Hampton Lake is a small (about 850 acres, give or take) lake in North-Central Florida, near Gainesville. Less than half of the shoreline is populated, the rest is designated wetlands and protected. You can paddle near to the shore, where it appears to be fairly deep, for the best wildlife viewing. Right next to the shoreline there were tall grasses sticking out of the water and signs of lily pads--I was there in mid-March and so spring had not quite arrived yet and nothing was flowering. I did see several egrets during a somewhat short paddle. This would be an excellent lake to visit for a short day trip, you could paddle the circumference during one visit. The combination of upscale houses and dilapidated docks and boathouses on the water even make the populated area interesting, though I prefer the forested part. If you are going to be in the area and want a short, fun paddle (it's probably very impressive in early morning), try Hampton Lake.
There is a very nice B&B (Hampton Lake Bed & Breakfast) located right on the lake, which makes early morning or dusk paddling convenient.
No fees or permits required.
There is a public boat ramp on county road 18, which branches off from Hwy 301. I did not use this ramp, so I don't know if there are any facilities at the ramp.