Five Places To Unplug In Gainesville

By: Shayna Tanen

“Sixty-seven percent of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. Forty-four percent of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages or other updates during the night. Twenty-nine percent of cell owners describe their cell phone as “’something they can’t imagine living without,’” according to a 2012 Pew Research Center Report.

A cormorant and a giant spider at the La Chua Trail. Photo by Shayna Tanen
A cormorant and a giant spider at the La Chua Trail. Photo by Shayna Tanen

With the evidence presented above, it seems blatantly apparent that Americans need to unplug.

And I don’t mean just sitting your phone down for an hour or taking a week-long Facebook hiatus. I’m talking about not using your phone for the entire day. Probably one of the easiest ways to do this would be to take part in an activity that does not require technology.

But what doesn’t require technology these days? Nature – that’s what.

There are plenty of places in and around Gainesville to enjoy nature. And once you’re out in it, the separation anxiety from your cell phone will quickly fade.

Here are five outdoor adventures for when you just can’t stare at a screen any longer:

La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie State Preserve

Horses on the LaChua Trail. Photo by Shayna Tanen
Horses on the La Chua Trail. Photo by Shayna Tanen

You may need a GPS or phone to find the entrance, but leave it in the car before you hit the trail. The trail takes you around the Alachua Sink, where the Sweetwater Branch Creek drains into the Floridan Aquifer. The trail ends at a lookout tower with sweeping views of the prairie, and along the way you can see the alligators, horses and bison. Birds like great blue herons and moorhens can be seen overhead and in the marshy waters.

Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail

Cellphones will just hold you back on this fun, winding trail through Gainesville and Hawthorne. Beginning at the Boulware Springs Water Works, the 16-mile trail runs through state conservation land and is smoothly paved, making it accessible for bicyclists, walkers, horseback riders, and skateboarders. One of the most surreal moments of my life happened while I was riding along this trail: I looked to my right and saw a deer gracefully gliding at the same pace as me, and we traveled together in silence.

An alligator on the La Chua Trail. Photo by Shayna Tanen
An alligator on the La Chua Trail. Photo by Shayna Tanen

Alfred A. Ring Park

This park provides great shaded trails and boardwalks for joggers and walkers. Over one mile of trails run along Howtown Creek, and an overlook reveals the meeting of the the clear water of Glenn Springs and the tannin-laden waters of Hogtown Creek. This trail is quiet and peaceful, and provides a nice reprieve from the bustling city sounds of traffic and noisy A/C units.

San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park

While technically not in Gainesville, San Felasco is just northeast of town and is worth the visit. It is home to a number of champion trees, which are specific trees deemed the largest of a species, and great variety of hardwoods. Other animals like gray foxes, bobcats, deer, turkeys and other birds live in the forest. Cyclists, hikers and horseback riders can explore the northern third of the park, while the southern two-thirds is hikers-only.

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

Devil’s Millhopper is arguably one of the most interesting natural sights in Gainesville. A walk down many flights of wooden stairs leads you right to a giant limestone sinkhole. Lush green walls circle around the sinkhole, and little streams emerge from the the ground and trickle down into the sinkhole. You can learn all about this National Natural Landmark through interpretive displays at the park – no internet required.

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