Recently my son and I had the privilege of experiencing all the nature-y goodness that is Okefenokee Swamp Park. I don’t think I’ve ever learned and heard so many facts about reptiles in my life. In fact, the highlight of our day was getting to hold a baby alligator!
Located a quick 90-minute drive up into Waycross, Georgia, Okefenokee Swamp Park is a great day trip for animal and nature lovers alike. The swamp is extremely large, boasting over 430,000 acres! Most of it is unexplored but the park gives visitors a great sense of what’s out there, as well as a snapshot of the history of the area — including the native Americans that lived in the swamp.
When we arrived, we picked up our tickets at the main gift shop and decided on a schedule for our day. We chose to do the boat ride first, which is included in the 3-Hour Swamp Experience package. The 45-minute boat ride takes place in a Carolina skiff and was a peaceful ride through the blackwater swamp. Did you know the “blackwater” isn’t actually black? It gets its name from the reflection of the leaves and debris that fall to the bottom of the sand, and since the water doesn’t have a fast flow to it, it takes a while for the foliage to decompose, leaving the impression that the water is black! Halfway through the tour, you can get out of the boat for a short walk down the boardwalk to take a good look at some beautiful landscaping. Note that children 13 and under are required by GA state law to wear a life jacket.
After our boat tour, we explored the alligator and turtle exhibits before heading to the Nature Center for a short but very educational show. We were taught about alligators, and then had the amazing opportunity to hold two small gators. One was about a year old, and the other was about 2 years old. Did you know that alligators eat each other, and only about 2% of baby gators live to adulthood? Baby gators have many predators. The gator we held was nothing like what I expected. I thought it would be hard and scaly, and instead, it was soft and cool to the touch. Such a neat experience.
Our final activity was the train tour. The 1.5-mile track takes you through the park, and the train operator tells you about life in the pioneer days — when track layers, turpentine makers, and loggers were harvesting the resources of the swamp. The train stops at Pioneer Island which has an authentic swamp residence, including a real cabin that was built and occupied in the 1800s. My son thought this was fun to check out. There is the main house and several other buildings to explore, including an outhouse and chicken coops.
In addition to these three main tours, we also had the pleasure of checking out several exhibits and had the most fun sending this picture to my daughter who was at home and who is terrified of gators. Meet Old Roy, who lived at the park for the last 20 years of his life. He was placed in captivity because he attacked the boats of fishermen so he could eat their fish.
It is currently the park’s 75th anniversary, and they will be celebrating this entire month. In addition to the usual exhibits and tours, we enjoyed eating at a special food truck and listening to a live band. There were also art opportunities for children, as well as art classes for adults. Check out all the fun going on at the Okefenokee Swamp Park and Okefenokee Adventures! It’s a great spot to get some fresh air and learn about the history of our neighboring state.