I can’t believe that I’ve lived in Georgia for as long as I have without visiting the Okefenokee Swamp Park. After taking a trip to the Everglades last summer I was extremely excited to fix this oversight and visit the Okefenokee earlier this fall. You might think that one swamp is the same as another but there are a lot of differences between the two and I’m glad we experienced both! Taking our kids on nature-based excursions is an activity that I think is very important. I believe that a love of nature is something that is instilled at an early age and I do my very best to encourage my children’s curiosity and knowledge about nature and wildlife as often as I can!
Since we visited the park in the fall during a chilly spell we weren’t bothered by bugs too much but I highly suggest that you bring bug spray and sunscreen if you visit in the warmer seasons!
Visiting the Okefenokee Swamp Park
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The Okefenokee swamp is a large peat filled wetland that is located across the Georgia and Flordia boarder. It is the largest blackwater swamp in North America and was designated as a national natural landmark in 1974. The Okefenokee Swamp Park itself is the northernmost entry point to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and operates as a nonprofit with no government funding.
Visiting the Okefenokee Swamp – Park Attractions
There is no doubt that there is a lot to do in the park! We spent almost a full day there and most of that was heading from one tour or talk to another with only a quick break for lunch! Although the park does have a gift shop with some snack items on sale and some vending machines are available, I highly suggest bringing your own food or making plans to eat in Waycross. We just treated it like we do most Park or beach visits and packed a cooler with lunchmeat, cheese, water, and various other items for the kids to snack on.
When paying your way into the park the attendants can also help you schedule your various tours and shows to make sure that you don’t miss anything fun. This is actually very helpful since I always hate trying to figure it all out myself when visiting theme parks!
When visiting the Okefenokee swamp park the train tour is included in your park admission. The tour circles a good part of the park and features quite a few natural formations as well as a stop at Pioneer Village, where guests can explore the recreated homestead and Wildes Cabin Museum.
The tour is taken in an open-air miniature train that’s pulled by The Lady Suwannee a 36-gauge replica steam engine that was built by Cummings Locomotive of New Brunswick, Canada. After the tour they even let the kids ring the train bell which they, of course, loved!
If you happen to visit during Christmas the track is decorated as a light show which is said to be the largest South Georgia and hile the light show tours do cost extra this show funds most of the park’s operational costs for the entire year and is a huge reason that they can continue to operate As such I consider this extra cost well worth it. You can see the seasonal schedules and costs by visiting the park website.
By far my favorite part of the day was the boat tour, our guide as exceptionally knowledgeable of the area, funny and personable. The guide really helped bring the swamp to life driving us through waterways that used to be traveled by native peoples and pointing out the various edible and medicinal plants that they used during everyday life. We saw Alligator nests, heard stories about the local famous gators, saw places where movies and documentaries were filmed and received and explanation about the swam mirror-like black waters.
It was relaxing, thoroughly enjoyable and quite beautiful in a way that you might not expect from a swamp environment. Of course, we also saw plenty of alligators, both large and small which the kids loved.
The boat tour does cost extra but I really recommend it if you want to learn about and see the real Okefenokee swamp!
The wildlife show was probably my kid’s favorite part of the day, this is mostly because they were allowed to touch, hold and get up close and personal to a baby alligator, a snake, and some turtle. My kids love pretty much anything to do with animals, so I knew they would love this opportunity and I wasn’t wrong. unfortunately, my oldest now wants a pet snake….something which is probably not on our agenda anytime soon!
The show was educational and interesting ad included a short documentary film which let you see some of the rarer creatures that live in the park. If you are interested in the wildlife in the park then you should definitely try and hit up the nature show while you’re at the park.
Informational Displays & Boardwalks
Scattered throughout the park in various buildings and outlooks along the boardwalk are a plethora of displays and informative plaques that tell you about the plants, wildlife, and history of the park. When you find one it’s definitely worth stopping to check them out.
The displays range from a full alligator skeleton to a sample of various animal pelts you are free to touch and sketches of various plants. There is even a large stuffed alligator that you can touch and pose with for pictures.
All in all, if you happen to be in the area the park is well worth the visit and a great place to experience the unique ecosystem that is the Okefenokee Swamp.