Okefenokee Swamp: A Spooky Wildlife Haven In Southeast Georgia

This winter while we were still in Wisconsin I read a really awful book set in the Okefenokee Swamp. I didn’t even finish it. I knew about the swamp before that but really wanted to visit after that, more than before.

Just before heading to Tallahassee to meet my parents, we made a day trip from Gainesville up to the Okefenokee Swamp with literally no idea of what to do there.

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We went to the Folkston entrance and stopped into the visitor center to see what to do there. They had boat rentals available that were surprisingly cheap (cheaper than the website says but we can’t remember exactly how much) and decided to go for it.

We did the short boardwalk before getting the boat and decided that would be the best way to experience the swamp.

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I did like the boardwalk. It was short and just stops in the middle of the water because a good portion of it is submerged so you obviously can’t walk on it.

It was such a nice walk on the boardwalk and we saw an alligator just ridin’ blind with algae or something over it’s eyes, swimming into stuff and right under the boardwalk. It was pretty cool to see.

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Next we headed back to get the boat rental to go out into the swamp. THey sort of showed us how to use the boat but it still took some figuring once we were actually on the water.

The ranger also recommended going to the right once we got to the end of the canal and into the main swamp area. He said it was the prettiest part so we went to the right.

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Our first stop was Billy’s Island where we parked and did the short trail around the island. You can see remnants of the former settlement here which used to be home to almost 600 people!

You have to turn around here if you’re on a boat.

It took probably two hours to get here and do the hike so we had about two left before we had to have the boat back. We figured we might have time to make it to Minnie’s Lake, too and headed that way.

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The turns for the main sights are well marked but it got a little confusing finding our way from the turn to the lake because there was a fork that wasn’t marked well.

We went to the left and it got a little narrow but we kept going. It was also really dark, not like, night dark, but dark for the day. The trees are fairly dense and they’re covered in Spanish moss, plus it was getting cloudy and sprinkling which made it darker.

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We didn’t make it all the way to Minnie’s Lake before turning around and I’m glad because almost as soon as we got out to the main waterway it started pouring.

And it was cold. We stopped for some pictures and after that is when it really got wet. We were both totally soaked by the time we made it back to the visitor center.

I didn’t have anything dry to change into so I was freezing the whole drive home. I’m really glad we decided to rent the boat though because I loved being out on the water there!

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I will say though, it was kind of creepy. Not like swamp monsters were going to get me like in The Toll book but just creepy because it was dark and there was almost no one else out there.

It had a creepy vibe. I was also worried about getting lost but that’s how I tend to feel in most swampy places I don’t know. We were fine though and I would definitely recommend renting a boat at Okefenokee to really get to see it up close.

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What is the Okefenokee Swamp?

The 480.000 acre Okefenokee Swamp is actually the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in the southeast corner of Georgia just over the Florida border.

It’s home to threatened and endangered species and protects the fragile swamp. It’s known for it’s amphibians that indicate global health and is one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems. To read more about the refuge and it’s different parts, check here.

The swamp was inhabited as early as 2,500 BC but has been occupied fairly steadily since then. The State of Georgia, Suwanee Canal Company, and Hebard Cypress Company have also owned/controlled it at different points in time.

The swamp gets about 400,000 visitors per year. Spring is the busiest time but winter is, I think, the best time to visit. It won’t be as busy and the bugs won’t be near as bad as in the summer.

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Where is the Okefenokee Swamp

The Okefenokee Swamp is in southern Georgia, about an hour from Jacksonville, Florida, an hour and forty minutes from Gainesville, Florida, two hours from Savannah, and just over five hours from Atlanta.

These times are all to the Okefenokee Adventures part of the wildlife refuge near Folkston Georgia.

The Okefenokee Swamp Park is at the northern end near Waycross, Georgia and is about four hours and forty minutes from Atlanta, an hour and a half from Jacksonville, and a little over two hours from Gainesville and Savannah.

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How much is the Okefenokee Swamp?

This just depends on what part of the wildlife refuge you’re going to. We went in through Stephen C. Foster State Park by Folkston, Georgia and there was a $5 fee. The $5 fee is for either entrance.

Any activities, tours, or rentals in the park/refuge/swamp will have additional fees that vary. Here is some information about things to do at the Waycross, Georgia area.

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What to do at Okefenokee Swamp

Do some kayaking

If you want to rent a kayak at Okefenokee, you’ll have to go to the Okefenokee Adventures office near Folkston. This is a great away to get into the swamp if you’re not comfortable driving a boat and don’t want to join a tour.

If you’re a strong kayaker and don’t mind paddling longer distances, this is a great option for getting around. If you’re not confident in kayaking longish distances, this might not be the best option.

You have to go kind of far, far for paddling yourself at least to me as a very casual kayaker, to see a lot of the swamp. I’m not sure exact distances, but it’s about four miles round-trip just to Billy’s Island. Plan for more if you want to see anything else, too.

Trails are well marked to help with navigation. Canoes and single kayaks are $40 per day and tandem kayaks are $45.

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Rent a boat

This is a faster way to get around the swamp and can also only be rented from Okefenokee Adventures. This is what we did and as long as you’re comfortable navigating and driving a boat, I would definitely recommend this.

It’s $199 for up to two people and up to four hours. If you want to see more of the swamp, this is a good way to go further and see the highlights.

Minnie’s Lake, Big Water Lake, and Billy’s Island are three popular boating destinations for a day trip.

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Join a boat tour

If you just want to hang out and let someone else do the work while still seeing and learning about the swamp, a boat tour is a great option.

There are a few tour options available and can (and probably should) be booked in advance if you know you’ll be going. They may not have any thing available for walk-ins. These are the ones for Okefenokee Adventures.

There are also a couple tours you can join at the Okefenokee Swamp Park at the north end. These should also be booked in advance if you know you’ll be wanting to do one.

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Hit the trails

There aren’t tons of trails in Okefenokee but there area a few. At Okefenokee Adventures there is a short boardwalk and Cane Pole Trail you can hike from the visitor center. The boardwalk isn’t too long but it was really nice. I liked it a lot.

Just before the visitor center there is also the Longleaf Pine/Canal Diggers Trail. There is a short trail around Billy’s Island that I really liked as well.

Chesser Island near Okefenokee Adventure has a boardwalk and a slightly longer trail. You can also see the Chesser Island Homestead here. Climb up the Owls Roost Tower to get a nice swamp overlook.

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Look for wildlife

While I just call this Okefenokee Swamp, it is actually a national wildlife refuge! That means it’s great for looking for critters. Birds and alligators are the most common but black bears can also be seen in the swamp. Here is some wildlife that lives at Okefenokee:

  • Alligators
  • Black bears
  • Raccoons
  • Wading birds (tons of different kinds)
  • Common minks
  • Deer
  • Skunks
  • River otters
  • Bobcats
  • Raptors
  • Red Foxes
  • Wild boar
  • Gray foxes
  • Turtles
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What to bring to Okefenokee Swamp

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’ll be in any slot canyons, they can get cool depending on the time of day and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this. It was pretty cold and rained while we were here.

Dry bag This is a must if you’re kayaking or canoeing.  You’ll want to keep your phone and camera dry while you’re on the water.  This small dry bag is perfect for little electronics.  Here is a bigger one if you want to keep everything in it.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Long sleeve shirt – A long sleeve shirt will help protect you from mosquitos.  This is a must for a summer visit, but not 100% necessary for January and February, but it would be helpful.

Bug spray – You’ll want to bring this no matter when you visit, but especially if you want to go in the summer.  I like the Ben’s bug spray as well as the Off! Deep Woods.

Good hiking shoes – If you’re sticking to boardwalks and other dry trails, Chacos will be good.  If you want to go in the water or flooded areas, you’ll want closed toe shoes so you don’t get cut by sawgrass. Chaco Odysseys with socks are my favorite for hiking in Florida.

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Is the Okefenokee Swamp worth visiting?

Yes! If you like swamps and remote adventures, this is a great place to visit. It was a little creepy and I was worried about getting lost on the boat but we managed.

If you’re not comfortable with driving boats, I would join a boat tour but I would definitely recommend visiting and would love to go back.

Have you been to Okefenokee Swamp? What did you think of it? What did you do there? Do you want to go?

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