Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Smith State Park & Three Nights in Okefenokee
by TrailZen

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 02/26/2024
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Living in western NC allows us to get our canoe out most months of the year, and we’ve learned that paddling venues in southern Georgia/northern Florida are very rewarding in late February or early March. Having Spring start in March rather than late-April is also nice! We’ve visited Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge several times, and this year decided on a three-night trip in Okefenokee after a day-paddle in Georgia’s George L Smith State Park.
Day 1 of 5
Monday, February 26, 2024, Smith State Park, GA

George L Smith State Park, near Statesboro, GA, includes a 400+ acre lake whose upper end is filled with cypress trees. Three paddle trails thread through the flooded forest. We launched our Northwind 17 around 11:30 and headed up the east side of the lake. Just after leaving the dock, we discovered that our lake map was in the Suby, but decided “Hey, we’re just going up one side of the lake and down the other—who needs a map?” Rookie mistake!!

We quickly reached an area choked with big cypress and tupelo trees along the lakeshore, and spotted red metal blazes on trees. Sometimes we couldn’t see blazes, and we’d paddle along what appeared to be open water, then reach a point where trees were so close we couldn’t snake the canoe between them. That required backtracking a bit to get back on route, usually not an issue. The ‘red’ paddle trail led us past a park camping area, then past a boat launch, but after about 90 minutes of paddling we ran out of red blazes. We could hear vehicles, and were in one of the streams feeding the lake, so followed it upstream to a bridge. Still no sign of blazes, so we decided to go back downstream until we saw red blazes again and followed them to the boat launch. Facilities at the boat launch included a nice dock, so we had a late lunch there, then started back down the lake. Rather than follow the red blazes through the cypress, we decided to follow the open water route that accommodates boats larger than canoes and kayaks, and soon found some yellow blazes marking a paddle trail through the cypress and tupelo lining the west shore of the lake. We followed the yellow blazes to the dam, then crossed the lake to our take-out. It was a great afternoon on the water, even with the rookie mistake.