Deep in southeast Georgia is a swamp abundant in wildlife and rich in history. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors the unique experience of exploring what feels like a step back in time. Let’s see if this swamp is worthy of being added to your bucket list.
Table of Contents
- Where Is the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge?
- What’s So Special About the Okefenokee Swamp?
- Why You Should Visit Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
- When Is Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Open?
- What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Okefenokee Swamp?
- Things to Do at Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge
- Is Okefenokee Dangerous?
- Is a Visit to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Worth It?
Where Is the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge?
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge sits in far southeast Georgia. This wildlife refuge is only an hour from Jacksonville, Florida, and makes a great day trip. Orlando, Florida, is only three hours south, while Atlanta, Georgia, is a bit further, sitting around five hours to the northwest.
What’s So Special About the Okefenokee Swamp?
Okefenokee Swamp is massive. The swamp covers nearly 700 square miles, with almost all of it contained within Georgia. This massive footprint makes it one of the larger swamps in the country. Okefenokee Swamp holds the title of North America’s largest blackwater swamp. A blackwater swamp is dark in color due to vegetation decay.
Native Americans first inhabited the area in approximately 2500 BC. Eventually, the last tribe to live in the swamp was the Seminole Indian tribe. The Seminoles lived here from 1838–1842. Originally there were efforts to drain the swamp to repurpose it for crops. Their efforts were in vain, so it eventually became a wildlife refuge.
Why You Should Visit Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a vast swamp filled with large trees, mossy waters, and expansive wildlife. Its unique quality of being a blackwater swamp leaves visitors intrigued. There are many trails, including water trails for kayaks or canoes and boardwalk-style trails.
When Is Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Open?
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round. You can access the park from March 1st – October 31st from a half-hour before sunrise until 7:30 pm. From November 1st to the last day of February, visitors may visit from a half-hour before sunrise until 5:30 pm.
What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Okefenokee Swamp?
If you can make it happen, late fall is best. When you hit October, the weather has started to cool significantly, and the climate is pleasant. The spring is also excellent in terms of weather, but the area tends to flood with spring break tourists. Around 400,000 people visit Okefenokee each year.
Things to Do at Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge
It’s a swamp; is there anything to do there? You may be surprised to learn that this area is a fun destination all on its own. Couple that with the fact that it’s within driving distance to other significant areas such as Jacksonville, Florida, and Jekyll Island, Georgia. Take a look at what you can enjoy while visiting.
Take a Guided Boat Tour
Taking a guided boat tour within Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge is a great way to see parts of the swamp you couldn’t otherwise access. Boat tours take visitors along the Suwannee Canal through beautiful vegetation to the Chesser Prairie.
Visitors can frequently see egrets, herons, ibis, sandhill cranes, red-shouldered hawks, and American alligators. Extra lucky visitors may even spot a bear or bobcat on their journey.
Take a Hike
When you hear swamp, hiking may not be the first thing you think about, but the area has some great hikes! The Chesser Island Boardwalk takes you to the Owls Roost Tower, where you experience a great view of the Okefenokee Swamp. This boardwalk is a great hike for families. It’s around three-quarters of a mile long and is excellent for all ages.
The Seagrass Lake Trail is another excellent option for all abilities and ages. This flat 1.6-mile trail features a lake and fantastic wildlife viewing. Hikers are likely to see a variety of birds, snakes, frogs, turtles, and snakes.
There’s the Swamp Island Drive for those who prefer to see the area from more of a distance. This drive is 7.5 miles long, and you can access it via bike or foot. You won’t get the same experience as hiking directly in the swamp, but this is a great alternative.
Visit the Chesser Island Homestead
A visit to the Chesser Island Homestead is a must-do while visiting Okefenokee swamplands. Chesser Island got its name from the family who first settled on the island, 592 acres adjacent to the swamp. On your visit to Cheeser Homestead, you can see how the early settlers lived.
Explore by Kayak or Canoe
Jumping into a kayak or canoe is a great way to explore the inner areas of the swamp. This option will get you right into the action of the vegetation and wildlife! There are around 120 miles of water trails waiting for you to explore. If you don’t have a kayak or canoe of your own, you can rent one from the refuge concession.
Is Okefenokee Dangerous?
There are risks anytime you’re in the great outdoors. As long as you keep your distance while enjoying Okefenokee wildlife, the risks will be minimal. This area does have alligators present, which can be dangerous if you approach them. Avoid entering waters and heed all warnings from signs or rangers.
There are also black bears that call the swamp area home. With that said, you should consider this park to be a safe location to explore, assuming you’re taking all necessary precautions.
Is a Visit to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Worth It?
While Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge might not be everyone’s preferred environment, it’s a unique place to add to your destinations list. Those that enjoy southern wildlife and reptiles will find this swamp fascinating and worth the journey.
Those that aren’t fans of the creepy-crawly swamp life home may not appreciate the area’s offerings. In all, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is alive with history, wildlife, and vegetation but may not be for the faint of heart.
Another interesting national wildlife refuge is Maryland’s Blackwater. Learn more about it here: How to Spend a Day in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
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