Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge offers seven different trails at the Folkston entrance known as Suwannee Canal Recreation Area (SCRA). Refuge upland trails provide wildlife viewing areas for families and individuals alike with lengths from 0.25 miles (0.5 km) to 1.5 miles (2 km). Most of the trails, excluding the Canal Diggers Trail, have very little elevation to them which make them more easily traversed while still offering the nature-experience opportunities at the refuge. Some trails, especially the Upland Discovery Trail, walks through a multitude of red-cockaded woodpecker cavity (nesting) trees and are great places to bird watch.
Our Cane Pole Trail and Chesser Island Boardwalk offer paved and wood-planked ground without lips or steps between transitions. Stopping points with benches are also offered on these trails making them our most accessible trails. A wheelchair is available for loan on a first-come/first-serve basis from the Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center.
Leashed pets are authorized on all trails except the Chesser Island Boardwalk and Ridleys Island Boardwalk due to the presence of alligators. Pets are not allowed inside buildings or on boats. Service animals are allowed to go any place their owner goes, but keep in mind that there are areas where alligators can be a threat to your animal such as the Boardwalk and on boats.
Cane Pole Trail is a concrete-paved trail, which transitions to a wooden plank boardwalk to a covered lookout area on the prairie. This trail parallels the historic Suwannee Canal and is 0.35 miles one-way, or a total of 0.7 miles out-and-back. There are resting and pull-off areas with benches along the trail. These benches do not have a back or arm rest available. Distances between resting areas are in order as follows (distance is approximate): 259 ft., 138 ft., 78 ft., 561 ft., 230 ft.
The Canal Diggers Trail contains elevation as well as transitions between hard packed ground and wooden planks. Other unpaved or un-planked ground trails are often filled with tree roots sticking up through the ground, and loose pine leaves that have fallen from the trees above. There is a parking area for this trail on Swamp Island Drive.
Upland Discovery Trail is 0.25 miles (0.5 km) loop through longleaf pine uplands. This is a great trail to see many red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees. While there is little elevation on this trail, it is on packed ground and terrain can be uneven due to the many tree roots throughout the trail. This trail is stop number 5 on Swamp Island Drive and there is a small parking area.
The Chesser Island Homestead is located on Swamp Island Drive and can be accessed via a trail from the parking area at post 11. The trail heading to the homestead is also where the Deer Stand Trail begins. There is a bench with a backrest at this intersection. At the homestead are different kiosks to read about the Chesser family and their pioneer lifestyle. You can also get a Chesser Island Homestead brochure at the beginning of the trail which offers information about the family, house, and outbuildings. Amenities: This is a larger parking area with a covered seating area with benches and single-person pit toilet bathrooms with hand sanitizer. There is no running water once you leave the Visitor Center/Concession area. Benches available at the seating area have back rests, but no arm rests. Trash cans are located here as well as the Chesser Island Boardwalk.
Chesser Homestead Trail is 0.7 miles (1 km) loop around Chesser Island next to the Homestead. To get to the trail, you must first travel to the Homestead from the parking area. This section is packed ground with protruding tree roots, then opens up into a white sand yard surrounding the homestead. White sand was useful for many purposes such as a firebreak, tracking to see what animals have been around, as well as keeping bugs away since they have no shade or plants around. The Homestead Trail starts on the Northeast/East side of the property depending on which side of the loop you enter from.
Ridley’s Island Boardwalk is a 0.16 miles (0.3 km) one-way spur off of the Homestead Trail. Pets are not allowed on this boardwalk due to the presence of alligators. There is a kiosk at the end of the Boardwalk to read about Ridley’s Island.
The Deerstand Trail is 0.5 miles (0.75 km) long which connects the Homestead to the beginning of Chesser Island Boardwalk. It is a one-way trail that begins on the trail from the parking lot to Chesser Homestead, about 400 ft. down the trail from the parking lot; there is a bench with back rest at this intersection. The trail ends at the paved area at the beginning of the boardwalk before the planks. This trail can be wet or even flooded in times of hard or heavy rains.
Chesser Island Boardwalk is the most popular trail and is 0.75 miles (1 km) one-way, making it 1.5 miles (2 km) out-and-back. Going through multiple types of habitat including cypress forest, scrub-shrub, and prairies, it is a great way to experience the diversity of the swamp without heading out by boat. It is placed right over the water and is a great place to spot frogs, water snakes, and alligators, as well as shore birds, large land birds, and songbirds overhead. Pets are not allowed on the boardwalk due to the presence of alligators. The boardwalk starts in shade with the cypress forests, but opens up to scrub-shrub and prairie habitats which does not offer any shade for the majority of the trail until near the end close to the observation tower. There are three covered resting areas to stop at along the route with the first two offering benches with backrests. The third covered rest has two viewing scopes available for public use at two different heights which the shorter can be used by shorter individuals, and people utilizing wheelchairs. Distances between resting areas are as follows (approximate): from parking lot- 1,007 ft., 886 ft., 1,050 ft. (no seating), and 575 ft. to the tower. At the end of the boardwalk is a 40-foot observation tower, the 360-view accessible only via the staircase. There is seating around the base of the tower which is covered by the shade of the tower and surrounding cypress and pine trees. As you travel along the boardwalk, you may notice some trees look to be burned and dead. This fire-cycle is a natural part of the swamp’s ecosystem, allowing overgrown brush to be cleared out for new understory, germinating fire-adaptive seeds of cypress trees, and opening up the canopy overhead. There is only railing on the boardwalk at the covered seating areas, and during two brief sections of elevation change near the tower. The rest of the boardwalk is lined with a roughly 3-inch edge on either side.
The parking area at the boardwalk is perfect for larger and/or longer vehicles like buses and trailers. There is a seating area off of the parking lot and two single-person pit toilets with hand sanitizer. Trashcans are located at the covered seating area.