November 2015 – The Stephen C. Foster State Park is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Jacksonville, across the state line into Georgia. The admission cost is $5 and is good for seven consecutive days. The park is pretty far from grocery stores, so it is best to bring supplies with you. The park does have a small gift shop for items you might have forgotten, but the hours are limited and it only sells snacks such as crackers.
We started our adventure by walking the boardwalk. The boardwalk is about 3/4 mile and goes through the woods and over swampy land. We saw a few birds and different plants and trees during our walk.
After checking out the boardwalk, we took the bikes out for a ride. There are a couple of trails at the park and also a seven mile road into/out of the park available for biking. After spending nearly an hour biking, we had not seen much wildlife and the dry and hot conditions were not really pleasant. We put the bikes away and went to the gift shop to rent a kayak.
The shop only has a few kayaks (all taken that day) but has many canoes, so we geared up (paddles and lifevest included) and pulled the canoe down from the stand and into the water. It was our first experience with a canoe. We found it to be quite a bit heavier and slower-moving than a kayak, but it also seemed a bit sturdier. We had seen a couple of alligators in the marina area before even getting into the canoe. We saw several more once we were past the narrow canal and into a more open area.
We paddled a few miles down the swamp and turned into a section of the mangrove. We pulled over to eat a snack and enjoyed the peacefulness around us. One unique aspect of Okefenokee Swamp (compared to the clear water located in most of Florida) is that it is a black-water swamp. Therefore, when an alligator appears to the side or front of you and then moves under the water, you can longer see it.
After a couple of hours of easy paddling, we turned back, enjoying the wildlife around us. The only thing that disrupted the quiet stillness was the tour boats that occasionally passed us.
Canoeing in Okefenokee Swamp was our first experience in paddling along alligator-laced waters. It was fantastic, and I highly recommend it! I will definitely be back at some point to explore the numerous paddling trails that branch off to the sides.