The Coastal Isles and the Okefenokee: Places to Explore

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Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Larger than all of Georgia's barrier islands combined, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge covers 700 square miles of southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida. From the air, all roads and almost all traces of human development almost disappear into this vast, seemingly impenetrable landscape, the largest intact freshwater wetlands in the contiguous United States. The rivers, lakes, forests, prairies, and swamps all teem with seen and unseen life: alligators, otters, bobcats, raccoons, opossums, white-tailed deer, turtles, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, egrets, muskrats, herons, cranes, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and black bears all make their home here. The term "swamp" hardly does the Okefenokee justice. It's the largest peat-producing bog in the United States, with numerous and varied landscapes, including aquatic prairies, towering virgin cypress, sandy pine islands, and lush subtropical hammocks.

None of the parks encompass everything the refuge has to offer; you need to determine what your highest priorities are and choose your gateway on that basis. Day trips and boat rentals can be arranged at any of the parks, and more adventurous visitors can take guided or independent overnight canoe-camping trips into the interior. The refuge offers permits for 14 multiday itineraries along the nearly 120 miles of boat trails. Paddlers camping in the swamp must spend their nights in designated wooden shelters built on stilts over the water.

Visit between September and April to avoid the biting insects that emerge in May, especially in the dense interior.

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