Stephen C. Foster State Park: A user's guide
This Georgia gateway park to the Okefenokee Swamp offers water tours, camping opportunities and your best chance to see an alligator up-close and personal.
Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Statistics don’t begin to tell the whole story of Stephen C. Foster State Park in southeast Georgia. The park covers just 80 acres. Impressive enough for a city park, you say, but seems hardly worth the long drive beyond the edge of nowhere. But this state park gives you access to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, likely the wildest 402,000 acres in the Southeast. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the eastern United States.
The campground and cabins of Stephen C. Foster State Park make a great base camp for exploring the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a place of tea-colored water, floating islands, cypress, blackgum and bay. And alligators. Lots and lots of alligators.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936. Stephen C. Foster State Park was established in 1954.
Things to do:
Guided boat tours with interpretive rangers at the helm are an excellent introduction to the swamp, a chance to learn the human and natural history of the Okefenokee. You’ll also learn there are dozens of ways to spell Okefenokee.
The tours offer an opportunity for alligator spotting and bird watching. Best of all, the tours while help you scout your own aquatic adventure. You can rent canoes, kayaks or jon boats equipped with small outboard motors to explore 25 miles of waterways in the swamp. It’s a quick two-mile trip from the boat launch to Billy’s Island, where the ruins and rusted equipment of an old logging camp can be seen. Then ease through the swamp along a 12-mile boat trail to a shelter built on stilts that overlooks Big Water Lake.
And while you’re in the boat, you might as well fish some, too. Fishing is excellent, particularly for bluegill and catfish.
There are two 1.5-mile nature trails to hike.
Why you’ll want to come back:
The Perseid meteor shower is Mother Nature’s fireworks display with 100 meteors an hour streaking through the sky, and there may be no darker night sky in Georgia to best view the show. The park has stargazing programs throughout the year.
Flora and fauna:
While most visitors come just to see the alligators, there are plenty of other critters here. The swamp is home to more than 220 species of birds, including great egrets, great blue herons, wood ducks, wood storks and white ibises. There are more than three dozen mammals found in the Okefenokee including white-tailed deer, armadillos, river otter, black bears and more thieving raccoons that you’d care to encounter.
- Website: Stephen C. Foster State Park
- Park size: 80 acres
- 2011 visitation (fiscal year): 44,188
- Funky fact: The Okefenokee Swamp derives its name from Choctaw Indian words meaning "quivering earth."
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
MNN tease photo: Shutterstock