wits about you when trekking along the boardwalk or trail near Lake Alice -- this area belongs to gators! There are lots of benches around for you to sit and enjoy the scenery, which is great after a long day of classes. This is the perfect place to take a jog or a stroll and take in the beauty of the lake’s calm water.