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Georgia Travel Articles - Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Things to See and Do in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge - Georgia

Chesser Island Homestead

In the mid 1800s, W.T. Chesser and his family settled a small island on the eastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. The Chesser's were a rugged family, carving out a life in the often harsh conditions of the area. Their history is typical of many area settlers; they ate what they could shoot, trap, catch and grow on the sandy soil. Cash crops were primarily sugar cane, tobacco, and turpentine. They lived simply, worked hard, and played, when possible.

Swamp Island Drive

Swamp Island Drive is a 9-mile round trip driving, biking and walking loop. Scattered throughout the drive are walking trails, wildlife openings and hardwood hammocks. Additionally, the drive leads you to the Chesser Island Homestead, Boardwalk, and Observation tower. The Boardwalk winds 3/4- miles through numerous habitat types before reaching the fifty-foot observation tower overlooking Chesser Prairie.


Lakes and slow-flowing water trails, called "runs,"cover much of the Okefenokee. More than 60 lakes dot the refuge, with depths ranging from a few feet to 15 feet. The largest, Billy's Lake, is 3 1/2 miles long and 100 to 250 yards wide. Fishing is permitted year round in accordance with Georgia State fishing laws. Using live bait fish or trot lines is prohibited.

Wilderness Canoeing

A canoe trip through the Okefenokee NWR is an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime. Alligators glide through tannin-stained water. Herons and egrets wade through tall grasses and water lilies. Bears forage through hammocks and islands. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for these and other animals--almost 400,000 acres including wet prairies, cypress forests, and pine uplands. Most of the refuge is a designated National Wilderness Area. Only seven overnight shelters are available in the swamp's interior.


There are 120 miles of trails in the swamp, of which 70 are open to day-use motorboat 10 horsepower and under.


Trails into the Okefenokee NWR offer hiking trails through upland pine forests and across transitional wetlands. These trails offer visitors unique hikes through natural habitat; with opportunities to view deer, squirrels, gopher tortoises, box turtles, snakes, and a wide variety of birds.

East Entrance offers a variety of trails, most of which meander through the refuge’s upland habitat:

• Phernetton Trail is a 1.3 mile hiking trail loop near the East Entrance Road, off Highway 121. This trail offers a walk through a managed section of the refuge’s upland habitat.

• Longleaf Pine Interpretive Trail is a 4 mile trail that begins off East Entrance Road, approximately ¾ of a mile from its junction with Hwy. 121. This trail weaves through upland property belonging to both the refuge and International Paper. Exhibit panels discuss the Longleaf Pine Forest, Sustainable Forest Initiative, and the historic Suwannee Canal. This trail merges into the Canal Diggers Trail.

• Canal Diggers Trail is a .65 mile interpretive loop that begins and ends in a small parking area, about ¼ mile onto Swamp Island Drive. This short walking trail offers visitors a self-guided walk through a small riparian habitat, which has developed inside the old canal. Wildlife observation and photography opportunities exist for both upland and riparian-dependent species.

• Upland Discovery Trail is a short .2 mile loop walk, taking visitors through a naturally occurring red-cockaded woodpecker colony. Observation and photography opportunities exist for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and other upland dependent species.

• Ridley Island Trail is a 1.75 mile trail that takes visitors from Swamp Island Drive through a mosaic of upland and wetland habitats to Chesser Island. A diverse variety of wildlife and plant life can be found along this trail.

• Chesser Island Homestead Trail is a .7 mile loop around this historic property. Visitors can observe and photograph a variety of native and non-native plants. Many of the present plants and trees can trace their origins back to the property’s historic “Swamper” homestead period.

• Deer Stand Trail is a .5 mile trail connecting historic Chesser Homestead to Swamp Walk Boardwalk. This trail wanders through a mixed longleaf pine and oak forest.

• Cane Pole Trail is a .35 mile trail, which runs along the Suwannee Canal, leading to Mizell Prairie education and observation platform.

Bicycling on designated hiking trails is not permitted and all hikes should be planned with the Refuge opening and closing times. Pets are permitted on trails, however they must be restrained on a 10-foot or shorter leash.


Summer days can be hot and humid with high temperatures and humidity and warm nights. Winter days range from the teens to 80 degrees, but mostly in the 50s and 60s. Night time 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. Be aware that tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean will often affect weather in the swamp.

The rainy season is normally from June through September. Many summer afternoons end with localized thunderstorms. Lightning is probably the most dangerous feature of an Okefenokee experience. If you are in an exposed area, seek shelter immediately on a nearby shrub island without trees. Get away from the boat and stay low under the canopy.

Telephone: 912.496.7836

information provided by US Fish and Wildlife Service

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