With Bison Skat
The hike we took in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is my son’s favorite of all of Florida. We explored only a small part of this park, but we got a good idea of the expansiveness of this park and its prairie.
We walked out the 2.6 miles Bolen Buff Trail after a rainy night. Guess what that made for? I very muddy walk–most of the reason this was my son’s favorite hike. This is a very flat walk that starts out in the forest and then straight out the prairie onto a wooden platform. After a rain, the prairie part is very, very muddy. Our non-hiking shoes were ruined, but we didn’t turn back. The platform gives a nice overview, but it is a similar one to the wooden platform that is accessible from the road.
One of the special aspects of the park are the existence of bison. We didn’t see any, but we saw plenty of skat evidence (check the pictures closely). What we did see were 3 feral pigs rutting.
I am grateful to the Phipps family for creation of this Tallahassee park. One measure of a good park to me is the ability to choose where to go with multiple paths. If only one path exists, or it is too short, then eventually, that feeling of discovery goes away. Multiple paths helps to open up an area and make it seem more expansive, although at 600 acres, the park is pretty expansive to begin with.
Phipps park is set up for mountain biking, equestrian trails, and hiking. The equestrian trails even have jumps for the horses. There are destinations such as the bat house that make for an interesting walk to somewhere.
There are many ways to get into the park. 2 are from Millers Landing, 2 from Forest Meadows Athletic Facility (either side of the facility, although one technically goes through the soccer field parking), and the Soccer Complex accesses. Now, I just wish that some other landowners would allow the public to reach the park from the Pine Tip Hills area so that we wouldn’t need to get in cars to reach a park that is technically only .25 miles away.
My favorite walk is along Coon Bottom, Big Tree Cutoff, and Creek Forest. You can connect to these from the parking lot behind the soccer complex off Meridian road. If you just do these (without venturing off), it is approximately 3-4 mile loop. It is a great one for children (although probably not toddlers) because it has running creek water and bridges like balance beams.
My one caution with Phipps park is to keep your phone handy. The talgov park website is very good to help you locate where you are on the trails, but the map and signs are confusing and difficult to read. I have been lost and gone the wrong way multiple times. Colored map routes that match the colored blazes on trees would be much easier to read!
For a Texas girl, I think the Tallahassee area of Florida has great topography of rolling hills, but I know some people from more mountainous regions find the hikes here too flat. The Fort Braden Trail at the Lake Talquin State Forest is one of the exceptions to that. The topography is rolling, up and down past the creek(s) that feeds this lake. So this park pasted the test for my ex-park ranger friend from Oregon!
I have not even begun to explore all that this park has to offer. This park has 11 miles of park in 3 loops for hikers. This picture is from the middle loop. There are some nice picnic spots that have a view of the lake. The park also allows for horseback riders.
Unlike most of the parks around the area, this one charges a per person fee even if you are in a car, so carry enough small bills! (Did I mention that most parks are paid by honor fees in an envelope? I didn’t and got caught without cash on my first excursion.)
Sink holes and Florida, this usually brings to mind houses and cars being sucked up into the earth; however, it is a much more natural and usually less dramatic process than that. There is a large aquifer under much of Florida, made up of the swiss-cheese like limestone that has been eroded away. In some places, this water comes up in the form of beautiful natural, cold-water springs. In other places, it sinks down into the earth. Some of the most interesting geography exists right here.
Leon Sinks Geological Area is one park where visitors can get a glimpse of this process, just down the road from Wakulla Springs, one of the places the waters flow back up (but I’ll save Wakulla for another day’s post). It has 4.4 miles of trail (according to floridahikes.com) made up of two trails that can be done separately or in one big loop. One side has the trails that view the sinks, and the other side is swamp. (A swamp, unlike a marsh, is a wetland that supports woody growth such as trees–lots of them in Florida, and they are beautiful!)
There are two types of sinks, dry and wet. Dry sinkholes are large holes, and you often don’t know they are there without some geological help. Wet sinkholes are pictured on this page. The one below is called Big Dismal because it is huge!
The ecology of the park is diverse. The swamp area has beautiful cypress knees. Higher up, long leaf pines begin anew in the sandy soil. And the sink holes provide more diverse wetland flora.
Leon Sinks is a good walk for families because the trail is well-marked and relatively smooth (bring out the jogging stroller); however, you’ve got to walk at least a mile in and a mile back out to get to see one of the big sink holes. There is a moderate, car-based fee for parking. This could be an excellent stop if you head towards Wakulla or St. Marks.