Of all the wonderful natural places within driving distance of my home, why do I find myself making repeated five-hour drives to the Okefenokee Swamp? The foothills of the Appalachians are just three hours away and countless Georgia State Parks are within range of a short cruise. So why hit the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge two, three, four times a year? I’m not sure, other than to say I’m captivated.
Perhaps it is the size. While the Okefenokee’s footpaths are few and fairly short in length, the canoe trails are seemingly unending. There are trips where my daughter and I have toiled determinately all day and our desired destination sat just out of reach of a day’s paddle. Several of the Refuge’s shelters require overnight permits to reach. There are seven trails totaling over 100 miles, and 12 shelters within the 400,000 acre wilderness area.
Perhaps it is the abundance of options. From the Stephen C Foster State Park launch, one can paddle east to Billy’s Island; or north to the alligator congregations on Minnie’s Lake and Big Water; or brave the tricky navigation westward through The Narrows and onto The Sill. From the Kingfisher Landing entrance, you can explore the narrow scrub waterway northward on the red trail toward Double Lakes, or enjoy the prairies and pitcher plants of Durdin Prairie. And vast, beautiful prairies and lakes lie in every direction from the Suwannee Canal entrance.
Perhaps it is the solitude. Yes, the lakes and canals just inside the main entrances get some high use, but they are never “packed out” like Lake Hartwell or Lake Sinclair. And if you paddle just a mile or two from the main boat launch, you’re pretty much alone. Even a half-day’s paddle in the Okefenokee can feel like a true wilderness experience.