Black-Water Country: Okefenokee Swamp

Imagine a place where unusual creatures swim through mirror-top waters and exotic plants sprout from floating islands. A place where thousands of creatures serenade the setting of the sun each day.

Picture waters so dark and still that the surface seems to reflect images from another world, another time. It is a world more peaceful and more beautiful than any other place on earth. Almost a half-million acres of wetland, uninhabited by mankind, and still as it was thousands of years ago.

Haunting. Mysterious. Okefenokee is the largest swamp in North America, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haunting. Mysterious. Okefenokee is the largest swamp in North America, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now imagine that this place, this natural wonderland is just a road trip away, a place just off the main road, but light years away from this time. It is black-water country, the Okefenokee Swamp.

The Okefenokee offers so much, one could spend a lifetime and still not see and do everything.

Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Here, paddlers and photographers enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife.

Alligators, turtles, raccoons, black bears, deer, egrets, ibis, herons, wood storks, owls, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and numerous other creatures make their homes in the 402,000-acre refuge (that’s roughly 300,000 football fields in size).

Activities include fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing and photo opportunities, wilderness camping, and canoeing. The Okefenokee is crisscrossed by over 120 miles of paddle and motor boat water trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Activities include fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing and photo opportunities, wilderness camping, and canoeing. The Okefenokee is crisscrossed by over 120 miles of paddle and motor boat water trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As many as 20,000 alligators consider this spongy peat bog home, so the odds of spotting the reptiles during a visit are high, though there’s no guarantee. To safely view these creatures, visitors should admire them from a distance and keep hands and feet inside boats. Pets are not allowed in boats, even privately owned vessels.

From white water lilies to red holly berries, more than 600 plant species reside in Okefenokee and reflect the season. Buds and blossoms burst each spring for the biggest annual display. Bugs are thickest in hot summer months, though the early hours of the day are generally comfortable. Fall brings subtle color changes, like the cypress needles’ transformation to burnt orange and the appearance of the delicate yellow tickseed sunflower.

The Okefenoke is vast, with almost 402,000 acres of cypress forest, marsh, lakes, and islands. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okefenoke is vast, with almost 402,000 acres of cypress forest, marsh, lakes, and islands. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Migratory birds visit in winter months, which happen to be the best season for serious bird-watching.

Now this place, where earth, air, fire, and water continuously reform the landscape, is preserved within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1936 to protect wildlife and for you and future generations to explore.

The Okefenokee Swamp can be explored in many different ways. There are scenic drives, boat tours, hiking trails, canoe and kayak trails, interpretive centers, guided walks, and more. The various parks and recreation areas feature amenities ranging from boat, canoe and kayak rentals to camping, cabins, and picnicking.

Guided boat tours take visitors through cypress forests, historic canals, and open prairies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided boat tours take visitors through cypress forests, historic canals, and open prairies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided boat tours take visitors through cypress forests, historic canals, and open prairies. Water trails and platforms allow people to canoe for the day or stay overnight deep within the 354,000 acre wilderness. Winding boardwalks and trails lead through unique habitats to observation towers and viewing platforms.

Opportunities for nature photography, hunting, and fishing are readily available. One can even drive a car or ride a bike to a restored homestead to discover how “swampers” once made their home here.
So come and explore the world renowned Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It is yours to visit. You’ll be glad you did.

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The swamp now lies 103 to 128 feet above mean sea level. Native Americans named the area “Okefenokee” meaning “Land of the Trembling Earth”. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Way down south in Okefenokee
The sun goes down
And the air is cool

Okefenokee, Okefenokee
Choowa, choowa, choowa

Come on, Georgia

—Freddy Cannon

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