Platform camping in the Okefenokee Swamp. Photo by @thegeorgiaphotographyfanatic

Sleep over the open water on a platform campsite in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo of Cedar Hammock Canoe Shelter by @thegeorgiaphotographyfanatic

Bucket List Adventure: Camping in the Okefenokee Swamp

Follow these tips for planning a truly unique overnight experience in one of Georgia's most remote destinations.

Get ready for a bucket list adventure along the water trails of the Okefenokee Swamp. The largest blackwater swamp in North America, Okefenokee has a lot to explore, and wilderness camping gives visitors the opportunity to see the nocturnal swamp come to life and experience the mysteries of the prehistoric environment.

Discover the secrets of the swamp by paddling the waterways to remote campsites to sleep under the starry skies. Below are a few tips to help you plan your trip.

Before your trip, review the refuge's COVID-19 precautions.

Waterway in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by @mykisinott
Waterway in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by @mykisinott

Plan ahead

Camping in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is only authorized with a Wilderness Camping Permit, which can be obtained up to two months ahead of your trip. One- to four-night wilderness canoe trips are available, but in peak season (March and April), only one- and two-night trips are available. Wilderness camping in the refuge can accommodate groups of up to 20.

It's easy to get a wilderness camping permit and make reservations by calling the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Permit Reservation Line: 912-496-3331 Tuesdays through Thursdays, between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. EST. You must have a profile in Recreation.gov before calling to reserve your permit.

Platform camping in the Okefenokee Swamp. Photo credit: S. Heisey/USFWS
Platform camping in the Okefenokee Swamp. Photo credit: S. Heisey/USFWS

Choose your campsite

The refuge offers seven platforms and two islands for wilderness camping. Refer to the Wilderness Canoe Guide with map to see the campsite locations.

Campers pack a canoe or kayak and paddle up to 12 miles before setting up camp in the swamp. You can even rent canoes for your adventure. Refer to this list of authorized commercial guide services.

Each platform is partially covered by a roof, and has a picnic table or shelf for cooking, and a pit toilet. Some are built over the open water, offering amazing views for sunsets, sunrises and stargazing. Others are built into a bank or scrub/shrub and are more protected.

The islands in the swamp - Floyds Island and Mixons Hammock - offer a more traditional camping experience. Campers there can have campfires in the provided fire rings.

Kayaking in the Okefenokee Swamp
Kayaking in the Okefenokee Swamp

Watch for wildlife

It's easy to unplug and get away from it all, surrounded by such a diverse natural community. Everything about the swamp is mesmerizing. I made my first sightings of wild alligators and pileated woodpeckers in the Okefenokee. I stood beneath a sky twinkling with stars I had never seen and watched my sons light up at the surprise of frogs galore. Keep your eyes peeled for sandhill cranes and other wading birds like egrets, herons and wood storks.

Things to bring

In addition to your tent and sleeping bag, you'll need a few critical supplies:

  • Drinking water - Drinking the swamp water is NOT recommended.
  • Compass and map of refuge and trails - Download the Discover Nature Wilderness app for access to the maps on your phone even if cell service is unavailable.
  • Trash bags - Practice Leave No Trace principles.
  • Toilet paper (in case supplies are low at your campsite)
  • Sun protection
  • Insect repellent

Find a full list of recommended supplies and guidelines for your trip in the Wilderness Canoe Guide with map.

Although you'll need to put in some extra effort to prepare for your Okefenokee platform camping trip, the lifetime of memories you'll experience are more than worth it.

Published: March 2021
Written by: Candy Cook