Heading back home we had a couple of stops to make. Back when we were in Savannah we mentioned going over to the Okefenokee Swamp. But then we found out it was a little too far out of the way (over two hours one way) so we told the boys we would try to see it on the way back. Then after finding out the Everglades was not a swamp we were really on a mission to get back there. So here we are at the Okefenokee Swamp.
Being native Georgians it’s sad to admit that we had never been here. That just means we get to experience it together as a family for the first time. This peat-filled shallow 430,000 acre wetland is known as the largest black water swamp in North America. The water’s not really black; it’s tea colored from the tannic acid from the decaying vegetation.
We stayed at Stephen C. Foster State Park which is located inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on the west entrance.
The campground wasn’t bad but the sites are grass, which in the rain made for a messy camper. The boys loved making the campfire all by themselves with wet wood as the story goes. Knowing they would be roasting their own hot dogs and marshmallows only gave them more motivation to get the job done. Since we are living in our camper, we don’t normally live like we’re camping with campfires and such, but this was a good time for that.
We took a little stroll down several of the trails but they were pretty wet. Tuck’s shoe got stuck in the mud as he jumped a ditch. Not that he cared one bit. He laughed his head off and never complained about walking in a wet sock. Of course there were gators, lots of little ones, right there by the Trading Post.
As we were walking around I’m coming to the realization that I’m not going to see the swamp I imagined in my head. Bald Cypress are deciduous trees even though they are conifers, losing their leave hence the name. That being said, the canopy isn’t thick with leaves. It’s open and airy. We walked the boardwalk and just wasn’t scary looking like I expected. So again, I black and whited the pictures to try to give them a more of my mind’s eye version.
We signed up for the 90 minute boat tour offered the following day.
As you probably guessed, I would recommend the tour. The ranger pointed out animals we would have never seen without him….ever…like this American Bittern (top left in the picture below) and Barred Owl (bottom left picture below). None of us knew anything about the Bittern so to find out how he sticks his neck out and moves it to look like the grass blowing in the wind was amazing. He can be really hard to spot. The ranger pulled the boat over to the side to see this owl. I zoomed in on it but we had to look through and around trees to see this big bird. Once we spotted him it was easy to see him but we would have never spotted him from the water. So thankful for the ranger knowing these animals. We also saw tons of gators and turtles.
I would also recommend renting a little skiff or bringing a kayak to get further into the swamp. There was still so much to explore. We went partly around Billy’s Lake and started up Minnie’s Run before returning.
I loved this black and white of a cluster of five cypress trees named the Five Sisters after the five daughters of the Lee family that once inhabited Billy’s Lake.
What we didn’t know was that the Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center was in the East entrance about an hour and fifteen minutes away. In hindsight we could have stayed at Tybee longer and just visited the east entrance because that would have about the same distance. Just FYI, there’s a more touristy North Entrance too, ran by a nonprofit. Oh well, this way Mason was able to get a state park ranger badge and he and Tucker both got a Wildlife Refuge badge. So we hopped in the truck and headed over there.
First up the Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center for the ranger program, a short video, and some gator wrangling. Ha!
Then a drive out Swamp Island Drive to the Chesser Island Homestead. The volunteer was great. It helps to hear the history to really understand what you’re looking at. We just sat on the front porch and talked about the old days. The Chesser’s had 16 kids. Holy smokes. My brain can’t even process that but more power to ‘em.
The boys were talking about how great it would be to live here.
However, having to leave the yard sandy so you could see any of five kinds of venomous snakes creeping up, or bobcat tracks coming for your chickens, or hand pumping your water from a well, or using the outhouse kind of got them thinking they might not want to live exactly on this piece of property.
Next up was a walk out to the 40 foot viewing tower.
Although, we didn’t have to get to the tower to see this gator sleeping on the side of the road or this water moccasin that I got way to close to trying to see its pupils to tell if it’s poisonous.
The boys were fascinated by their different scat findings on the boardwalk out to the tower. They tried to determine which animal it came from like they found a treasure. Oh me, boys.
Here’s the swamp in color. There are cypress trees, Spanish moss, and lily pads everywhere with the sounds of Sandhill cranes heard overhead. Open, airy, and a beautiful day.
And a picture of Trevor with a sunning alligator behind him on the boat ramp at the Trading Post. Oh, I forgot to mention Georgia State Parks was running a sale in December and January for 1/2 off camping at many of their parks. The savings on one night just about paid for our boat tour. They also run other specials throughout the year so don’t forget to check the website before booking for details.
This park is know for its star gazing because of how dark it is which is intentional by the park. It also makes for great sleeping too but it was cloudy every night so we didn’t get to see any stars like we had hoped. We did, however, get to play Swamp Wise Trivia one evening at the picnic shelter with the ranger from the boat tour and other park guests. Our team name was The Scat Pack. Mason liked the name until he realized we had to tell everybody else our name. Heehee. We came in second. Respectable, I thought. The boys received a backpack, water bottle, flashlight, and a waterproof cellphone bag. Pretty sweet.
Next up we’re taking our little white camper to go see a little white house.