50 Hikes 50 States–Georgia
Georgia on my mind.
That’s what was happening as I was planning my 50 Hikes 50 States Project‘s trip to Florida. I was going to be so close to Georgia, why not tackle this peach state while visiting Florida? Originally, I had planned Georgia for a stop while hiking South Carolina, but we were going to be *this close*, so why not?
Dropping into a Swamp
Our weekend’s itinerary had us fly in to and out of Tampa. We had lived in this bay-side city for about ten years; we had friends to visit. Plus, our daughter lives in Gainesville, so we could include her in this trip, too. And while we were in Gainesville, why not pop up to Georgia? Then we’d stay on Amelia Island to check out Fernandina Beach, and follow that up with a hike at Canaveral National Seashore, lunch with friends in Titusville, and then dinner back in Tampa? Whew…but I get ahead of myself.
Back to Georgia.
When in Georgia, Hike the Appalachian Trail, Of Course
The Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus is about 90 minutes north of Atlanta. If you really want to start your long trekking adventure off with a bang, or enjoy a good weekend hiking, start at Amicalola Falls State Park and hike to the Hike Inn. The nicest man in the world runs the place, and he authored one of my favorite hiking books for women. I did this adventure a few years back. You can read about the logistics of getting from Atlanta to the trailhead here, and then you can read about our weekend hiking the Appalachian Trail here.
Yet from Tampa, there was no way we were going to get to the AT for our Georgia hike in a weekend. Scanning the maps and the geography, one obvious choice popped up. Why not adventure into the Okefenokee Swamp in the Okenfenokee Wildlife Refuge? I’d heard about it all my life, and it sounded like the perfect geography to drop into Georgia.
Hello Swampy Swamp
Under 65 degree skies and nary a mosquito to be found, we stumbled into the swamp. At the entrance, the Long Leaf Pine Trail screamed my name. While living in Pensacola many years ago, I had gotten extremely interested in Long Leaf pine and its amazing forests. For years, I scoured old bookstores and flea markets looking for vintage books on Long Leaf pine, yellow pine, southern pine, pitcher plants, wire grass, and red-cockaded woodpeckers (see my Mississippi post.) My library was vast and authentic. Sadly, the ex-boyfriend got it in the breakup. Sigh.
So I passed on hiking the Long Leaf Pine trail. It’s four miles and straight. It doesn’t go through the swamp, which is why we were at Okefenokee in the first place so we had to pass it up.
Homesteaders and Syrup Sheds
Instead, we headed to the Chesser House. This historic homestead still stands with its long-leaf pine wood structuring a solid cabin and outbuildings. We couldn’t stay for the daily tour, but we did do the short loop around the homestead to get a feel for the layout of the old farm. Chicken coops and syrup sheds remain. Be sure to check out the entire homestead.
From there, we took the Deer Stand Trail out to the Tower Trail. Along the Deer Stand, we got the unique opportunity to hike through an area that recently had been burned prescriptively. Black chard bark contrasted bright green Long Leaf pine sprouts against a bright blue background of clears skies. We could still smell some of the burn; life was quickly returning. A healthy burn produces a healthy forest. It was exciting to see good forestry management happening in this beautiful area.
Hiking in a Swamp Requires a Boardwalk
At the boardwalk to the tower, we took a right and headed down the mile plus boardwalk. Of course the obligatory gator greeted us at a rest spot. Next to the gator was her best friend, a turtle sitting right next to her chompers. Both bathed in the sun, perhaps trusting that the other wouldn’t move.
The fire tower at the end of the boardwalks climbs six flights of stairs. It’s worth the climb. At the top, we could see across the swamp, spy two alligators, watch egrets fly, and wonder how it originally looked before it was pillaged for cypress, wildlife and water. At one time trains crisscrossed the swamp, pulling out lumber. Today, the trains are gone and most timbering has been eliminated. Slowly, the swamp is returning to its original swampy self.
We descended the tower back to the boardwalk and through the prescribed burn to return to the Chesser House for a round trip of about four miles. It’s difficult to do any distance in the Okefenokee by foot. On the boardwalk, we enjoyed walking behind a father and his young son who giggled the entire way down the boardwalk. The best way to see the swamp would be by enjoying the long canoe/kayak trail, but we didn’t have time. Florida was calling.
Finding Vegetarian Food in South Georgia
As usual, we finished hiking and headed for lunch. But finding vegetarian food in South Georgia proved to be a bit of a challenge. We yelped and googled to find our only options were french fries and hush puppies. Instead, we settled for the local small-town grocery store selections of grapes, pretzels, hummus, and chips. We did score a delicious dinner in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, but again, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Read about our Florida adventure on this 50 Hikes 50 States Project here.
What You Need to Know about this Hike (click for interactive map)
If you have the time and inclination, do this hike. Then, return to the vistors center and rent a canoe or kayak. There’s an interesting looking water trail you can paddle. Or, if you aren’t the paddling type and you do want to get on the water, you can take a boat ride from the visitors center as well. Either way, be sure to get a bit wet and enjoy a watery tour of the Okefenokee, too.