The Natural Georgia Series: The Okefenokee Swamp

Design by Lenz Design, Decatur, Georgia.

The Okefenokee: Where to go, what to do

By Sheila J. Lenz.

Opportunities for enjoying the Okefenokee Swamp and its surroundings are as numerous and varied as the more than 750,000 people who visit the area every year. From educational programs and wildlife viewing to recreational camping and fishing, the swamp and its visitors' facilities offer something for everyone.

Visitors planning a trip to the Okefenokee should note that hours at these facilities are seasonal and subject to change. Also, while the swamp can be enjoyed for an entry fee to each facility, most of the tours, rentals and other services require an additional fee.

East Entrance: Suwanee Canal Recreation Area

Located eight miles southwest of Folkston, the east entrance is created by the man-made Suwannee Canal and offers the most comprehensive facilities for appreciating the Okefenokee Swamp. Visitors can enjoy the park in a number of ways, ranging from the do-it-yourself - camping, canoeing, fishing, hiking - to guided programs such as boat tours and educational films.

From the Visitor Center, one can venture into the swamp by car, bike, boat or on foot. Swamp Island Drive is a nine-mile loop for cars or bikes culminating in a .75-mile boardwalk into dense swamp growth, open prairie and ponds before reaching a 30-foot observation tower.

A private concession provides the gamut of recreational services to visitors, including rentals of boats (motor and paddle), canoes, bicycles, fishing/camping equipment, as well as guided boat tours, souvenirs and snacks. Overnight camping is allowed in the refuge, but only with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit obtained through a phone reservation up to two months in advance (for information, call 912-496-3331). There are seven designated camping areas in the refuge, accessible only by canoe.

A fee is charged at the east entrance, which is open every day except Christmas.

West Entrance: Stephen C. Foster State Park

The west entrance to the park is named for the songwriter who penned "Way Down Upon the Suwannee River," and is located on Jones Island. Run by the state which leases the land from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Stephen C. Foster State Park offers visitors a variety of ways to enjoy the Okefenokee.

In addition to the Interpretive Center and Museum, visitors may walk the one-mile Trembling Earth Nature Trail, picnic, or boat through the 25 miles of public day use waterways. Tent and trailer camp sites are available, as well as cottages for rental. Guided boat tours and other educational programs are also available. Campers heading for one of the seven campsights accessible only by canoe may use this park, but reservations must be made through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge office (see above).

A fee is charged at this entrance, which is open year-round.

North Entrance: Okefenokee Swamp Park

Located 12 miles southeast of Waycross, the private, nonprofit Okefenokee Swamp Park, which has no overnight or camping facilities, is more of a theme park than the other Okefenokee entrances. Visitors may explore the swamp unguided via the boardwalks or observation tower, or take advantage of the daily programs or guided tours.

Live reptile presentations and videos are scheduled throughout the day; the facility also includes a living swamp center, swamp creation center, serpentarium and animal habitats on display. Guided boat tours are available, as well as a 45-minute tram tour which takes visitors through historic and natural attractions, including a pioneer homestead, honey bee farm and Seminole indian village.

A fee is charged at this park, which is open every day except Christmas.

Other Sites Along The Way...

The Waycross area is home to the north entrance to the swamp, as well as other Okefenokee-related sites. Visitors seeking insight into pioneer swamp life and cultural history should stop by Obediah's Okefenok or the Okefenokee Heritage Center, while those wishing to relax can visit Laura S. Walker State Park.

Obediah's Okefenok

Obediah's Okefenok, which is 8.5 miles south of Waycross, is a demonstration of life in the swamp during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A restored 120-year-old cabin, formerly the home of swamp settler Obediah Barber, is the centerpiece of the settlement which is a popular site for school groups. Visitors may take a self-guided tour along the displays which include a sugar cane mill, smokehouse and turpentine exhibit. The park rehabilitates wild and game animals, which are also on display, and nature trails are available for walking tours.

A fee is charged at Obediah's, which is open every day except Christmas.

Laura S. Walker State Park

Located 9 miles southeast of Waycross, Laura S. Walker is a 630-acre park managed by the Department of Natural Resources along Lake Laura S. Walker. Boating, fishing, camping, picnicking and golfing are some of the activities enjoyed by visitors to the park. A nature trail takes hikers on a 1.2-mile loop from the visitor center through a sandhill community.

A daily fee or Georgia ParkPass is required for entrance to the park, which is open year-round.

Okefenokee Heritage Center

Located two miles west of Waycross, the Okefenokee Heritage Center features exhibits on life in and around the swamp. Located adjacent to the Southern Forest World, the center gives visitors an insight into forest management and the history of the area.

A fee is charged for admission to the center, which is open every day except major holidays.

Okefenokee Destinations

East Entrance: Suwanee Canal Recreation Area
(912) 496-7836 (Visitor Center)
1(800) SWAMP96 (Concession)

West Entrance: Stephen C. Foster State Park
(912) 637-5274

North Entrance: Okefenokee Swamp Park
(912) 283-0583

Obediah's Okefenok
(912) 287-0090

Laura S. Walker State Park
(912) 287-4900

Okefenokee Heritage Center
(912) 285-4260

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