When you live on an island, it may feel like your life is one big vacation. With the beach, their family and friends right there, my parents barely venture over the causeway from St. Simons Island to Brunswick, Ga. – let alone make a get away to some distant vacation spot.
In a couple of weeks, however, my mom and one of her long-time friends will be trading the sandy beaches of southeast Georgia for a week along the rocky coast of New England. It’s a girls’ trip, and my mother cannot wait to touchdown in Portland, Maine. She will head Down East, linger in Acadia National Park and go whale-watching in the Bay of Fundy before zipping down to Cape Cod, Mass. for a couple of days.
As my mom enjoys the lobster, the fog and the cold waters of the North Atlantic, I will be heading to Spanish Moss- covered St. Simons with my three boisterous daughters to keep my dad entertained. St. Simons is a second home to my husband, our daughters and me; and as such our “vacation” there doesn’t always feel like a vacation to the kids’ Grandmother and Granddaddy. So while we plan to spend a lot of quality time at the beach and with my dad, I think it will be only fair to his sanity and their curiosity if I get the kids out to try new adventures for at least a couple of the days that we are there.
I have decided that we are going to take one full day off of the island and head west to the Land of the Trembling Earth. The kids have studied the Okefenokee Swamp in school, but have never visited it. I figure, what better time to explore a big swamp in South Georgia than during the hot, humid summer?
If we’re lucky, we may be there in time to catch the first of the baby alligators hatching and clucking to their mothers in their nests.
To explore the park, we will hit the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge visitor’s center at the East Entrance near Folkston, Ga. and take-in the wildlife viewing stations and other stops along the Swamp Island Drive. I also want to get the kids out on the water, and will be booking a 90-minute boat tour through the refuge. Okefenokee Adventures works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to run the boat tours, and also rents kayaks, canoes, small motor boats and bicycles to park visitors. We typically enjoy sea kayaking, but I’m not sure how ready any of us are for paddling right by an alligator (or ten). That might be an adventure too far right now.
I don’t know if we will have time, but I had also considered heading to the Okefenokee Swamp Park at the North Entrance, near Waycross. The private park has a rail tour, boardwalk, pioneer village, wildlife viewing areas and a serpentarium (which will undoubtedly fascinate one of my daughters, disgust another and frighten the third).
How much time should you allot to explore the park, and which entrance is best for a swamp newbie to begin their exploration? What are your must-see attractions in the Okefenokee? How many times have you been to the Okefenokee? Have you ever stayed overnight there? When is the best time to visit?
Have you canoed or kayaked through the swamp? How did you handle encounters with alligators and other wildlife as you guided yourself through the dark waters? Is biking through the swamp at this time of year bearable?
Is there anything we should stop and see on our way out to the swamp (either en route to Folkston or on the road to Waycross)?