Dodging alligators in the Okefenokee


Week of September 5-11, 1996

Dodging alligators in the Okefenokee
Question: What is an adventurous place to go canoeing in Kentucky or nearby states?

Darrin
Bowling Green, KY

Canoe around this critter, if you dare.


Adventure Adviser: Depends on your idea of "adventurous," Darrin. For canoeing that involves dodging 11-foot-long alligators while negotiating your way through a maze of Spanish moss-shrouded waterways, I'd recommend southeastern Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Sure, it's a bit of a drive and there's not so much as a ripple of whitewater, but this swamp is one of the largest, oldest, and best-preserved freshwater wetland areas in North America and a mecca for canoe campers looking for a good two- to five-day paddle along a system of circular canoe trails.

The area is well-marked, but you'll still want to bring along a map and compass just to be on the safe side. Most paddlers put in at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, at the east entrance of the refuge, and camp either on partly roofed wooden platforms set above the water or on the islands within the swamp. Be sure to bring along a sleeping pad--the hard-as-nails wood floors aren't exactly conducive to a good night's sleep--and a free-standing tent. If you hear something scrounging around your tent at night, don't be alarmed. It's probably not an attention-starved alligator, just a curious raccoon sniffing around for an easy meal.

You'll need to call well in advance to secure the necessary $6 per person per night camping permit, which will assign you a specific campsite. They start taking reservations 10 months in advance, on weekdays from 7 to 10 a.m.(call 912-496-3331). Early spring and mid-fall are the best times to go, when the bird-watching is stellar and the bloodthirsty mosquitoes have retreated.

To find the swamp, take U.S. 1 to Folkston, Georgia, and then head south on Georgia 121, following signs to the eastern entrance of the park. For canoe rentals, shuttles, and guide services, contact the concessionaire at Suwannee Canal Recreation Area at 912-496-7156.

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