Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region

Frequently Asked Questions

Listed below are the answers to some of the common questions people have about the Okefenokee Swamp and Refuge. You will find further information in the rest of this refuge website.

  1. What is a National Wildlife Refuge?

A National Wildlife Refuge is land and/or water managed to conserve, protect and enhance the habitat that animals and plants (especially migratory birds and threatened and endangered species) need to survive.  Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is part of a larger system of 548 refuges and 37 wetland management districts covering over 97 million acres in all 50 states and U.S. territories managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation.  While some refuges like Okefenokee have facilities and recreational opportunities similar to what you might find at a national park, at national wildlife refuges, wildlife protection and conservation is the greatest priority. 

  1. What is the difference between the Okefenokee Swamp and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge?

Basically they are the same.  The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (refuge) was created in 1937 to forever protect the Okefenokee Swamp and its surrounding uplands.  The refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, now contains about 85 percent of the swamp plus tens of thousands of acres of upland pine forest vital for wildlife such as the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and the threatened gopher tortoise.     

  1. How many entrances are there to the refuge?

There are five entrances to the refuge: the East Entrance (Suwannee Canal Recreation Area) near Folkston, the West Entrance (Stephen C. Foster State Park) near Fargo, the North Entrance (Okefenokee Swamp Park) near Waycross, Kingfisher Landing, and the Suwannee Sill.      

  1. When is the best time to visit the refuge?

There really is no “best time” to visit the Okefenokee; the best of what Okefenokee has to offer changes from month to month and even hour to hour.  The refuge is open every day of the year except for December 25th for you to visit.  The most visited time of the year is from the middle of February to the middle of May, followed by mid- September to late November.  

  1. Why do I have to pay an entrance fee to visit the refuge?

The U.S. Congress created the Federal Lands Recreation Fee Program to have users of federal lands help pay for part of the cost for staffing and maintaining the facilities on these lands. The money from entrance fees goes to pay for visitor services operations at the refuge including brochures, exhibits, educational materials, signs and facility improvements.

  1. Where and when are hunts held at the refuge?

Hunts are held at three locations, the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, the Pocket, and the Cowhouse Unit during different times of the year. The dates of these hunts are determined annually by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in early July. 

  1. How do I arrange an overnight canoe trip?

Overnight wilderness canoeing trips may be arranged by calling the Okefenokee Wilderness Canoeing Reservation Line at 912-496-3331 week days from 7am-10am except federal holidays.

  1. What animals and plants will I see at the refuge?

You may see a wide variety of amphibians, fish, mammals, reptiles, and birds, but Okefenokee is especially known for its alligators, fox squirrels, white tailed deer, gopher tortoises, great blue herons, ibis, sandhill cranes, red-shouldered hawks, wild turkey, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  Plants you may see include pond cypress, saw-tooth palmetto, live oak, long-leaf pine, lilies, pitcher plants and sunflowers.

  1. When is the best time to see alligators?

Alligators may be seen throughout the year, especially in the ditches along Swamp Island Drive, in the Suwannee Canal, and Billys Lake.  During sunny winter days, they can often be seen enjoying the sun while lying on dry land and downed trees.  You will also see more alligators during times of low water and drought.  Just make sure to not feed or harass an alligator, and stay at least 20 feet (6 meters) from them.

  1. Can I bring my dog or other pet with me to the refuge?

Refuge regulations state that you may bring your pet with you as long as they are restrained on a ten-foot or shorter leash or are in a cage.  However, pets are not allowed in buildings, on boardwalks or in boats for visitor and pet safety.  You must also pick up your pet’s waste and dispose of it properly.  Pets can die from being locked in vehicles while you are enjoying the refuge, so it is best to leave them at home.

  1. When can I see sandhill cranes?

The resident Florida sandhill cranes are found in the Okefenokee throughout the year. The migrating Greater sandhill cranes arrive in mid November and remain usually until early February. The refuge bird list can provide you with more information on what birds are found at the refuge.

  1. Where are some good places to photograph wildlife?

At the East Entrance, good places to photograph wildlife are along the wildlife drive, along the boardwalk, and in the wetland prairies. At the West Entrance, some good places are along the walking trails and at Billys Lake.  The North Entrance has captive wildlife you may photograph.

  1. When does the refuge celebrate Earth Day and Okefenokee Festival?

Okefenokee NWR hosts its annual Earth Day/National Wildlife Week Celebration on the third Saturday of April. The Okefenokee Festival/Chesser Island Homestead Open House is held at the refuge on the second Saturday of October.  Descriptions of these and other special events are posted on the Refuge Special Events Calendar.

  1. Does the refuge staff accept injured or orphaned wildlife?

The refuge is not equipped to handle injured or orphaned wildlife. The Georgia DNR website has a list of rehabilitators in Georgia who will gladly take injured or orphaned wildlife.

  1. How can I get information for my school report about the refuge and the Okefenokee Swamp?

This website, especially the Refuge Research Information section. You may also contact the refuge visitor center at 912-496-7836 for more information.

  1. Where can I stay overnight inside and outside the refuge?

In the refuge, there is a campground and cabins to rent at Stephen C. Foster State Park.  You can also stay overnight in the swamp by wilderness canoeing to islands or overnight platforms, which require a reservation.  There are also public and private overnight accommodations near the East, West and North entrances.

  1. How do I arrange a class trip for my students?

For a class trip to the East Entrance, you should review the Environmental Education section of this website, then make arrangements by calling the Visitor Center at 912-496-7836 and talking with the ranger on duty.  For a trip to the West Entrance you will need to call 912-637-5274.  For a trip to the North Entrance, you will need to call 912-283-0583.  If your trip complies with the fee waiver guidelines, you may receive a fee waiver for your class.

  1. Where can I get a brochures and maps of the refuge?

Brochures and maps can be printed off this website, and are also available at the refuge visitor centers.

  1. How do I get a job at the refuge?

Due to limited funding and low turnover, very few jobs open up here at the refuge each year.  When a job is announced, the official job announcement details specifically how to apply for that job.  Job announcements can be found at the government website http://www.usajobs.opm.gov

  1. Are there many biting insects at the refuge?

Most of the time biting insect will not bother you.  However, precautions such as wearing long-sleeved clothing and using insect repellant should be taken, especially at night and during the summer months to protect yourself against mosquitoes and yellow flies.

  1. What type of fish can I catch at the refuge?

There are 39 species of fish found in the Okefenokee Swamp, although not all can be caught. Common species of fish caught by anglers include largemouth bass, flier, warmouth, chain pickerel, and bowfin.  State of Georgia fishing regulations do apply within the refuge.

  1. How can I sign up to volunteer at the refuge?

You may obtain volunteer information on this web site, then sign up to volunteer by contacting the Volunteer Coordinator at 912-496-7365 ext. 232.

  1. Are there places to purchase food and to have a picnic?

Food such as sandwiches, salads, snack food and drinks may be purchased from Okefenokee Adventures at the East entrance, and snack food from the store at Stephen C. Foster State Park at the West Entrance.  Okefenokee Swamp Park has a small restaurant that sells food.  At the East Entrance there are picnic tables in the picnic area and in the picnic shelter, all of which are first come-first served.  The West Entrance has picnic tables that are first come-first served and three picnic shelters that may be reserved.  The North Entrance has facilities to host large events.

  1. Can I ride a bike on the refuge?

At the East Entrance, you may ride a bike only on the Suwannee Canal Road (the refuge entrance road) and Swamp Island Drive (the refuge nature drive). At the West Entrance, you may ride a bike only on GA Hwy. 177 (the park entrance road) and other open roads within the park.  At the North Entrance you may ride on GA Hwy. 177 (the park entrance road).

  1. Can I use the images on this website for my report or other use?

Any images that contain a credit with “USFWS” are public domain, so you may use them as long as you credit the photographer exactly as shown with the photo.  All images that just have a photographer’s name are protected by copyright laws and may not be used without permission from the photographer.  For images of the Okefenokee that are in the public domain, click on the Alligator icon on the home page (Okefenokee NWR Photo Gallery) or visit the Image Library at http://www.fws.gov/digitalmedia  

Last updated: June 17, 2013