Located in Waycross, Georgia, at the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers, Okefenokee Swamp Park is an impressive National Wildlife Refuge — a vast collection of islands, lakes, jungles, forests, and prairies on the Florida-Georgia line.
The Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge stemmed from a non-profit corporation which was eventually chartered as the Okefenokee Association Inc., under the laws of Georgia. The Okefenokee Swamp Park opened its doors officially on October 8, 1946. Nearly a quarter of a million dollars was poured into this very unique community project, which the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge calls “the most unique community project on record.” The end goal of the project was to make the park “one of the most appealing tourist attractions in America” and they managed to do exactly that.
At nearly half a million acres, visitors to Okefenokee Swamp can participate in interpretive exhibits, wildlife shows, boat tours on Indian Waterways, and visits to Pioneer Island, all while observing animals in their natural habitats.
Here are nine ways you can explore Okefenokee Swamp Park.
1. Adventure Walk To Observation Tower
Traveling along Okefenokee’s newest pathway, New Low Walkway, visitors will enjoy the half-mile journey on the park’s original boardwalk, initially lost in the 2007 Big Turnaround Fire. You’ll get to see the swamp’s vast ecosystem up close from the boardwalk, which is located directly on top of the swamp. New Low Walkway will lead you to the 90-foot observation tower, which will afford you a bird’s eye view of the wetlands below.
If you’re planning to visit Okefenokee Swamp soon, you should head to the attraction’s website to take a close look at the warning notice and guidelines. The liability forms necessary for anyone planning to take to the boardwalk are accessible there as well.
2. Guided Boat Tours
Hop on one of Okefenokee Swamp Park’s guided boat tours to get up close and personal with the swamp’s native plants and wildlife. Don’t worry: This guided boat tour will also give you the chance to climb the 90-foot observation tower for a panoramic view of the swamp.
Prices range from $22 to $27 for a 45-minute limited boat excursion. Group tours are also available, and allow you to experience the guided swamp boat tour with friends and family at a discounted rate. The size of your group will determine the time allotted for your tour. To participate in a group tour, you must have 12 or more people, with one person paying. Reservations are required for 20- and 45-minute group excursions.
Keep in mind that all boat tours depend on the swamp’s water levels. There are no refunds due to weather conditions. Availability of group tour boats is subject to change without notice.
3. Cypress Cove Annex
Okefenokee Swamp is the perfect place for hosting any large event. The Cypress Cove is a venue at Okefenokee Swamp where large private events can be held. Family reunions, birthday parties, and holiday parties are just some of the events that can be held at Cypress Cove — and the list goes on!
The venue can comfortably seat 200 guests within a climate-controlled environment. Cypress Cove includes a fully equipped kitchen with an outdoor cooking area for grilling. Rental fees are based on the day of the week and time of day you plan to host your event: $200 Monday through Thursday and $250 for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
Daytime business meetings of five hours or less Monday through Thursday are $125. For all other events, you’ll pay the full day rate of $200. Reservations for the venue can be made up to twelve months in advance.
A bonus to this unique venue is that parking is free of charge and guests can enjoy tours of the park grounds at a discounted rate!
4. Georgia’s Natural Wonder: Plants And Animals
The Okefenokee Swamp is home to a variety of wildlife and in many ways is a true wildlife refuge. The wildlife seen in the swamp are seen their natural habitats and all inhabitants are protected by law. This Southeastern swamp is unique in being one of the few places in America that offers such a wide variety of wildlife, including 34 types of fish, 40 mammal species, 60 amphibian species, and 50 reptile species.
Beyond wildlife, the swamp is home to several natural wonder plants as well. These plants are special because unlike plants eaten by animals, they eat the animals. The Okefenokee Swamp has a variety of carnivorous plants that are a great interest to many who witness them. Carnivorous plants that thrive in the swamp include the pitcher plant or fly catcher, bladderwort, and sundew.
Taking some time to view and gain more knowledge about these natural wonders will enliven your Okefenokee Swamp experience.
5. Natural Wonder Special Programs
Okefenokee Swamp is famous for its alligators, cypress trees, and incredible history. The swamp is even recognized by the United Nations as a wetland of international importance because of its wildlife diversity. You can learn all about the swamp’s wildlife with these two special programs.
“Eye on Nature” is an educational offering for all ages. You will learn all about the animals that live in the Okefenokee swamp during this 20 to 25 minute presentation, which can be viewed all year round.
“Can I See?” gives visitors the opportunity to check out a variety of wildlife from several observation areas. Don’t forget your camera! You’ll get some great shots of the park’s animal denizens, such as otters, black bears, and alligators!
6. Seasonal Light Show
Take a train ride through the park and enjoy a fabulous display of lights during the Christmas season! Listen to your favorite Christmas tunes throughout the trip and tour the park exhibits afterward! Santa can even be spotted during certain times of day during the light show — making Okefenokee Swamp the perfect place to take the kids or grandchildren to tell Santa their Christmas lists. Check out more details and a full schedule.
7. Pogo Possum Exhibit
Pogo Possum was created in 1943 by none other than the witty and brilliant Walt Kelly himself. After Kelly’s six-year career with Disney Studios, he returned home and began illustrating a series of comic books which featured a “furred and feathered” bunch of creatures who lived in the Okefenokee Swamp. Pogo made an appearance in approximately 500 papers and 14 countries and a whopping number (nearly 300 million copies) of books centered around Pogo and his swamp friends have been sold since he debuted.
After Kelly’s death, his widow, Selby, continued the comic strip, but it was finally discontinued after 26 years in 1975. In 1987, the City of Waycross was granted permission to adopt Pogo as their goodwill ambassador. The city brought Pogo home to Okefenokee, where you can now visit the Pogo Exhibit. In January of 1989 Pogo made a full return with effort from the New York Times and the Kelly family. The Okefenokee exhibit features Pogo and his “swamp critter friends” roaming around serving up playful jokes about the social and political highs and lows of the 1980s.
8. Board The Swamp Train
All aboard the Swamp Train! Visitors can hop aboard the The Lady Suwannee, a 36-gauge replica steam engine built by Cummings Locomotive, and feel like they’re traveling back in time.
The Lady Suwanee’s track was installed by B.R. Moore Construction Company and completed in the winter of 1999. The railroad track began giving out tours of the swamp in the spring of 1999.
The 1.5-mile railroad system at the Okefenokee Swamp Park serves as a mode of transportation for the visitors, circling part of the Okefenokee Swamp. Those who hitch a ride will enjoy a stop at Pioneer Island, where they can experience exhibits focused on early American history.
9. Visit Oscar The Alligator’s Skeleton
In 2007, one of Okefenokee’s longest-standing residents passed away. Oscar the alligator was a 100-year-old gator who once resided in the Okefenokee Swamp. Oscar was described as being a dominant male, but a very docile creature. Unlike most alligators, Oscar was not known to show aggression. Due to his overprotective nature, his only issues came about when other males tried to intrude on his territory or his many girlfriends.
Put back together bone by bone by Don Berryhill and Jim Brewer, Okefenokee now features an educational exhibit that showcases Oscar’s full-scale skeletal structure. This informative exhibit is a testament to Oscar’s century of life, and the extraordinary anatomy of the great American alligator. Soon, guests who visit Okefenokee Swamp Park will have the opportunity to see hundreds of Oscar’s offspring roaming the park waters — a less morbid but more dangerous legacy.
Okefenokee Swamp Park is a beautiful destination that the whole family can enjoy. The park has become one of the most well-known wilderness areas in the United States, featured in many Hollywood movies and TV shows. At Okefenokee Park, you can immerse yourself in the history of the continent — from the legacy of Native Americans who hunted and fished here to the European settlers who came to call the swamp home.
If you’re planning a visit to the beautiful Okefenokee Swamp Park, be sure to check out admission prices and camping and hotel accommodations in Waycross, Georgia.
Road tripping through the South? Don’t miss these 15 hidden gems in Savannah, Georgia, or some of the best places to eat before you head south to the swamp.
*Updated by Traneah Ford June 2019.
Photo Credit: MilesbeforeIsleep / Shutterstock
Photo Credit: Stacy Funderburke / Shutterstock