Actually, it’s rather hard to “hide” the Okefenokee Swamp, given that it takes up a space about half the size of Rhode Island on the Georgia / Florida line. Yet, most people don’t even know the Swamp is there! Our family enjoyed an Okefenokee Swamp visit this spring, and discovered it is truly a huge, hidden gem at the bottom of the state of Georgia.
This is a sponsored post.
Visit Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia
I wanted to visit the Okefenokee because it’s a part of our homeschool studies this year. Yes, the Okefenokee gets a mention on our US Geography map in Classical Conversations Cycle 3! It’s a name that is fun to say, but we didn’t know much about the place. So on our drive back from Florida, we made a two-day visit.
There are three entrances (west, north, and south), and since they are a half-of-Rhode-Island width apart, don’t expect to visit them all in one day! We visited both the northern and southern sections. Each one takes about four hours to adequately explore all the major highlights.
Okefenokee Swamp Park is located in the northeast corner of the swamp at Waycross, Georgia. This location has plenty to explore, plus so many fun activities for kids like Eye on Nature shows, live animals to touch and hold, and more!
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge with Okefenokee Adventures is at the southeast end, in Folkston, GA. This location has boating / fishing / camping excursions, plus day hiking activities and Swamp Island Drive, a 7 mile road through the swamp ending at a boardwalk on Chesser Island and the Chesser Homestead.
We visited both the northern and southern sections. Each one takes about four hours to adequately explore all the major highlights. The Stephen S. Foster Park is on the western side of the swamp, but we didn’t visit this location.
Okefenokee Swamp – Our Top Ten
I think it’s obvious, seeing American alligators is a number ONE reason to visit a swamp! We visited in spring, so the air was cooler and the gators were a bit slow to come out. Still, my boys counted twenty gators from all our walking and boating excursions.
At Waycross, there are several captive gators that can’t be released to the wild; you can observe them from safety of the boardwalk. Tour guides say that in warm weather, gators are just everywhere in the park, even on the sidewalks!
2. Guided Boat Tours
Glide through dark waters that reflect ancient cypress trees standing like sentinels of time. A silence both lovely and eerie surrounds you! You can almost feel the gaze of gators as you pass “gator trails” they’ve made – then suddenly, the serrated back of a gator cuts through the glass surface, and just as swiftly and silently disappears.
Truly, a boat tour through the swamp is the BEST way to observe the beautiful and mysterious Okefenokee because you get so close to the wild side of the swamp.
Both locations offer boat rides into the swamp.
- The Folkston boat tour through Okefenokee Adventures is about 90 minutes and an additional fee.
- The Waycross boat tour is about 45 minutes and included in your entrance fee.
Although you’re only scratching the surface of the swamp when you tour these locations, you’ll feel like you’re in the heart of the Okefenokee. The tour guides are locals who know so much history and have personal experiences to share. They delighted us with their stories, jokes, and lore.
Fun things we got to see:
- Gator trails – alligators actually engineered many water trails through the swamp vegetation! They do this to catch their prey who use the trails because they are easier than breaking new trails.
- Gator nests – which look like debris and compost but are actually mud mounds where alligators mamas lay their eggs!
- Cultural Sites – like replicas of moonshine stills!
- Turtles – there are about half dozen turtles and tortoises native to the swamp.
- “Trembling earth” – Okefenokee means trembling earth, which is a description of the floating islands of trees and grasses throughout the swamp.
- Beautiful scenery all around and reflected in the black water of the swamp. There’s even a beautiful area called Mirror Lake that is perfectly reflective!
3. Train ride!
At Waycross, you can also go on a 45 minute train ride on the Lady Suwanee through the swamp and stop off at a replica homestead cultural site. Along the way, the tour guide will fill you in on all the flora and fauna and history! Then you can hop out and go through the homestead to see how families lived in the swamp a hundred years ago.
4. Live Animal Demos!
At the nature center in Waycross, you can view a short video of the swamps beauty, and learn more about the areas creatures from a naturalist on staff. Eye on Nature shows in the amphitheater are also available. We got to touch a ground tortoise, and hold a snake and a baby gator! This was the highlight of the whole trip for the boys.
5. Nature’s grocery store (aka, the flora & fauna)
I was fascinated by the many edible plants in the swamp. From water lily tubers and swamp “asparagus,” berries, and even bay leaves and a pepper hotter than a ghost chile! Fish and game abound – you can see how settlers managed to survive and thrive out in the swamp!
6. Observation towers
Each location has stunningly high observation towers at the end of boardwalks or accessible by boat. Definitely take a walk up and survey the swamp in a 360 degree view. It’s really incomprehensible how expansive the view is from that high up!
7. Homestead history
Both locations have a homestead has a cultural site as a window into the past. In Folkston, the Chesser homestead on Chesser Island.
At Waycross an actual homestead was brought over and setup for touring, which you can access from the train ride. At this location, alligators are nearby, and a mini farm is being established with pigs and chickens. Except for gators, it seems like a really lovely place to live!
8. Hike the boardwalks
Walk into the swamp on boardwalks that take you right through the waters and prairies. We saw a small gator, snake, turtles, and plenty of lizards and birds. One section does require a waiver (but on our visit, this section was still underwater, so we didn’t access it). The observation towers are accessible from these boardwalks as well.
9. Diverse wildlife
Beyond gators, you’ll spot beautiful birds, lizards, and turtles, and very likely, a snake. Look out for other critters like otters, raccoons, deer, and bobcat. And apparently, summer is “spider season,” so if that is your kind of thing… I’m just glad we went in April!
10. Blackwater swamp
Okefenokee is the largest freshwater and Blackwater swamp in America. The black water was so intruiging, I had to ask about it. Turns out, the water is actually ice tea colored, but looks black. The brownish color comes from tannic acid released by leaves that fall into the swamp and sink to the bottom. Although it might seem “dirty” the swamp a water is actually 90% pure water!
Where to Stay near Okefenokee Swamp
It’s true, the Okefenokee is a bit off the beaten path. But there’s a delightful place to getaway right across from the northern entrance at Waycross. The Laura S. Walker Park has campground for tenting and RV’ers and cabins for those who like more comforts of home.
We stayed overnight in a two-bedroom cabin on the edge of a lake. We enjoyed a full kitchen, living room, full bath, as well as a screened in porch and outdoor picnic area with fire pit. Everything was tidy, comfortable, and well-maintained. We enjoyed a quick s’mores dessert outside by the fire (until the mosquitos came out – don’t forget the bug spray!).
The best part is that Laura S. Walker Park is just a 45-minute drive from the other entrance at Folkston, GA. So you can plan a lovely two-day getaway and enjoy both of the Okefenokee experiences.
Plan to visit the Okefenokee Swamp!
Our family loves to travel, and there is something truly special about traveling to a location you have studied in school and getting that first-hand experience. So many people drive through Georgia on their way to Florida destinations. A visit at Okefenokee Swamp is worth the rabbit trail!
–>If you are a Classical Conversations family, you will LOVE getting to see one of our country’s most Prominent Features and putting a “face to a name” on our CC Cycle 3 Map! It’s the perfect homeschool field trip!
Ask me anything you like about our time in the swamp! I am happy to answer!
Check out my other travel blog posts!
- Chincoteague Island, Virginia – where the wild ponies are!
- 10 Must-Do Activities on Block Island, Rhode Island
- A sweet getaway on coastal Connecticut
- Our favorite campground at Emerald Lake State Park in Vermont (also here, and here)
- Travel guide to Washington DC with Preschoolers
- Homeschool Guide to Washington DC with elementary kids
- Visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon
- Frugal Family Guide to Myrtle Beach
Thanks to Okefenokee State Park for complimentary passes to the parks and Laura S. Walker Park for the overnight accommodations. All opinions are my own!