A Dead End Trail?

Off the backside of the Chesser Homestead in the Okefenokee Swamp there is a dead-end trail named Ridley’s Island Trail. Having hiked this little spur before, and facing only a wall of vegetation at the dead-end of a brief boardwalk, I had pretty much written it off as “not much there to see.” But was I wrong!

Large Cottonmouth coiled alongside the Ridley’s Island Trail; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 9, 2022 ©www.williamwisephoto.com

Arriving in the Okefenokee later in the day, there was no time to get on the water for a paddle. So my daughter and I chose to walk the trails on Chesser Island. The Homestead Trail is a short loop that circles the old Swamper cabin where swamp life reenactments are made by refuge staff. An off the backside of the Homestead Trail is the Ridley’s Island Trail. Although some maps show a longer trail that connects to the Swamp Island Drive, the current Ridley’s trail ends after less than a half mile.

But with a lot of daylight remaining, we deiced to hike that short spur. All along the way, I prepared my daughter for a letdown. I explained to her that the boardwalk ended abruptly at a wall of vegetation. There is a “wildlife viewing” interpretive sign at the end, but it appears that the jungle hadn’t been cut for some time. But as she was reading the sign, a coiled serpent caught her eye just a few feet from where she stood. With a loud whisper, she got my attention… “Dad! Cottonmouth right there!” A fairly young, thin Cottonmouth then slithered off into the water before I could get a good photo.

Excited by the find, we turned to go back and scanned the swamp jungle a little more closely. I then happened to lay my eyes upon the fattest Cottonmouth I’d ever found. I really don’t know how we missed it on the first pass. This thick beauty lay curled asleep about five feet off the boardwalk trail. What a great spot! Two Cottonmouths practically side-by-side. And to think, I dismissed this dead-end trail as pointless.
There is never any guarantee of a great find when you set out birding or herping. But the only guarantee is that if you don’t look, you certainly won’t find! So take that “pointless” dead-end trail anyway. You never know what you’ll see!

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 9, 2022.
– Cloudy with showers, high near 83 F.
– Sunrise 6:46 AM; sunset 6:33 PM
– Daylight hours: 11 hours, 47 minutes (+1m 54s)
– Moon: 43% First Quarter
– iNaturalist observation: ​https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/109162481


  1. Ridley Island trail was one of my favorite walks when I was a volunteer (199-2005) at Okefenokee NWR. I used to walk it frequently from the Homestead to Swamp Island Drive. I used to see Cottonmouths near the small boardwalk and lots of Six Lined Racerunners. There were times when I ran to Black Bears also. A really nice trail, sorry to hear that it is closed off!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw on some older maps that Ridley’s Trail was much longer. I assume it got taken out by weather at some point. I’m sure that was a great hike to go all the way through to Swamp Island Drive. Thanks for reading and the comment! William


  2. Phenomenal image, when photographing a Water Moccasin, are there any special precautions? Are they extremely aggressive? What is the distance which you recommend and what lens did you use in taking this image? Thank you for your daily updates on the Okeefenokee Swamp!! All the best,
    Gary Sulcer

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the compliment! Most snakes simply try to go the other direction and aren’t a threat unless you try to capture or corner them. This one in particular stayed very still, probably hoping I wouldn’t see it. You certainly wouldn’t want to be in striking distance, so about 5 feet back is more than ample. I had my 150 to 600 mm lens on, so I actually had to back up quite a bit since it was just a few feet off the boardwalk. Thanks again, William


  3. Beautiful specimen! Loved your perspective, “But the only guarantee is that if you don’t look, you certainly won’t find!” I wholeheartedly agree!

    Liked by 1 person

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