Prairie Creek (Potano Paddling Trail): experience the wild side of Florida, just outside of town.
You can get back to nature, see lots of wildlife, and paddle between some of the most awesome trees around.
SKILL LEVEL: Advanced beginners
SCENERY: Really nice, undeveloped woods.
LOCATION: Payne's Prairie area near Gainesville, Florida.
ONLINE GAUGE: No, but there is a visual gauge on the south side of Hwy 20, just off the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail.
Prairie Creek and Camps Canal are part of the Potano Paddling Trail that also includes circumnavigating Newnan's Lake. Prairie Creek flows into the much straighter Camps Canal after a few miles. The scenery along the route is fantastic, and wildlife is abundant. On one trip down the waterway, we saw about a half dozen alligators (mostly small, but one bigger one sunning on a bank), three groups of deer, lots of different kinds of birds (anhinga, egrets, heron, and more), and a whole lot of snakes. In one tight, but short, squeeze between limbs of a fallen tree in the water, we spotted a snake on our right to watch out for, then a snake on our left, and then a gator just ahead -- wow! Just a note to any who may be overly afraid of snakes: None of the snakes we saw that day appeared to be water moccasins, and they were all just minding their own business.
All of the Florida wildlife on Prairie Creek and Camps Canal is impressive, but I don't consider that to be the highlight of this trip. The trees were what drew my attention the most. We paddled along through a forest that included massive live oaks and towering cypress trees. I found myself looking up in awe at trees for much of the first part of the paddle. A lot of the woods also had a pleasant, park-like look because of the lack of undergrowth that we are accustomed to in Florida.
The paddling trail seems well maintained. We saw plenty of evidence of chainsaws at work to keep the route open. With so many big trees along the route, though, if one falls, it could be a major job to clear the route. On our last trip down the creek, we had a few tight squeezes and limbos, and one tree that we had to drag around. Had the water been a little lower, we probably would have had to pull over or around at least one other tree. I would guess that 90% of the population won't do a trip if there is a chance of a pullover. That keeps the traffic down for the rest of us. I would definitely recommend this trip, pullover or no pullover.
Canoe and kayak rentals and available from Kate's Fish Camp on Highway 20.
I hate to mention this, but maybe it is best to be prepared for the big negative of the trip in advance. There were large amounts of litter in the first half mile or so of the creek below Highway 20.
A trip from Powers Park on Newnan's Lake to CR 234 on Camps Canal is almost exactly 5 miles. This is short trip you can do easily in a morning or afternoon. Launching at Powers Park provides easy access to the water and a nice location to leave a vehicle. You can extend your trip by paddling more of the shoreline of the lake, or you can turn right (south) after you launch from the ramp and be at Prairie Creek in about a half a mile.
Be prepared for limbo trees and possible pullovers. Other than maneuvering around fallen trees, though, paddling is not difficult. We don't have info on low water levels, but you might scout things out from the boardwalk at the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail to see how it looks downstream.
River Miles reflect the approximate distances from the previous launch site.
LAUNCH SITE MAP (See next section for clickable directions)
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LAUNCH SITE DETAILS & DIRECTIONS
Earl P. Powers Park
Launch: Park is just off Hwy 20. Two paved ramps with landing dock.
Parking: Large paved parking area. Visible.
Facilities: Restrooms, picnic tables, playground, fishing pier.
Notes: Expect crowds in nice weather. Turn right (south) after leaving ramp on Newnan's Lake and go about 0.5 miles to Prairie Creek.
Launch: South side of road. Several hundred foot carry via Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail. Fish Camp is an alternate launch site on the northwest side of the bridge.
Parking: Roadside parking for several cars on south side of Hwy 20. Highly visible.
Notes: Expect to see lots of people fishing from the boardwalk. Powers Park is a more convenient launch.
Launch: North or south side of road. Short, easy carry.
Parking: Roadside parking for several cars. Visible.
Notes: There is a sign for Camps Canal at the bridge.