The Okefenokee Swamp represents one of the last and largest truly wild spaces on the East Coast. Located well off the beaten path in rural southeast Georgia, the Swamp serves as a fine day trip or overnight camping experience for nature lovers.
Kristi and I first visited Okefenokee for what I think is the signature activity this National Wildlife Refuge has to offer: canoeing. While guided trips are available, the more adventurous of you will enjoy simply renting a boat, paddles and taking off. Countless miles of man-made channels and natural waterways spider-web through the Swamp, all accessible by canoe.
Measure your ambition by your fitness level and the conditions. Canoeing isn’t particularly arduous, but the area to be canoed at Okefenokee is enormous. If you lose track of how far you’ve gone, or how far back the dock is, you could find yourself in over your head. A change in wind direction could really ruin your day if you find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, facing a two mile paddle against the wind with the sun rapidly setting.
Choosing the right time of year
As you’d imagine, temperatures at the Okefenokee Swamp commonly reach into the 90s May through September. Factor in the humidity and a blistering Georgia sun and if you aren’t prepared with heavy sun screen and lots of water for your canoe trip or hike, you might be in for a world of discomfort. On trips like these, I always bring a full change of dry clothes for after our adventure to avoid driving home drenched in sweat.
What you may not realize is how cold it gets at Okefenokee. Temperatures in the 30s and 40s are routinely experienced in the winter months so check the forecast before departing.
I promise you the heat, cold and bugs – oh yeah, bring bug spray – are much more likely to spoil your day than an angry alligator.
You will see an alligator
How could I forget the alligators! If you want to see alligators in their natural setting – big alligators, small alligators, alligators by the dozens – Okefenokee is the place to do it. They’re everywhere. They’re also perfectly safe provided you give them their space. Okefenokee is for alligators and if that’s what you want to see, there’s no better place for it and you won’t be disappointed. Bring your camera.
There’s also birding
If bird-watching is your thing, like it is mine, there are many places nearby more accessible than Okefenokee that I’d recommend. I’ve been to the Swamp a handful of times and never found the bird-watching great. You’ll see hawks and eagles and woodpeckers and waders and songbirds, you’ll see warblers during migration, you might get an owl, but for how out-of-the-way the Swamp is, the bird-watching is only average.
The nearby Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge has far superior birding in my opinion and Crooked River State Park in Georgia is just as good. Both are much closer to the Interstate and therefore easier to get to.
But if you’re looking for “wild,” Okefenokee is the place to find it. Much like the big western parks, Okefenokee offers backcountry backpacking, camping and canoeing. If getting way of the grid is your thing, Okefenokee is one of the few places on the East Coast to do it.