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Where to Get Outdoors in Gainesville

A lot of us are already feeling that overwhelming mid-semester crunch. It seems as if every single assignment, deadline or event falls on the same week (or even better, the same day). Always remember to put yourself first and to take care of your mental and physical health – especially when things get overwhelming. Prioritize time for yourself and make sure to stay connected with those who you care about during this time. If you are not sure how to do this, there are a few beautiful places around Gainesville that can help to relieve stress and get in the needed fix of Vitamin D. 

Here are a few of the many adventures Gainesville offers:

1. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

The Kanapaha Botanical Gardens are a beautiful destination if you are looking for relaxing trails, beautiful flowers and exotic plants. According to its website, Kanapaha has 24 major collections that you can see from a 1 ½ mile paved walkway. The gardens have the state’s largest public display of bamboos and the biggest herb garden of the southeast. During the warm months, you could even see giant Victoria water lilies. The website says the best time to visit is from June to September, but these gardens seem to maintain beautiful all year long. Kanapaha has several special events including a Bamboo Sale, North Central Florida’s premier horticultural event, the Spring Garden Festival and a Moonlight Walk. Dogs are allowed in the gardens if they are on leashes, and picnic baskets are welcome. The walkways are wheelchair accessible and there are plenty of rest stops along the way. 

2. Paynes Prairie

Paynes Prairie is always a favorite, especially to UF students. Paynes Prairie is a beautiful place to stop, see the sunset and relax. If you have not gone to Paynes Prairie for the sunrise or sunset yet, make it a priority and check it off your bucket list. According to its website, Paynes Prairie is Florida’s first state preserve and is one of a kind. There are wild-roaming bison and horses, 300 species of birds, deer, alligators and many other animals. The park has eight trails and an observation tower. Paynes Prairie is the perfect spot to take a stroll and relax, and it is also a great spot to practice your photography skills and build your portfolio.

3. Depot Park

According to its website, Depot Park was created as a mix of the past and future downtown Gainesville. Depot Park used to be a railroad transportation hub and is now a blooming field of wildflowers and native plants. The park is meant to be the signature city park for of Gainesville, similar to Central Park in New York City. The park was created in the summer of 2016 and has a children’s play area and water’s edge promenade. The promenade hosts unique events such as festivals, 5k runs and many performances. During the holiday season, the park is full of lights and beautiful decorations. Depot Park is a wonderful place to hammock, have a picnic or sit and relax with friends.

4. Lake Wauburg

Lake Wauburg is the perfect afternoon spot. As springtime is at its peak and it starting to warm up again, it is the perfect time to take the trip to Lake Wauburg and spend a relaxing day out on the water. According to its website, Lake Wauburg is open to those with a valid UF ID and you can bring up to four guests. There is a beautiful lake, sandy beach, a picnic area, beach volleyball and space to play Frisbee and other outdoor games. Free rentals include: kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and sailboats. You can also go wake boarding or water skiing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Lake Wauburg also offers disc golf and a climbing wall. If you are feeling more adventurous, there is mountain biking at the Lake Wauburg South Shore. Lake Wauburg is a wonderful place to burn off some steam and enjoy time friends and family.

5. Morningside Nature Center

According to its website, Morningside Nature Center has over seven miles of trails that weave through flatlands, sandhills, cypress domes and native vegetation. There are also beautiful wildflowers and wildlife such as deer, wild turkey, box turtles, gopher tortoises, skunks and many different species of birds. A unique aspect of Morningside is its Living History Farm. The Living History Farm is a re-creation of a cabin built by Irish immigrants in the 1840s – The Hogan Cabin. The farm has the Hogan Cabin, a board and batten kitchen, a barn, a one-room schoolhouse, an heirloom garden and farm animals. From September through May, there are live interactive experiences, on the first Saturday of the month, with volunteers who dress-up and help create things at the cabin. 

6. Devil’s Millhopper 

According to its website, this park has a bowl-shaped cavity 120 feet deep down that leads down to a miniature rain forest. The sinkhole is made from limestone and is surrounded by lush vegetation. Researchers have found out a lot about Florida’s natural history by studying fossilized shark teeth, marine shells and fossilized remains of extinct land and animals found inside the sinkhole. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The fees are $4 per vehicle (with up to eight visitors) and pedestrians and bikes are only $2. The boardwalk that leads to the sinkhole experienced damage during Hurricane Irma, but construction was projected to start on Jan. 21 and is hopefully completed by this summer. 

These are just a few of some of the amazing sights that Gainesville has to offer. A lot of the time, it can feel like Gainesville does not have much to do. However, after learning more about the beautiful outdoor opportunities Gainesville has, I know I have a lot of exploring to do. 

Julia Mitchem is a University of Florida junior majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. She is currently Co-CC for Her Campus UFL. She believes in empathy and inclusivity. She works to empower women in everything she does.
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