Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Reservations for a swamp?! Yes, it's true. The Okefenokee is a popular place, potentially too popular for its own good. Call ahead—way ahead. And don't be surprised if they're all booked up. For peak periods, especially March and April, every available spot is usually taken within 15 minutes after the phone line opens in the morning.
When making reservations, consider the skill level of individuals in your party before choosing a trail. The swamp terrain is flat; there is no fast water and very little dry land. Your paddle will be used every inch of the way as you wind through cypress forests or cross open "prairies" exposed to the sun and wind. Paddling can be slow-going and strenuous on shallow and/or narrow trails. You may have to get out of your canoe and push across peat blowups or shallow water. Water levels in the Okefenokee Swamp sometimes become too low to paddle on certain trails; when this occurs reservation holders will be notified. Swamp conditions may dictate closing certain trails.
Camping is permitted only at designated stops. There are only seven designated stops within the swamp, hence only seven groups may be in the swamp on a given night.
Follows the historic Suwannee Canal, which was dug in the late 1800's in an attempt to drain the swamp. Canal Run Shelter is ten straight miles from the east entrance, on the berm of the canal. Past Canal Run Shelter are five miles of narrow, winding trail that leads to Billy's Island. Follow Billy's Lake two miles to Stephen Foster State Park. Low water levels between Canal Run and Billy's Island often mean navigating stumps and peat blow-ups, and encroaching side vegetation.
Kingfisher Landing to Maul Hammock is a long day of paddling—twelve miles through scrub-shrub, prairie, and small lakes. The eleven miles between Maul Hammock and Big Water go through prairie, narrow closed channel and into a wider river channel surrounded by cypress. Both days are long and difficult. The Big Water Shelter is at the north end of Floyd's Prairie. The last nine miles go through prairie, cypress forest, and Billy's Lake.
Kingfisher Landing to Bluff Lake is eight miles along a channel originally cut for peat mining and across open prairies full of pitcher plants. The next nine miles to Floyd's Island take you from Durdin Prairie to Territory and Chase Prairies. Between are narrow closed-sided channels that may be difficult paddling during low water levels. The overnight shelter on Floyd's Island is a hunting cabin built in the 1920's for the Hebard family, who at the time owned most of the swamp. There is a short portage across the island. Floyd's Island to Stephen Foster State Park is eight miles of prairies and cypress forests, ending in Billy's Lake.
To reach Craven's Hammock, you paddle five miles through "The Narrows" to the Suwannee River Sill. Follow the trail through five more miles of mixed cypress, bay, and gum swamp to an oak-covered hammock. Trail condition varies with water levels—there can be a strong current through The Narrows, which may make the return trip difficult. For more information on paddling the Suwannee River, see "A Peach of a Paddle."
The Purple Trail winds through Chase Prairie, leading to Round Top Shelter, which boasts a 360-degree view of the prairie. Windy days can make paddling unpleasant, but the shelter is worth the trip, especially when the moon is full.
The Blue Trail connects the Orange Trail with the Green Trail and skirts the edge of Chase Prairie through deeper holes, which are good fishing areas. It is used mainly as a route from the Orange Trail to Floyd's Island.
Camping overnight in the Okefenokee Swamp is allowed only with a permit, which is issued through the refuge office near Folkston, GA. Reservations can be made only within two months to the day your trip begins. To make a reservation, call (912) 496-3331 between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., Monday through Friday (excluding federal holidays). Groups are limited to 20 people. During the months of March and April, no permits longer than two nights can be booked.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication