Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge: A Visit to the Swamp

Since we typically do the drive between North Carolina and Florida several times a year, sometimes we like to change it up and not drive directly to Orlando.  We picked the kids up from school a couple of hours early (they complain that we NEVER pull them out early- even for doctor’s appointments) and headed south.  We didn’t tell the kids where we were going, or when they’d be back at school, so it made for an entertaining drive with LOTS of questions that we avoided answering.  The kids were completely convinced that we were headed to Disney World so when we stopped in Kingsland, Georgia for the night, they were totally confused.

Bright and early the next morning, we were back in the car and unbeknownst to the kids, headed to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour west of Kingsland, in Southeastern Georgia. Okefenokee Swamp is the largest national wildlife refuge located east of the Mississippi River!!  Once we arrived, Ellie was excited to be out of the car and happily walked up to the entrance.

The kids were excited to see wildlife (just birds at that point!) as soon as we entered the Visitor’s Center– and signs prohibiting feeding said wildlife!

We perused the Visitor’s Center for a bit (and learned that Okefenokee was named by Indians and means “land that trembles when you walk on it”) and then got ready for our boat tour of the swamp through Okefenokee Adventures, the official concessionaire for ONWR.

Our trusty boat for a voyage through the swamp!  The 24-foot Carolina skiff (with a canopy so you’re not sitting in the sun!) takes visitors on a 90-minute tour of the Suwannee Canal through the swamp forests of cypress and longleaf pines and the prairies with their wide open spaces.

We made our way into the swamp and after about a minute we spotted wildlife…

…a woodpecker!

A couple of minutes later we came upon a barred owl high up in the trees and pulled in for a closer look.  The kids were so excited to see animals that they’ve never seen before outside of a zoo!

We traveled through the beautiful swamplands and eagerly looked around trying to spot any alligators.

First gator sighting!  We almost missed him as we sailed by but one of the kids pointed him out and I hurriedly snapped a picture.

As we made our way deeper into the swamp, we saw more and more alligators and they seemed to get bigger and bigger.

Our guide would pull up next to them (the metal bar is part of the boat) so that we could get a closer look– while the alligators are used to the boat traffic through the swamp, they are still wild animals and must be respected.

It was surreal to watch them swimming effortlessly through the water or resting on the banks.

We were incredibly lucky to see this flock of roseate spoonbills as Okefenokee Swamp is not their natural home– they must have just been passing through!

Like flamingos, they get their pink color from the food that they eat– mainly from carotenoids in shrimp and other crustaceans.

While not as majestic as fall in New England, fall in the swamp is still beautiful, and it is the best time of the year to visit since it’s not as buggy or as crowded as the spring or the summer.

The kids had so much fun looking for gators– notice the one behind Lexie’s head!  I was shocked that the boat could get as close as it did without disturbing them.

When you see an alligator sleeping sweetly in a flower bed, for a minute you almost forget that this 12-15 foot, 700-pound creature is a wild animal and a deadly one at that!

Ellie was totally captivated by our tour and although she didn’t really listen to the guide (at least she was quiet!), she had a blast trying to find alligators hiding in the plants or swimming through the water.

Enjoying our time on the Suwannee Canal through Okefenokee Swamp.  I never realized how beautiful swampland could be, and while I would not want to LIVE here, it was so much fun to experience the mystery and beauty of the swamp.

I cannot believe how many alligators we saw on our tour- easily close to 50!

We learned all about bladderwort– a small carnivorous plant that thrives in the swamp.  Our guide was kind enough to pass around a piece so that the kids could all check it out!

The water in Okefenokee swamp is really dark, in fact, it’s the largest “blackwater” swamp in North America.  The Indians that originally inhabited the swamp believed that the water had healing powers- the acidity level of the water is high enough to disinfect wounds!  The still, dark water looks almost like a mirror and easily reflects the tall trees of the swamp.

Our tour was 90 minutes and covered both the forests and the prairies of Okefenokee Swamp.  We all had a great time and everyone wants to go back and experience the beauty of Okefenokee Swamp again– they still ask about it!  We made a quick stop in the gift shop and then continued our drive south for, you guessed it, a visit to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!

One of my favorite parts of traveling with the kids is experiencing new places with them.  Like many people, we tend to do the same trips/adventures over and over, but by changing it up just a little bit, we all get to experience something new and exciting.  Okefenokee Swamp was absolutely beautiful, and it was so thrilling to be right next to the alligators and see them in their natural habitat so I would not hesitate to plan another detour to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on a future drive to Florida. Okefenokee Adventures also offers a sunset tour that I would definitely look into next time we’re in the area!

Things to Remember When You Visit Okefenokee

  • The animals in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge are wild and need to be respected at all times.
  • It’s a Georgia swamp so there WILL be bugs– make sure to bring bug spray, especially if you plan to be there in the summer and/or late afternoon or early evening.  We went on a November morning (first tour of the day) and did not encounter many bugs due to the cooler temperatures.
  • Boat tours through Okefenokee Adventures begin at 9:15-9:30am and run hourly(ish) until 3:30-4:30pm depending on the time of year.  Reservations are NOT required for the 90-minute boat tour unless you have a group of 10+
  • Tickets are $19.50 for adults, $12 for kids (5-11) and free for the 4 and under crowd

Have you ever done a swamp tour??  If not, would you??


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  1. October 11, 2018 / 2:43 pm

    Sounds like a fun and educational field trip! Thanks for sharing.

  2. October 12, 2018 / 5:27 am

    We homeschool and this sounds like an amazing field trip someday. I can’t believe all the animals you got to see.

    • Jennifer
      October 18, 2018 / 7:52 am

      Yes! It would be amazing as a homeschool field trip– we learned SO much!!

  3. October 29, 2018 / 1:47 pm

    Wow, I can’t believe how many different animals you got to see. I was expecting alligators, but not everything else. I have never been on a swamp tour before, but it looks like a lot of fun!

    • Jennifer
      October 29, 2018 / 3:17 pm

      It was soooo much fun! I knew we would see the alligators but I was surprised by the rest. Apparently they also have black bears in the area– those would be so cool to see!

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