Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp
“Way down upon the Suwannee River…” Ever wonder where this famed stream is? It begins in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. Are you familiar with “Pogo,” Walt Kelly’s famous cartoon possum? Pogo and his pals live in the Okefenokee, too!
The Okefenokee Swamp and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge are located in the southeastern corner of Georgia and is the largest swamp in North America, measuring 700 square miles. The Creeks and Seminoles named the swamp Okefenokee, which means “land of the trembling earth.” The name is fitting – because so much of the land in the swamp is water logged, it does actually tremble in spots.
The Okefenokee is a wonderland of moss-draped oaks, dense forests of cypress and pine, palmetto thickets, shrubs, marshes, islands, deep lakes, wildflowers, and waterways. Most of the area has been left in its natural, pristine state. It’s a wild and hauntingly beautiful place, full of surprises at every turn. These might include eerie swamp gas, slithering snakes, or huge alligators. The Okefenokee Swamp is so prehistoric in its appearance that you wouldn’t be all that surprised to happen upon some extinct dinosaur!
Things to do and see in the Okefenokee
The Okefenokee Swamp is fascinating for every age and during every month of the year. Not only is the area beautiful and educational, it’s also lots of fun! Here are some of the things you can do and see during a visit to the Okefenokee.
Guided boat tour: The tour will take you to different parts of the swamp as your guide tells you fascinating tidbits and history along the way. You’re sure to see numerous species of swamp animals and birds.
Railroad tour: Board the Lady Suwanee for a 1.5-mile tour that takes you along the edge of the swamp and to PioneerIsland. On the island, you’ll have the opportunity to visit WildesCabinMuseum and a homestead replica.
Boat rentals: If you prefer to tour the swamp on your own, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or motorboat.
Fishing: The Okefenokee is abundant with fish. Some of your catch might include bluegill, largemouth bass, crappie, warmouth perch, shellcracker, catfish, chain pickerel, gar, and bowfin.
Hiking: There are eight hiking trails through the refuge, ranging in length from .2 miles to 4 miles. The trails wind through forests and across wetlands. There’s also a .75-mile raised boardwalk for viewing plants and swamp animals.
Biking: Biking is allowed on paved roads and is a great way to see the area.
Animal shows: The animal shows at the Okefenokee are both fascinating and educational. The show lasts about 25 minutes and is geared toward all ages.
Visitor Center: The visitor center provides a film about the swamp’s history, along with a bookstore. It also has a viewing tower and a place to get a wonderful underwater view of the swamp.
Chesser Island homestead: This is a pioneer homestead made of local pine. Visitors can tour the cabin, the smokehouse, the chicken coop, the corncrib, they syrup shed, and the pigpen. This will give you an idea of what life was like in the old days of the Okefenokee Swamp.
Picnicking: Covered picnic tables provide visitors with a chance to relax and enjoy a leisurely lunch or snack.
Photography: The Okefenokee Swamp and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a popular site for shutter bugs. Be sure to bring along your camera! You’ll find dozens of great shots.
Cypress Cove Annex: This is a great place for meetings, family reunions, receptions, and dinners. The climate-controlled facility has seating for 220, along with a large kitchen, an ice machine, and outdoor grills. If you’d like, the Okefenokee will even cater your event!
The swamp animals that reside in the Okefenokee Swamp and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge include some 400 species. Most of the species are protected. Some hunting is allowed in order to maintain healthy populations of certain swamp animals. These include deer, wild boar, wild turkey, and small game like squirrels and rabbits.
The largest swamp animals in the Okefenokee are the black bears – at least as far as mammals are concerned. A full grown bear can weigh almost 400 pounds and stand six feet tall on its hind legs. They’re omnivorous and are opportunistic feeders, eating berries, nuts, insects, roots, frogs, fish, and turtle eggs. The Okefenokee has about 500 bears.
One of the most popular Okefenokee Swamp animals is the whitetail deer. They can be seen in many areas, especially on the grass prairies. They’re very shy creatures, however, so you might catch only a glimpse of a fleeing doe or buck. The best times to see deer are early in the morning and near dusk.
Wild pigs also reside in the Okefenokee. Most of these are actually “feral pigs” – the descendents of animals that were once domesticated. The hogs adapted quickly to the various environments in the swamp, and they survive on roots, acorns, snakes, eggs, and just about anything else they can find.
Other mammal species in the swamp are foxes, bobcats, beavers, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, mice, voles, rats, armadillos, and moles. There have also been numerous sightings of Florida panthers.
Another favorite among the swamp animals is the otter. These aquatic mammals can often be seen playing and swimming in the numerous waterways of the Okefenokee.
The swamp also has a large population of alligators, much to the delight of visitors. When hatched, the average gator is only about six inches long, but they grow quickly, at the rate of about a foot a year for the first seven years. After that, they grow more slowly. A full grown American alligator can reach lengths of up to fifteen feet and weigh over 700 pounds.
Snakes are another component of the swamp, and Okefenokee has over thirty species. One of the largest and most venomous is the cottonmouth. This is a pit viper that uses its fangs to inject venom into its prey. Other snake species include the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the Eastern hognosed snake, the gray rat snake, the Eastern coral snake, the king snake, the copperhead, the ringneck snake, the Florida water snake, the queen snake, the black racer, the milk snake, the corn snake, the garter snake, and more.
Amphibians found in the Okefenokee include salamanders, frogs, and toads. The swamp is also home to box turtles, gopher tortoises, painted turtles, sliders, Florida softshell turtles, cooter turtles, snapping turtles, and huge alligator snapping turtles. Lizard species include the five-line skink, the green anole, and the Eastern fence lizard.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for birds and for bird watchers. At different times of the year, different bird species can be viewed. These include waterfowl and wading birds like mallard ducks, wood ducks, blue-winged teals, black ducks, mergansers, buffleheads, wood storks, white ibis, sandhill cranes, anhingas, gallinules, Great Blue herons, bitterns, and egrets. Other avian species that might be seen are wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, turkey vultures, kingfishers, warblers, wrens, bobwhite quail, woodcock, cardinals, redwing blackbirds, blue jays, owls, and more – over 200 species in all.
The Okefenokee is a paradise for those interested in botany. In fact, over 600 plant species can be found. Some of the most interesting plants in the swamp include carnivorous ones like pitcher plants, sun dews, fly catchers, and bladderworts.
Giant cypress trees over 400 years old tower 120 feet above the swamp. Other trees in the Okefenokee include black gum, sweet bay, scrub oak, holly, and pine.
Flowering plants include water lilies, climbing heath, golden club, swamp iris, rose pogonia, honeysuckle, and black-eyed susan. Shrubs like myrtle and saw palmetto grow thick in the swamp, also.
If you’re planning a trip to the Okefenokee, the best place to stay is Waycross, GA. It’s only ten miles from one of the refuge’s entrances, and you’ll find plenty of hotels and restaurants there.
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