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Atchafalaya Big Dismal Boundary Waters Everglades Okeefenokee Pascagoula Suwanee
The Okeefenokee Swamp is a 438,000 acre expanse of wetland on the Georgia - Florida border. Two famous rivers, the Suwanee (which drains southeastward across Florida to the Gulf) and the St.Mary's (which drains northeastward across Georgia to the Atlantic), originate in the Okeefenokee. It is the largest "blackwater swamp" ( peat bog) in North America. The Okeefenokee is not as long as the Pascagoula or as wide as the Atchafalaya, but its center is wilder. The Okeefenokee is unique in that it is not a riverine swamp, but a plateau swamp feeding into rivers on all sides. It's timbered with Cypress and Tupelo. Previous attemps to log it resulted in camps and a railroad built along the edges, but none of them could penetrate very far. Today, the tracks, engines, cars and camps exist as historic relics. In 1890, the Suwanee Canal Company tried to dig a canal into the center. They failed, but the canal today provides convenient canoeing access to certain areas. okefenokee canal
okefenokee canoeists Commercial outfitters offer one hour, two hour, half day and all day excursions into the Okeefenokee, using a roofed airboat with comfortable bench seats and a cooler of ice water. You may want to take one of the half or all day excursions to familiarize yourself with the Swamp and ask a guide lots of questions. However, these outfitters can also set you up for a weeklong canoeing trip across the heart of the Okeefenokee. They can supply the equipment, complete with maps, supplies, shuttles and, if needed, the canoes. Or they can add the guide who will go with you. Our recommendation is Okeefenokee Adventures (866-843-7926; 4159 Suwanee Canal Trail, Fulkston, Georgia 31537). They run a classic four night five day trip beginning on the eastern side and ending on the western side. The guide provides meals while you focus on photography, fishing or birdwatching. On a typical day, you'll paddle 12-15 miles. That might not seem like much. but remember you're not paddling a river or creek. There's no current. None. So you have to work twice as hard. Furthermore, you have to maneuver through tight places, and you'll want to stop often for photos or just to watch the Sandhill Cranes, Bear, Alligators, Turtles, Snakes, or other wildlife. Be aware that neither O.A. nor any of the other guide services will schedule trips during High Summer, because of the yellow biting flies which infest the Okeefenokee. Plan on March - April or October - November. However, if you want a Spring trip, make reservations early. The Okeefenokee attracts huge crowds, including thousands from Europe, Japan and China,s in March and April due to the birds and flowers. If you prefer to go without a guide, O.A. can provide you with a shuttle from whereever you want to put in to wherever you want to take out. They use a 15 passenger van and a full size canoe trailer.
On the western side of the swamp, Stephen Foster State Park could be a fine basecamp if you preferred a week of day trips. The state park offers a dozen very nice cabins. There are hot showers, large screened in porches, picnic tables, hiking trails, tent sites, bicycle rentals, gift shop, and a canoe livery. If you don't want to bring your own, you can rent canoes here, but not overnight. One feature of staying here is the incredible parade of wildlife. You'll see Raccoon (lots and lots of Raccoon), Deer, Wildcats, Fox, Possum, Florida Black Bear, Alligators, an unbelievable diversity of Birds, Turtles, Toads, Snakes, and a nighttime chorus of Frogs. Stephen Foster State Park is a beloved destination for wildlife photographers. The Coon and Fox here are the least afraid of people we have ever seen. If you're fixing dinner outside a Fox will come within three feet, sit down and watch you. The Coon are so bold they become pests. If you sit something down and go back to the cabin or vehucle, they'll be opening it up before you return. But this is also a fine place to see the various carnivorous plants (Venus Flytrap, Pitcher Plant, etc.) that the Okeefenokee is famous for. You may have seen small ones for sale as novelties at your local garden shop, but they grow huge here. Two cautions : No Dogs Allowed, and You Must Make Reservations Far In Advance. okefenokee park
okefenokee platform The "ground" in the Okeefenokee is really peat. This is unsettling because it actually floats on the water and bobs up and down if you try to walk on it. Normal camping is therefore not possible. Instead, the National Park Service has built a series of raised platforms. These are really nice. They have roofs, tables, benches and, off to the side, outhouses. They're high enough Alligators can't climb up. You'll have to "pitch" your tent on a solid wooden floor, which might affect the kind of tent you bring. You might consider a camping hammock, since you have the solid braces to hang it from. Or, since you have a roof, you might consider a good air mattress and a bivuoac bag. Open fires are prohibited, so you'll need backpacking stoves. These platforms are the only places you're allowed to camp, and you need reservations. They're large enough for groups of up to 15. But there's a catch : only one group is allowed per platform per night. So, whether you have two or 15, you'll be the only group there. This means you need to make reservations early.
If you come to the Okeefenokee you will see Alligators. Close Up. They're everywhere, lurking, watching. But don't worry. There have been very few incidents. Just use common sense. Watch where you're walking. Don't try to feed them, pet them or take closeup photos without a telephoto. Stay back from the water's edge (Alligators are very quick in the water but slow and clumsy on land). Okeefenokee Gators are not as big as their cousins in the Everglades, Pascagoula or Atchafalaya. If you're canoeing, don't try to provoke an Alligator, but don't worry about them. They'll usually float with their eyes above water watching you but not come closer. If they're in your path they'll often dive down, let you pass, then resurface. Just don't trail your hands in the water, or go wading or swimming. okefenokee gators
okefenokee bear The Florida Black Bear has established a strong outpost in the Okefenokee. They're gentle giants, mostly vegetarians. They shy away from people. You'll see them basking in the sun, napping on tree limbs, snacking on berries or wading in the shallow water looking for Bluegill. They prowl through the campgrounds and picnic sites at Stephen Foster State Park, and snoop around the camping platforms throughout the swamp. There have been no reports of bears climbing up on the platforms, however, and you should not step down off the platforms to feed them, as rangers don't want them to become comfortable around humans. These bears are interesting. They're first couains to the bear in the Everglades, the Pascagoula River Basin in Mississippi, the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana, the Smokies in North Carolina and Tennessee, and the Cumberland Highlands in Kentucky. Animal behaviorists have found them to be highly intelligent, very curious and not at all aggressive unless cornered or unless you come betweena mother and her cubs.
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