Readers: This isn’t a travel review; it’s more of a travelogue of the epic 8 day road trip I took with my kids to the Georgia coast. It’s rambling storytelling with a lot of pictures thrown in. I’m writing with friends and family in mind, but you’re welcome to settle in and get all up in my business if you’re interested. And bless you if you are.
Where is Day 5? Day 5 was spent lounging about on St. Simons Island. Mainly searching for tree spirits with my youngest while my oldest combed the beach and my middle alternated between the TV and the pool. Everyone needs a break now and then, so I excused my kids from any kind of plan whatsoever and just let them be on vacation.
Besides, I knew we had to pack up and move on down the road the next day.
Folkston, GA was our next destination. Never heard of it? It is the gateway to something more well-known – The Okefenokee Swamp.
It was an overcast day and we were a little worried about the rain. The number one thing on the agenda was to tour the swamp by boat and we totally lucked out on that. Snagged seats on the next boat leaving!
Okefenokee Adventures is an independent company that operates inside the Wildlife Refuge. They offer daily boat tours of the swamp, but for the more adventurous, they also offer guided overnight trips as well!
I can’t even begin to tell you how glad I am we took that tour. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable and pointed out all sorts of things that I would have missed. She answered everyone’s questions and repeatedly slowed down at different points of interest, sometimes backing up, so we could take some amazing pictures.
I jokingly call my oldest son Hawkeye. He’s a nature lover and can spot animals from ridiculous distances. We were sitting in the front of the boat and I think it became a source of pride to alert everyone else in the boat when we were approaching animals.
Y’all. I expected gators in the Okefenokee, truly. But believe me when I tell you that the sheer volume of gators that we saw that day was staggering. All sizes. I loved seeing the baby ones.
This one was one of my favorite shots of the day. It also attests to the skill of the tour guide. She saw the heron from a distance and ever so slowly crept the boat forward so the bird wouldn’t startle and fly away. When we were right up on it, she let us drift a bit so we could all bust off as many pics as we could!
One thing that I wouldn’t have seen unless I took the boat ride was the prairie. This girl had NO idea that swamps had prairies. But they do and it was lovely. I think that’s the thing that I was repeatedly shocked over – how much beauty I was finding in the Okefenokee.
And, of course, more gators. Y’all, we were so close to them, and they didn’t budge.
I also didn’t consider the plant life in the swamp. I love how the gator is sitting right there next to those cute little yellow flowers, blooming in the middle of an island of muck. Maybe he knows how to stop and smell the flowers?
We made our way slowly back to the docks, calling out the gators we spotted along the way.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, while not part of the National Park Service, is run by the Dept. of the Interior and offers the Junior Ranger program. Of course, my youngest son who is fully on the Junior Ranger train, was all in. He picked up the booklet in the Visitor’s Center and got to work.
The visitor’s center is really kid-friendly and had a lot of hands-on things for the boys to do. Which was good because…
Remember that threat of rain?
The skies opened while we were in the visitor’s center. Can you spot the gator?
My older kids resigned themselves to hanging out while their little brother started work on his Junior Ranger book.
At some point, it was clear that the rain was NOT letting up. The older boys wanted to go, but I was determined to see more of the park. We headed out on the Swamp Island Drive. It’s a 7 mile loop that you can drive, bike or hike. There are numbered signs that correspond to a guide you can pick up in the visitor’s center. The guide gives you the features of each numbered area.
With the pouring rain, we certainly didn’t see much wildlife. But I played tour guide as we crawled through, pointing out facts from the guide. Part of the drive includes the Chesser Island Homestead, built in 1927. I desperately wanted to get out and explore, but was not met with any enthusiasm whatsoever from my passengers.
Back at the visitor’s center, I left the older kids in the car while the youngest and I dashed back in to complete his Junior Ranger oath and get his coveted badge. I severely regret leaving my camera in the car.
With the rain not expected to abate any time soon, we took off. You better believe that if there is ANY chance that we are down that way again, I’ll make a repeat visit happen. There is just way too much that we didn’t get to see.
A word about directions. Have them. Printed out. None of us could get a cell signal to use our GPS. We were staying in the relatively nearby town of St. Mary’s that night, but I didn’t have clear directions on how to get there. I headed back the way we came, hoping that when we got into downtown Folkston I would pick up some sort of signal.
I stopped at the first gas station I found and asked. It was a young girl behind the counter and I was skeptical but she gave me directions like a champ. This was classic small town Georgia and there just wasn’t that much between Folkston and St. Mary’s, so people knew the way and the directions were simple. We followed her directions to the letter and eventually the GPS on one of my son’s phones started picking up.
We made it safely to St. Mary’s and the Cumberland Inn & Suites. Continue with us to Cumberland Island!