This is our Okefenokee strategy.
- On Tuesday morning, September 7, we will meet at the Waffle House on White Bridge Road at 5:30 am to try to call in for a reservation for Friday, November 5 and Saturday, November 6.
- Competition for the overnight wilderness canoe permits is intense and there are only a few sites so the weekend of November 5 is actually our back up plan. Our first choice is the weekend beginning Friday, November 12. Which means that EVEN IF WE GET A PERMIT for the first weekend (November 5) we will still return to the Waffle House one week later to try for our first choice departure date (November 12). The earliest date to call in for that will be Monday, September 13. So go ahead and plan to start your day scattered, smothered and covered two weeks in a row.
- At exactly 6:00 am we will all start dialing like mad. Once someone connects, everyone else should stop trying because we will make our reservation with the first phone to get through. They only have one incoming line at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
- If you are not at the Waffle House, don't try to call from another location. The route selection process is complicated and full of variables (as you are about to find out below) and you'll just be holding up the reservation line.
- Space is limited on this trip because of the platform campsites. Priority will be given to Club members who help call in for the permit. Showing up for both call parties will guarantee you a spot.
- There are a lot of maps out there that show the canoe trails and campsite options. After looking at all of them, we have determined that the best one for route planning purposes (but probably not for navigation) is "Hannah's Very Best Canoe Map of the Okefenokee Swamp" with bonus floor plan of the Round Top platform and Zachary's Alligator. Here is a clean copy and below that a copy where we added the mileage between each site. The campsites we might use are highlighted in yellow. The big black triangles are the three possible put-ins.
Also, below is the O.N.W.R. official list of routes and trail numbers.
There are a lot of factors that will affect what routes are available to us and which ones we prefer (if we have a choice). Print out the map, wash a glass, pour yourself a drink and keep reading:
- We can only stay on any one campsite for one night. For a two-nighter we need to reserve two separate sites. We would probably want to do that anyway, but it impacts the reservation planning process.
- Although there are 10 campsites in the Refuge, several of them are on dead-end trails so they cannot be part of a two night trip. Several more are too far away to reach in one day so they can only be considered for the second night of a two-nighter. That means there are only FOUR sites that are eligible for our first night, and if someone already has a reservation on one or more of those (either as part of an earlier multi-night trip or because they beat us on the reservation line) that will reduce the number of sites we can choose from even more.
- Therefore, the possible sites for the first night out are, at most: BLUFF LAKE, MAUL HAMMOCK, ROUND TOP and FLOYD'S ISLAND. Consult your map. CANAL RUN may be one as well because it is part of an approved two-night trip (Trail #8) with the first night at FLOYD'S ISLAND and second night at CANAL RUN...but it is not clear if they allow reversing that trip as an option.
- Any trip we design that begins at the Stephen Foster State Park put-in will require paddling upstream on the Suwannee River. The current is not strong but it is not insignficant either. Ask Tim.
- Round trip routes (ones that return to our trucks) are hard to find for two-nighters because the second night is usually too far away from the original put-in to be able to get back in one day.
- On the other hand, one-way routes that cross the swamp will require a shuttle. The highway shuttle around the swamp is 100 miles each direction. Most outfitters in the area will run the shuttle with you but will not drive your vehicle because of insurance limitations. We have found one outfitter willing to drive the shuttle without us while we are paddling which will save us a lot of time but cost us a lot of $$$.
- Fires are not allowed on the platform campsites for obvious reasons. The only exceptions are CANAL RUN (which is a platform built up against a little dry land) and FLOYD'S ISLAND. Ideally, one night of our trip will be on one of those sites, especially FLOYD'S ISLAND which has lots of firewood, room to spread out, and a super creepy Legend-of-Wooley-Swamp type abandoned cabin on it.
Then there are things to consider like distances per day (especially the last day when we have to paddle, take out, and drive to Tennessee), the character of the different trails (bald cypress vs. savannah/prairie, for example), and even some factors that could change between now and the day of the trip. They may close entire trails due to low water, but if the water is low for a long time they sometimes open platforms to camping that are normally for day use only. Usually those are MONKEY LAKE and COFFEE BAY, which are both off of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area put-in.
Just to get the discussion going, let's start with the following as our first and second choice routes based on the factors above:
1. BLUFF LAKE (Friday night), FLOYD'S ISLAND (Saturday night)
2. MAUL HAMMOCK (Friday night), BIG WATER (Saturday night)
Feel free to weigh in with the pros and cons of other routes. The whole thing is just delightfully complicated and hopefully will require hours of good pre-trip deliberation. In fact, it already has.