Southern Georgia Hiking Trails Part I
The most popular New Year’s resolution is to be more active. For most, this means buying a gym membership, becoming overwhelmed by the environment, and then giving up on their resolution completely. The clinking iron and thudding weights are not for everyone. With that being said, it shouldn’t keep you from living a more athletic lifestyle. Being active starts with motivation, and if you dread the gym, that motivation will never sprout. In recent years people have taken to the outdoors as an alternative. This environment is less claustrophobic, less judgemental, and more spiritual. Southern Georgia has plenty of State Parks and outdoor areas that are perfect spots to get your resolution back on track. This week, we look at some of the best hiking trails in the region.
Cumberland Island | St. Marys
Cumberland Island has unquestionable beauty that stretches from its northern forests to its southern beaches. One of the best ways to drink in its majesty is to explore the park on foot. Hiking trails allow visitors to choose their adventure and explore at their own pace. The island has miles of trails, but we will cover just two. The first route is called the Southend Loop in the southwest portion of the island. This trail is best for day visitors because of its size and location. Beginning only a short distance from the ferry dock, the route takes hikers on a 4.3-mile loop that works its way through the marshes to the beaches, showing off nearly everything the island has to offer. The trail passes by the Dungeness Ruins, one of the most popular attractions in the park. Trails located on the North end of the island get away from some of the more frequented areas of the park and are almost exclusively open for campers. The Parallel Trail runs through the island’s heart and even stretches past the Wilderness Area boundary. Most afternoon visitors don’t attempt this trail because of its location and size. With one drinkable water source on the path and distance from the ferry dock, most hikers on the Parallel Trail are overnight campers.
Crooked River State Park | St. Marys
Another area with breathtaking views is Crooked River, State Park. Found just minutes away from Cumberland island, the park gives visitors sights and sounds of the water while staying on the mainland. Guests can experience up to four different trails with varying lengths and scenery. The Palmetto Trail is a short path that leads hikers through the endangered pine Flatwoods. This route is frequented by birdwatchers and those who prefer more scenic trails than strenuous ones. Five Georgia Champion Trees can be encountered in the park’s Sempervirens Trail. Chapman oak, Carolina holly, and red cedar are just a few hikers can see on their trip. Ospreys, Great Blue Herons, and Egrets can often be spotted from the trail’s birding deck. The two remaining experiences are the River Trail and the Bay Boardwalk Trail, both of which proudly display the majestic marshlands of the Georgia coast.
Okefenokee Adventures | Folkston
The Okefenokee Swamp is a national marvel and has people from all over to experience it first hand. Okefenokee Adventures is the refuge’s public use parter, allowing them to take guests to areas that civilian explorers wouldn’t be able to (legally) see on their own. For this reason, their most popular excursions are boat tours and canoe rentals. While most people know of the on-the-water attractions, few take advantage of Okefenokee Adventure’s other amenities. I am talking, of course, about the hiking trails. The refuge contains six hiking trails and a boardwalk with an observation tower. These trails are not particularly strenuous, making it so that visitors can spend more time sightseeing. The views from the water’s edge are humbling. Birds and alligators can be seen nearly everywhere. Towering cypress trees sprout from the blackwater while smaller mammals sift through the underbrush. Hikers can spend a whole afternoon inside the refuge and are encouraged to do so. However, regardless of what trails you hit, we think that the boardwalk is a must.
Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area | Valdosta
We will leave the coastline for the last trail on our list and move inland to the Grand Bay Wildlife Refuge. The Management area covers over 2500 acres of State-owned property and is known for its paddling opportunities and wild game. While hunters may visit for the deer and waterfowl, hikers visit for the active wildlife and spectacular views. The trail follows a one-mile boardwalk that winds its way through the marshes of South Georgia. Snakes, alligators, and birds are commonly seen on this route, and the views from the trail’s observation tower are unbelievable. Hikers say bugs can be annoying because of their proximity to the water, so be sure to pack bug spray. Weather can cause surrounding water levels to rise, making parts of the trail inaccessible. Be aware of this if you plan on visiting the refuge after heavy rain. If your hike is cut short, don’t worry! You can take the 15-minute drive into downtown Valdosta and grab a bite to eat, so you don’t leave empty-handed.