Photo: canoe okefenokee

A golden sunrise filters over cypress swampland in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Photograph by Altrendo/Getty Images

By Robert Earle Howells

The term “blackwater swamp” gets the mind conjuring reasonable, swamp-related aversions, such as alligators, cottonmouth snakes, carnivorous plants, and getting lost in dark tangles of vegetation. Okefenokee is indeed a swamp of the blackwater variety, but that refers to its tannic tinge. In truth, the water is clear; well-marked canoe trails make getting lost difficult; and much of the swamp is wide-open prairie—more big sky than heart of darkness. As for the vermin … what would a swamp be without them? And heck, add bears to the list.

A traverse of the 438,000-acre (177,252-hectare) swamp is one of the most profound wilderness experiences in the East. It can be accomplished in three days of paddling from east to west. Paddle what’s known as Route 7 starting at Suwannee Canal, and you’ll make your way to Chase Prairie the first night and Floyd’s Island the next (you’re required to camp at designated shelters). After much prairie paddling, the last mile or so before Floyd’s is your first taste of the swamp’s cathedral forests—dark woods of bay trees in this case. As you proceed west toward take-out in Stephen C. Foster State Park, you get into the primeval, gothic cypress forests that swallow you whole. The changes of light, the silence, the crazed croaking of the night frogs, the improbably clear water, the sandhill cranes, the engulfing woods—it all adds up to a supremely enchanted adventure.

Need to Know: Avoid summer. Permits and camping reservations can be made at www.fws.gov/okefenokee. Book a three-day canoe rental ($60) and the round-trip shuttle ($159) with Okefenokee Adventures (www.okefenokeeadventures.com).


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