Okefenokee Swamp – Minnie’s Lake

Enter Middle Fork Suwannee River
Enter Middle Fork Suwannee River to Minnie’s Lake

Ever since my first trip into the Okefenokee Swamp, I was destined to return. Back in March of 2019, it was sunny, breezy, and in the upper 70s, and today’s paddle in mid-November offered the similar weather. This is such an awesome paddle into the ‘wilds’ of the swamp and offers quite a glimpse of numerous gators and thousands of tall Bald Cypress trees. A year ago I paddled to Billy’s Island and today’s paddle, to Minnie’s Lake, will be a first. I will say that both times I’ve paddled here, the leaves have all been off the Cypress trees and I am going to return in late Spring next year when a new flush of leaves are out…It would turn this paddle into a paradise!..James

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The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a 402,000‑acre National Wildlife Refuge located in Charlton, Ware, and Clinch Counties of Georgia, and Baker County in Florida, United States. The refuge was established in 1937 to protect a majority of the 438,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp.

The swamp is a vast bog inside a huge, saucer-shaped depression that was once part of the ocean floor. It now lies 103 to 128 feet above mean sea level. Peat deposits, up to 15 feet thick, cover much of the swamp floor. These deposits are so unstable in spots that trees and surrounding bushes tremble by stomping the surface. The name “Okefenokee” probably came from the Hitchiti (Creek) word meaning “trembling earth” or “bubbling water.” Habitats include open wet “prairies”, cypress forests, scrub-shrub vegetation, upland islands, and open lakes.

The swamp has a rich human history including Native American settlement, explorations by Europeans, a massive drainage attempt, and intensive timber harvesting. ( Wikipedia )


Okefenokee Swamp – Minnie’s Lake Paddle Map…

Okefenokee Swamp - Minnie's Lake Paddle Map
Okefenokee Swamp – Minnie’s Lake Paddle Map

Okefenokee – Minnie’s Lake Details…

 

Location IconLocation: This paddle in the Okefenokee Swamp is located in Charlton County Georgia in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge about 17 miles northeast of Fargo, Ga.

 

Kayak Launch IconLaunch Point: The launch is located at Stephen C. Foster State Park, 17515 GA-177, Fargo, GA 31631.

There are canoe, kayak, and boat rentals available at the park. Phone # 912-637-5274, There are restroom facilities at the park and plenty of parking. There normall is a $5.00 Refuge Parking fee that is waived with a National Parks Senior Pass.

Distance IconPaddle Distance: The distance to Minnie’s Lake is 4 miles one way.

 

Duration IconDifficulty: Easy

 

icon-time-durationAverage Paddle Speed: 2.2 mph. I did reach faster paddle speed on my return from the shelter, paddling with the flow.

 

Width Depth iconWidth and Depth: Once leaving the access canal, this portion of the river is 155′ wide and thins to 35′ wide at Billy’s Island. Paddling north onto the middle fork to Minnie’s Lake, the width can range from 20′ to 100′ throughout the paddle. The average depth of the waterways in the swamp are from 2′ to 10′ deep.

 

Current tidal IconCurrent – Tidal: There is a minimal flow to this area of water. The Okefenokee drains slowly to the Southwest forming the Suwannee River and drains to the South forming the St. Marys River.

 

Side Paddle IconSide Paddles: There are several miles of paddling trails in this area, all well marked. 4 areas are to the West after entering the river and three are to the right, which includes Billy’s Island and Lake Minnie. 1.4 miles East, after entering the river from the access canal, is the paddle trail leading North ( RL ) to Minnie’s Lake and Big Water.

icon-restroomsRest Areas: Restrooms available at the launch. There is a rest area at Minnie’s Lake along with a very clean outhouse.

 

icon-information-lrg-orangeImportant Information: This would be a buggy, hot paddle in the summer months. Be respectful of the numerous LARGE alligators.


Stephen C. Foster State Park Launch…

Launch Ramp - Stephen C Foster State Park
Launch Ramp – Stephen C Foster State Park

The launch, located in Stephen C. Foster State Park is nice. It is a small, square marina with a good ramp and plenty of parking. There is also an area along the canal where canoes/kayak rentals are kept on a grassy slope. This area is where I launched. Keep an eye out, however, as there are numerous alligators, both large and small along this very thin canal.

The canal itself is barely 20′ wide, shallow, and lined with Spadderdock, making the passage a single file endeavor. The canal runs 1700′ before reaching Billy’s Lake on the Suwannee River. It is on this body of water the adventure begins!

The paddle to Minnie’s Lake leads East on Billy’s Lake. Paddling to the West would lead to several areas of interest to include the Suwanee River Sill, a low earthen dam that was built to raise the water level in the Okefenokee to reduce the numerous fires during periods of drought. That will be another paddle. On this paddle, it’s off to Minnie’s Lake!


Billy’s Lake aka The Suwannee River…

Directional Sign on Okefenokee
Directional Sign entering the Suwannee River

There is a large directional sign on the north side of the river as you leave the entrance canal and enter Billy’s Lake, aka The Suwannee River. My direction to Minnie’s Lake is to the right ( East ).

This is an open section of the river, lined with Cypress Trees, Holly, and Spadderdock. It is 100 – 150′ wide against a minimal current. There are a couple of points of interest along this one-mile section, noted on the State Park’s brochure…The Five Sisters, The Bee Tree, Gator Cove and The Hollow Tree. I was able to locate the Five Sisters, Gator Cove, and the Hollow Tree but no clue about the Bee Tree. Numerous, very large alligators can be viewed along each of the banks as well as, swimming across the river.


The Gators…

Okefenokee Gator
Okefenokee Gator

From the moment of launch, it was obvious this was Gator Country! The Okefenokee is home to an estimated 10,000-13,000 American Alligators and I saw a good share of them. What was interesting was the size of these gators…HUGE…anywhere from 10′-12′ long. According to Georgia sources that track and count the gators, 14′ gators are rare in the swamp. While most of the gators remained basking in the sun, several emerged into the tannin water as I neared. A general rule of thumb for sizing gators is to estimate the distance between the nose and eyes and convert the inches to feet to get a decent estimate of size.


On to Minnie’s Lake…

Okefenokee Directional Signs
Okefenokee Directional Signs

There is another directional sign on the north side of the river where I need to make a left turn and paddle north 2.5 miles to the shelter at Minnie’s Lake. This is the Middle Fork of the Suwannee River.

The scenery definitely changes when exiting Billy’s Lake and entering the thick, swamp jungle of the fork. This stretch is characterized by tall-reaching Cypress trees. Unlike some of the giant, weathered, sculptured specimens we see along the main Suwanne River and larger rivers, the densely populated cypress along this fork are tall, straight specimens reaching for the light. Joining the tall Cypress is a nice mix of Red Bay & Loblolly Bay. The understory is densely populated with Dahoon Holly, with bright red berries on display the entire paddle. Shining Fetterbush, Climbing Fetterbush, Swamp TiTi, Willow, Virginia Sweetspire, and Wax Myrtle were the predominant understory shrubs/trees that displayed the final results of their bloom season. Along the paddle, Golden Club can be spotted in the water along the edges.

This two-mile section up the middle fork Suwannee is very unique, scenic, and as I said in my intro, worth revisiting with a fresh flush of leaves on the Cypress. The gentle flowing fork winds around cypress trees in the mainstream opens up to tall stands of cypress and returns to a cooling, intimate, canopied swamp experience. My favorite section was mid-way up…just so cool!


Minnie’s Lake Shelter…

The Shelter at Minnie's Lake
The Shelter at Minnie’s Lake – Okefenokee Swamp

The noticeable change, after entering Minnie’s Lake is the canopy ends, the thick stands of cypress are in the distance and, now there appear the old weathered and even dead, tall Bald Cypress trees, It is quite a change. The shelter was perfect! Because of the higher water level, I was able to paddle ‘Stumpknocker’ over to the landing steps and step out of the kayak onto one of the steps the was about 8″ below the waterline. This made for very easy exiting and re-entering of the kayak. A word of caution…the submerged step is VERY slippery!

I was the only inhabitant of the shelter today, It is a nice open, wood shelter,  20′ x 30′ with a side portion 10′ x 12′ where the Outhouse is located. The outhouse was clean, with plenty of TP. Beneath the metal roof there are a couple of benches as well as a picnic table. Plenty of space to relax. The shelter is for day use only., I had lunch, jotted down a few notes, and prepared for my paddle back.


Guides, Maps & Info…


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