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Covering approximately 700 square miles of South Georgia and North Florida is a bowl-shaped depression in the coastal plain called The Okefenokee Swamp. Twenty five miles across and forty miles long, Okefenokee is a unique area of primitive wetland which harbors hundreds of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, many of which are endangered or threatened. Plant life in the Okefenokee varies from towering bald cypress to a seemingly infinite variety of water plants. Many of the plants found in the Okefenokee were used by the Indian inhabitants for food and medicine, long before the first Europeans arrived in the area. Early settlers learned from their Indian hosts the value of natural life and balance with nature.
The Okefenokee is comprised of a variety of habitats. The north end of the swamp is bordered by pine forests and thick tangles of vegetation. Small water trails lead south to the open prairies and west to the Suwannee River. Nearly 400,000 acres of this land were designated as the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in 1937, protecting the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers from further human development. Because of this action, both rivers are among the most beautiful watersheds in the southeastern United States. The Suwannee exits the southwest corner of the Okefenokee and drains the swamp to the Gulf of Mexico while the St. Marys forms the Georgia / Florida state boundary flowing east to Cumberland Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Both rivers carry clean, nutrient rich water across the coastal plain to the sea.
Visitors to the Okefenokee Swamp find The Inn at Folkston Bed and Breakfast to be the ideal place to stay while visiting the swamp. Located just ten miles from the eastern entrance, The Inn at Folkston is a delightful refuge after a day in the Okefenokee. With four spacious guest rooms, the Inn has a room to fit everyone's needs, including two luxury king rooms, a standard queen, and a family room with two beds. Innkeepers Janis Richtmyer and Bill Whitaker provide a warm welcome and special attention -- unmatched hospitality that has made The Inn at Folkston a favorite among Inn lovers everywhere.
Let The Inn at Folkston and the Okefenokee Swamp enchant you with a serenity found only in special places. In South Georgia, the quiet of the Okefenokee's dark still waters are synonymous with the sense of peace and tranquility that awaits you when you walk through the doors of The Inn at Folkston. From the moment you pass the Inn's Garden of Meditation with its gently flowing water fountain, your cares will drift away.
Location and Directions
There are three major entrances to the Okefenokee, each with its own facilities and special character. From the open, wet "prairies" of the east side to the forested cypress swamps in the west, Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.
Perimeter roads through the towns of Folkston, St. George, Fargo, Homerville, Waycross and Racepond encircle the swamp providing access to the interior.
The main U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entrance to the swamp, the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, is located 7 miles southwest of FOLKSTON, Georgia, off Highway 121/23. It is only a 10 minute drive from The Inn at Folkston to the eastern entrance (directions). When you arrive, stop in the newly renovated Visitors Center to plan your day. This entrance provides the 9-mile long driving, biking, and walking Swamp Island Drive, a 3/4 mile wooden walkway, The Swamp Walk, leading to a 50-foot high observation tower overlooking the swamp, guided boat tours, motorboat, kayak and canoe rentals, and the restored Chesser Island Homestead. For visitor information, call 912-496-7836, or for boat rental information, call 912-496-7156 or 866-THE-SWAMP or okefenokeeadventures.com.
Stephen C. Foster State Park is located 17 miles east of FARGO, Georgia, on Highway Spur 177. Camping and cabins are available at the state park, as well as a boardwalk, boating trails, fishing, guided boat tours, motorboat and canoe rentals, interpretive programs, and a museum. For cabin reservations, call 1-800-864-7275 and for visitor information, call 912-637-5274. Although it's just over 20 miles as the crow flies from Folkston to the west entrance, it's a long drive around the southern parameter of the Okefenokee on a 2-lane rural road. Be sure to allow between 1-1/2 and 2 full hours to get there.
The private, nonprofit Okefenokee Swamp Park is located 8 miles south of WAYCROSS, Georgia, off US 1. The park offers interpretive displays, a boardwalk and observation tower, boat tours, animal habitats, lectures, and the diesel-powered Lady Suwannee, a replica of a steam engine, which pulls four cars along a 1.5 mile loop. The swamp park is home to Walt Kelly's Pogo. A park for all ages, we recommend this park for families with younger children who like a theme park environment. Boat trails are not connected to the rest of the refuge boat system. For information call the swamp park at 912-283-0583. Visit their web site at www.okeswamp.com. The Swamp Park is a 30 minute drive from The Inn at Folkston.
World-renowned herpetology expert Okefenokee Joe spent an early part of his career at the Okefenokee Swamp Park. Visit his web site at www.okefenokeejoe.com.
There are two additional entrances to the swamp which have boat ramps, parking areas, information boards and sign-in sheets. Sill Landing is located off the road to the Stephen Foster State Park. And Kingfisher Landing is located off US 1 between Waycross and Folkston.
Day Trips into the Swamp
The majority of visitors to the swamp take day trips into the interior. Boat rentals are available at the three main entrances. Guided group tours of one or two hours are available, or visitors may rent canoes, kayaks, or motor boats for all day travel within the swamp. Call the numbers above for information. Specialize educational all-day or half-day tours can be arranged through Okefenokee Adventures.
While the most popular excursions into the swamp are day trips by canoe, kayak, or motor boat, nothing quite compares to an overnight canoe trip into the swamp, an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime! There are seven designated stops within the swamp. Only seven groups may be in the swamp on a given night. 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 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 swamp sometimes become too low to paddle on certain trails. When this occurs, reservation holders are notified. Swamp conditions may dictate closing certain trails, as has happened in spring of both '98 and '99.
Summer days are hot and humid with high temperatures and humidity and warm nights. Winter days range from the teens to 80 degrees, but mostly in the the 50s and 60s. Nighttime temperatures can be near or below freezing and wind chills have reached -22 degrees. Spring and fall are unpredictable -- be prepared for any weather extreme. It is recommended that you check local forecasts before leaving (www.weather.com) for zip code 31537. 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. If you are in an exposed area, seek shelter immediately in a nearby shrub island without trees. Get away from the boat and stay low under the canopy.
In general, mosquitoes are not a problem except after dark. They are rarely encountered during the daytime. Deerflies, although a biting menace at times during the summer, are not as numerous deep in the swamp. During May and June, biting yellow flies can make a trip into the swamp unpleasant.
Overnight Camping is allowed by permit only, which is issued through the refuge office in Folkston. 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 (closed federal holidays). Reservations can be made only by phone, no walk-in registrations are accepted. After 10 A.M. you may request information, but reservations will not be taken. Groups are limited to 20 people. For complete information about wilderness canoeing, call the refuge office at the above number. They can provide you with further information, including the very informative "Wilderness Canoeing" pamphlet.
Some information on this page is taken from refuge guides. While we have done our best to be accurate, be sure to go by the information received from the refuge office, since regulations and conditions are subject to change.
US Fish and Wildlife Service brochures were used for some information provided in this section on the Okefenokee. Many other areas, including the Critter Center and the Natural Garden, are the result of extensive work done by Jim Bickerstaff (firstname.lastname@example.org).