Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Practicalities
Gorp.com
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Each of Okefenokee's three entrances has its own character and advantages. Which one you pick depends on what you want to see and how isolated you want to be.

The East Entrance
This entrance offers the visitors access into the core of the Okefenokee via the man-made historic Suwannee Canal. The swamp's most extensive open areas branch off the Canal; Chesser, Grand and Mizell Prairies. The small natural lakes and gator holes dotting the prairies offer some of the area's finest freshwater sportfishing. Home of the Florida sandhill crane, the prairies are excellent sites for birdwatching.

Modern concession facilities offer guided boat tours, boat, motor, canoe rentals, bicycles, snacks, souvenirs, camping and fishing supplies.

The refuge Visitor Center provides detailed information regarding the features and facilities at this entrance. A wildlife observation drive, 4.5 miles of hiking trails, 4,000-foot boardwalk into the swamp, two observation towers, two photo blinds and a restored homestead are provided.

This entrance is 8 miles southwest of Folkston, Georgia, on State Highway 121/23 and 3 miles west of the main entrance sign. A concessioner and recreation facilities managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provide a rewarding visit. An entrance fee is charged at this entrance. The East Entrance is open throughout the year except Christmas Day.

The North Entrance
This entrance is via Okefenokee Swamp Park, a private, non-profit attraction operating under a leasing agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An entrance fee is charged at this entrance. For additional information, please contact:

Okefenokee Swamp Park
Waycross Georgia 31501
(912) 283-0583

The West Entrance
This entrance is the most isolated, and offers the only camping and lodging next to the swamp through the 82-acre Stephen C. Foster State Park. An entrance fee is charged at this entrance. For additional information, contact:

Stephen C. Foster State Park
Fargo, Georgia 31631
(912) 637-5274

Weather
June, July, August, and September are hot and humid with temperatures ranging above 90 degrees. Winter days range from below 40 degrees to 80 degrees, but much of the time temperatures are in the 50s and 60s. Summer nights are warm, and winter nighttime temperatures can be near or below freezing. Record lows have dipped to 4 degrees, with wind chills of -22 degrees. The rainy season is normally from June through September. Many summer afternoons are drenched with localized thunderstorms. Lightning is probably the most dangerous feature of an Okefenokee experience.

Shuttle
Additional planning is required if you choose a trail that does not return to the same landing. Arrangements for a shuttle can be made in advance through the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area Concession (912-496-7156 or 1-800-SWAMP 96). Shuttles are subject to availability. Highway distance between landings:

Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to Kingfisher Landing: 20 miles.
Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to Stephen Foster State Park: 85 miles.
Stephen Foster State park to Kingfisher Landing: 95 miles.

Other Boats
Only one canoe party is allowed on each trail at one time, although you may cross paths with other parties en route to your stop. Of the 120 miles of boat trails in the swamp, 70 are also open to day-use motorboats under 10 horsepower. The motorboats will disturb you less if you pull to the side and allow them to pass.

Refuge staff and researchers use airboats to maintain public facilities and conduct wildlife and water level surveys. They want to disturb the canoeist as little as possible and you can help. As an airboat approaches, make sure they see you by waving your paddle. Move to the side of the trail and stop so they can pass safely. They will idle by. They will not accelerate until they have sufficient safe distance behind them. Airboats do not have any brakes and they cannot back up. Do not look in the direction of the airboat when it is accelerating as strong wind currents may blow small branches and leaves back.

Supplies
For your safety the following items are required for each party:

  • Coast Guard-approved flotation device for each person
  • Portable toilet with disposable bags
  • Compass and map
  • Flashlight

To have a good, comfortable time, the following items are strongly suggested:

  • Extra flashlights and batteries
  • Trash bags
  • Rope for pulling canoe
  • First-aid kit Food (plus enough for one extra day)
  • Foul weather gear
  • Sleeping bag or blanket
  • Map of canoe trails
  • Stove and fuel
  • Insect repellent
  • Duct tape for emergency repairs
  • Spare paddle
  • Waterproof bags
  • Paddling gloves
  • Free standing tent
  • Bailer Sun protection (SPF 15+, wide brim hat, long sleeve shirt and pants)
  • Drinking water (2-6 quarts per person each day, depending on weather). Drinking swamp water is NOT recommended. Because of suspended organic matter, filtering is difficult.

Regulations

  • The canoe permit must be carried by the group leader, who is responsible for the party following all regulations.
  • Parties must launch before 10 a.m. to ensure that the overnight stop is reached before dark.
  • Each canoe party must register when entering and leaving the swamp and at each overnight stop.
  • Pets and swimming are not allowed in the swamp, due to danger from alligators.
  • Motors of any kind are not permitted on canoe trips.
  • Keep trails free from litter. Please pack out any litter you generate and any that you find.
  • Firearms and other weapons are prohibited. No hunting.
  • All creatures and plants in the swamp are protected. Do not feed or harass any animals or pick plants.
  • You must remain at the designated overnight area between sunset and sunrise for only one night.
  • Open fires are permitted only at Canal Run, Floyd's Island and Craven's Hammock.
  • Portable toilets with disposable bags are required. Camp stoves required for cooking.
  • Follow exactly the route on your permit. Do not stray from assigned trail. Only one party per stop allowed.
  • All licenses, permits, equipment and effects including vehicles and canoes, are subject to inspection by state and federal officers.
  • All state, federal and county laws regarding alcohol consumption are enforced. County regulations prohibit public intoxication.
  • Any additions or changes to permits must be completed prior to departure.
  • Canoe permit fees do not include required entrance fees at East and West Entrance.
  • Unauthorized commercial guiding and outfitting is strictly prohibited.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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