Discover Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge - In southern Georgia and northern Florida there is a very special place, one of the oldest and best preserved freshwater systems in America. Stay and Play in GA!
Timucuan Indians called it Okefenoka, meaning 'Land of the Trembling Earth!'
Now this place, where earth, air, fire and water continuously reform the landscape, is preserved within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1936 to protect wildlife and for you to explore.
The Okefenokee offers so much, one could spend a lifetime and still not see and do everything.
The refuge is vast, with almost 402,000 acres (that’s roughly 300,000 football fields in size) of cypress forest, marsh, lakes and islands. Filled with alligators, Sandhill cranes, red-cockaded woodpeckers and over 400 other species of animals, it is a wonderful place to learn about the wildlife of Georgia and Florida. The longleaf pine, cypress, carnivorous sundews and other plants make up different habitats from dry upland forests to open wetlands. Golden sunsets and thundering storms allows one to experience this magical place at its most beautiful and most awe-inspiring moments.
There are many ways to explore the Okefenokee. Guided boat tours take visitors through cypress forests, historic canals and open prairies. Water trails and platforms allow people to canoe for the day or stay overnight deep within the 354,000 acre wilderness. Winding boardwalks and trails lead through unique habitats to observation towers and viewing platforms. Opportunities for nature photography, hunting and fishing are readily available. One can even drive a car or ride a bike to a restored homestead to discover how “swampers” once made their home here.
So come and explore the world renowned Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It is yours to visit. You’ll be glad you did.
History of the Okefenokee Swamp
A Very Special Place
The Okefenokee is a vast bog inside a huge, saucer-shaped depression that was once part of the ocean floor. The swamp now lies 103 to 128 feet above mean sea level. Native Americans named the area "Okefenokee" meaning "Land of the Trembling Earth". Peat deposits, up to 15 feet thick, cover much of the swamp floor. These deposits are so unstable in spots that trees and surrounding bushes tremble by stomping the surface.
The slow-moving waters of the Okefenokee are tea-colored due to the tannic acid released from decaying vegetation. The principal outlet of the swamp, the Suwannee River, originates in the heart of the Okefenokee and drains southwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The swamp’s southeastern drainage to the Atlantic Ocean is the St. Mary’s River, which forms the boundary between Georgia and Florida.
The swamp contains numerous islands and lakes, along with vast areas of non-forested habitat. Prairies cover about 60,000 acres of the swamp. Once forested, these expanses of marsh were created during periods of severe drought when fires burned out vegetation and the top layers of peat. The prairies harbor a variety of wading birds: herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and bitterns.
The People Native Americans inhabited Okefenokee Swamp as early as 2500 B.C. Peoples of the Deptford Culture, the Swift Creek Culture and the Weeden Island Culture occupied sites within the Okefenokee. The last tribe to seek sanctuary in the swamp were the Seminoles. Troops led by General Charles R. Floyd during the Second Seminole War, 1838-1842, ended the age of the native americans in the Okefenokee.
Suwanee Canal Company purchased 238,120 acres of the Okefenokee Swamp from the State of GA in 1891 to drain the swamp for rice, sugar cane, and cotton plantations. When this failed, the company began industrial wetland logging as a source of income. Captain Henry Jackson and his crews spent three years digging the Suwannee Canal 11.5 miles into the swamp.
Economic recessions led to the company’s bankruptcy and eventual sale to Charles Hebard in 1901. Logging operations, focusing on the cypress, began in 1909 after a railroad was constructed on the northwest area of the swamp. More than 431 million board feet of timber were removed from the Okefenokee by 1927, when logging operations ceased.
Protected for Wildlife and You
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936 in order to preserve the 438,000 acre Okefenokee Swamp. Presently, the refuge encompasses approximately 402,000 acres. In 1974, to further ensure the protection of this unique ecosystem, the interior 353,981 acres of the refuge were designated a National Wilderness Area. The swamp remains one of the oldest and most well preserved freshwater areas in America and extends 38 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west.
Reservation Hotline - 912-496-3331 Hours: Between 7 am and 10 am, Monday through Friday
Camping overnight in the Okefenokee NWR is allowed only with a permit, which is issued through the refuge office near Folkston, GA. Reservations can be made only up to two months to the day your trip begins. To make a reservation, call (912) 496-3331 between 7 am and 10 am, Monday through Friday (excluding federal holidays). Reservations can be made only by phone; no walk-in registrations will be accepted. After 10 am, you may request information by calling 912-496-7836, but reservations will not be taken. Groups are limited to 20 people. During the months of March and April, no permits longer than 2 nights will be issued.
After your reservation is taken:
The non-refundable fee of $10.00 per person per night (example: 4 people x 2 nights x $10 = $ 80) must be in our office within 16 calendar days of making your canoe reservations. (Example: Fees for a reservation made on November 14th must be in our office by November 30th.)
Cashier's, certified or personal checks and money orders must be made payable to: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Paddlers with a valid overnight permit are not required to pay the $5 per vehicle entrance fee.
When payment is received, the trail permit will be mailed. Read the permit, sign both copies, keep the original (white copy) and immediately mail the yellow copy to the following address: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Route 2, Box 3330 - Folkston, GA 31537
Due to seasonal peak use of trails and limited availability, during March and April, trip lengths are limited to 2 nights. These restrictions allow more individuals the opportunity to enjoy the area during this popular time of year.
Contact & Locations
Phone: Okefenokee NWR Visitor Center - 912-496-7836 - Address: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, 2700 Suwannee Canal Road, Folkston, GA 31537 - Directions: 11 miles southwest of Folkston off Hwy. 121/23, Folkston, GA 31537
The Okefenokee Swamp is located in Ware, Charlton, and Clinch Counties, Georgia and Baker County, Florida.