Kayaking with Aligators

We only had 2 days to explore the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, not nearly enough time considering it covers 630 sq miles. The swamp is only part of the Okefenokee experience, there are also vast wet prairies, pine uplands and cypress forests. This mosaic of habitats makes the Okefenokee a “Wetland of International Importance.” The swamp itself is 38 miles long and 25 miles wide and remains one of the most well preserved and intact freshwater ecosystems in the world.

Day One

We stopped at the visitors center and asked about the 120 miles of water trails. Like hiking trails, they range from easy to difficult. We wanted to plan an easy paddle, maybe 4 or 5 hours in total. A trip to the Cedar Hammock canoe shelter sounded just right.

With the next day’s kayaking plan in place, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore. We took the 7.5 mile Swamp Island Drive. The ranger told us to be on the lookout for several species of carnivorous plants and orchids blooming along the borrow ditch. She explained the ditch was created when workers “borrowed” the material to build the road.

Okefenokee NWR-1944
Rose Pogonia
Okefenokee NWR-1945
Okefenokee NWR-1938
Pitcher plant


We crossed onto Chesser Island, which was named after the family who settled there in 1858. A short path led us to the homestead…

Okefenokee NWR-1913Okefenokee NWR-1914



It’s hard to imagine what life was like in 1927 when Tom and Iva Chesser built the homestead. The yard was kept free of vegetation to reduce the fire hazard and  to increase the chance of seeing any snakes that might wander by. There are many remnants of family’s life on the island…


Cane syrup hearth

Our final stop on the Swamp Island Drive was the Chesser Island Boardwalk…

Okefenokee NWR-1917Okefenokee NWR-1919

We kept our eyes open for wildlife. The ranger told us a bobcat had been hanging around the boardwalk, but alas, I had to settle for lizards…

Okefenokee NWR-1923Okefenokee NWR-1924

We climbed the 40-foot Owl’s Roost Tower for a view of Seagrove Lake…

Okefenokee NWR-1929







Day Two

Our first plan was to be at the refuge early, but when I woke up, it was a chilly 63 degrees. I decided I wasn’t in a hurry! It was almost 10am when we arrived warming up quickly. We signed the paddlers’ log, we began our adventure.

We followed the Suwanee Canal for about a mile and a half before finding the entrance to the Cedar Hammock trail. Along the way, I marveled at the reflections in the tannin rich waters…

Okefenokee NWR-1960Okefenokee NWR-1964

We saw a few alligators in the canal. Despite being in a kayak, I did not feel threatened by their presence.  Okefenokee NWR-1990

Although, one surfaced so close to the front of my kayak, I could see it’s eyes but not it’s snoot. A little too close.

We left the motorboats behind when we entered the trail. They had all been courteous, slowing down to no wake speed when they passed, but I was happy to head deeper into the swamp…

Okefenokee NWR-1966Okefenokee NWR-1969

The trail was peaceful, with scores of water lilies blooming along the way…

Okefenokee NWR-1973

At the end of the trail there is an overnight shelter and outhouse.

Okefenokee NWR-1975

I got out to stretch and watch the alligator swimming by…

Okefenokee NWR-1977

As we were leaving, I noticed a baby alligator among the lily pads…

Okefenokee NWR-1982

Steve took the lead on the way back to the canal. I wonder if he saw this guy…

Okefenokee NWR-1983Okefenokee NWR-1986-Edit



I loved every minute of our paddle! From the anhinga…


To the turtle…

Okefenokee NWR-1991

It was amazing!

Would you kayak with the alligators? Do  you think we’re nuts?

16 thoughts on “Kayaking with Aligators”

  1. YES, YOU ARE NUTS! But, I already knew that! I would have been very nervous at my kayaking skill level (nil–zero–zilch). You guys are brave. You took some really great photos, though, which probably made it worth every second. Looks amazing! See you soon, my nutty friends! Happy manatee hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The alligators really don’t care about the kayakers. It was a lot of fun. If we lived near there, I’d be out there all the time. “See you soon” ? Does that mean you are coming to Wisconsin?!?!? Happy manatee hugs to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, what a gorgeous paddle into the wilderness! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I don’t fear alligators, although if one were within a few feet of my boat perhaps I’d feel differently. I would probably be a bit afraid if I camped on the water overnight though.

    In January at Everglades NP we were kayaking about 15 feet from two crocodiles that were sunning themselves on a boat ramp. One was massive! I didn’t see any alligators or crocs in the water, but I’ll bet they were there somewhere.

    I am ashamed to say that in all of my travels between Tennessee (home) and Florida, I have never visited the Okefenokee. I’m pinning this post to my “oh the places we’ll go” board!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Like, you, we’ve been through the area more times than I can count, but it never seemed to be a priority. I’m so glad we stopped on this trip. So many awesome places to visit in the area. Seeing the gators so near the canoe shelter would give me pause about an overnight, but people do it all the time. Happy paddling and safe travels.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We HAVE kayaked with the alligators in the Okefenokee and I would do it again in a heartbeat! I love it there. Where did you enter the refuge? We have always gone to Stephen c Foster State Park in Fargo.

    Liked by 1 person

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