If Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park wasn't cool enough, imagine hiking a trail and encountering a herd of American Bison.
Sometimes, that's what happens on the Cone's Dike Trail, a 4-mile path that leads right into the heart of the prairie. If you are lucky to see the bison, you are going to come away with a heck of tale. And a good photo, too.
In the 1970's, a small herd of American Bison was brought to Paynes Prairie from the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. Historical records indicate that bison once grazed here, and this herd serves to help interpret that history. Currently, there are about 50 bison at Paynes Prairie.
Now, back to the Cone's Dike Trail. While the park offers a variety of trails that you can bike or hike, the Cone's Dike Trail seems to be where visitors see bison most often. Of course, it's possible to see them almost anywhere in the park – there are no fences in the prairie – but if you are visiting specifically to see bison, you'll want to spend most of your time in this area. Over the course two visits in the same week, it was 50/50 for me. I saw them on my first visit, but not the second.
Regardless of whether you see bison or not, the Cone's Dike Trail is a good way to get an idea of what's happening at Paynes Prairie. Remember, it's four miles one way, so if you do the whole thing make sure to plan for an 8-mile hike.
The Cone's Dike Trail begins at the Visitor Center parking area. First, you'll pass through a shady oak hammock but the majority of the trail is in the open. Remember to bring along plenty of water and sun protection.
For more information on the Cone's Dike Trail, visit http://www.floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie.