Kayaking Georgia's Untamed Coast: Sea Islands and Scenic Waterways

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14072A, Kayak

Highlights

  • Kayak the unique and diverse waterways of coastal Georgia
  • Take day trips to Sapelo and Tybee islands plus a half-day dolphin boat tour aboard a research vessel
  • Enjoy abundant wildlife viewing and spring flowers in bloom

Includes

  • Kayak, paddle, and PFD/life jacket rental
  • Six nights lodging in cozy cabins within a scenic marsh, most meals
  • Ferry boat to Sapelo Island and a half-day dolphin boat tour/class

Details

DatesApr 6–12, 2014
Price$1,445
Deposit$200
Capacity10
StaffJohn Kovacevic

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Trip Overview

Please note that the trip title has changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us. 

The Trip

Coastal Georgia is home to countless rivers, creeks, marshes, waterways, sun-beaten fisherman, quiet islands, pristine beaches, frolicking dolphins, towering lighthouses, and twisting trees heavy with moss. Perhaps the most notable characteristic of the Georgia coast is its untamed nature, with much of the coast being protected and undeveloped. We will spend an entire week kayaking and exploring this amazing area where the landscape continuously shifts with the tides. As we paddle through coastal salt marshes, surrounded in spartina grass, we will likely see jumping fish, herons, egrets, ibis, wood storks, and countless other creatures of the coast. The American Alligator is also an area resident that is frequently seen. Dolphins are frequent companions to boaters and kayakers in the waterways surrounding coastal Georgia. We will spend a half day learning about and searching for them on a local research boat. We will explore one of the most important National Wildlife Refuges on the entire East Coast, ironically within viewing distance of the booming city of Savannah. We will paddle a section of one of the longest untamed rivers in the entire United States -- the beautiful blackwater Ogeechee River. We will also kayak into a whole different world, surrounded by giant cypress trees, into a storybook setting on a blackwater tributary of the mighty Savannah River. Standing high above the lowcountry landscape, we will enjoy sweeping views of the ocean and coastline from atop a historic lighthouse. History comes to life as we explore some of the countless historical sights, and even a historic ghost town, in the area. With so much to see and do, the only thing that we will run out of is time!

With its cobblestone streets, historic squares, opulent mansions, and spreading live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, Savannah is one of the most distinctive cities in the entire United States. Georgia’s history, for the most part, started when James Oglethorpe and 114 colonists arrived on the Savannah River, eager to carve a new town out of the virgin pine forests that grew on the sandy bluffs above the Savannah River. Savannah, like other southern coastal towns, struggled for survival as it was ravaged by wars, epidemics, fires, and economic depression. From these humble beginnings, Savannah is now a city that welcomes six million visitors a year. John Muir spent five days camping on the grounds of Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery in September of 1867 on his famous 1,000-mile walk from Louisville, Kentucky to Cedar Key, Florida. Muir was a Scotsman who went on to found the Sierra Club.

Fort McAllister State Park is a 1,700-acre park that features a preserved Civil War fort and is located on the southern bank of the Ogeechee River. We’ll be staying in cabins within the park, among the beautiful maritime forest and salt marsh that are regular features of coastal Georgia. Several miles of nature trails meander throughout the park for visitors to enjoy. The Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, one of the best birding spots in Georgia, is the single largest federally protected tract of land on the Georgia coast, stretching 20 miles along the Savannah River and consisting of 26,349 acres of freshwater marshes, tidal rivers and creeks, and bottomland habitat. The refuge is one of the most important wildlife preserves on the East Coast and is visited by thousands of birds annually during migratory periods. A visitor can enjoy a wildlife drive, nature trails, fishing, and numerous waterways throughout the refuge. The 245-mile blackwater Ogeechee River has many devotees who love its primitive qualities. The Ogeechee is one of the few untamed major rivers in America. Originating at 650 feet above sea level with small spring-fed creeks, it flows from the Georgia Piedmont and then enters the Upper and Lower Coastal Plain. Near Georgia Interstate 95, it enters the tidal zone and is joined by the Canoochee River. It then flows through tidal marsh until it meets the coast and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Ossabaw Sound.

Sea Islands, both large and small, are sprinkled all along the Georgia coast. They provide protection to the mainland, as well as a rare beauty that gives inspiration to many a soul. Going back at least 4,500 years, humans have prized Sapelo Island for its generous game, rich marshes, lush woodlands, and beautiful beaches. Sapelo is Georgia's fourth largest sea island at 10 miles long and 4 miles wide. Sapelo has four major components: the University of Georgia's Marine Institute, the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, the RJ Reynolds Sapelo Island Wildlife Refuge, and the Hog Hammock Community. These four entities divide the 17, 950 acre island into different uses as well as keep most of the island undeveloped and in a natural state.

Water, sky, and land meet in ultimate triumph on the Georgia coast!

Itinerary

Note: This itinerary is tentative and subject to change due to tides, wind, weather, group ability, or other factors. Safety is our top priority.

Day 1: We will meet at our lodging at 4 p.m. After settling into your cabin, we’ll make introductions, go over the itinerary, and enjoy a huge welcome dinner that features local cuisine. Those arriving early can spend time exploring the visitor center, Civil War-era earthen fort, or the miles of hiking trails within the park.

Day 2: After a hearty breakfast, we’ll give safety and paddling instruction and get everyone geared up for an exciting week of kayaking. We’ll put in at the boat ramp on Savage Island, the first of several Georgia Sea Islands we will encounter. Today, we’ll explore Redbird Creek, paddling through beautiful coastal marsh along this tidal waterway. We’ll search the shoreline for avian life and the waters for dolphin, as we dip our paddles in and out. Next, we'll hop on a ferry boat and head over to Sapelo Island where we'll enjoy a half day tour of one of Georgia's most natural and pristine sea islands.

Day 3: We’ll start the day with a visit to Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, where we’ll stop at the visitor center, take the wildlife drive, and search for countless migratory birds. The refuge is one of the most important wildlife preserves on the East Coast and is visited by thousands of birds during migratory periods. Next, we’ll take you to our secret ultrascenic blackwater creek, where we will enter what seems like another world, surrounded by giant cypress trees. The creek enters the Savannah River, and a historic ghost town lies at the confluence, beckoning us to explore it. The Savannah River forms the border of Georgia and South Carolina, so we’ll paddle from Georgia to South Carolina and back -- all in a few hours!

Day 4: Dolphin day! We’ll journey to Skidaway Island and enjoy a half-day educational dolphin program with a local marine education organization and go on a dolphin search on one of their research boats. After lunch, we’ll enjoy a paddle on nearby Skidaway Narrows, kayaking through a maze of marshes and maritime forest within the state park and Intracoastal Waterway.

Day 5: We’ll enjoy our longest paddle of the week, as we set up a shuttle to run an inland section of the OgeecheeRiver. The 245-mile blackwater Ogeechee River is one of the few untamed major rivers in America. We’ll enjoy the day going with the flow, searching the shoreline for numerous birds and wildlife, and taking ample breaks for swimming along the sandy banks of this beautiful river. We’ll finish off the day with some good local food at a historic seafood restaurant located on the banks of the Ogeechee. The producers of the movie “Forest Gump” thought so much of the scenic view of the river from the restaurant that they selected it as a filming location.

Day 6: Today, we’ll head north to Tybee Island and switch our watches to what locals call “Tybee Time.” We’ll spend the day exploring Fort Pulaski, Tybee Pier, Tybee Lighthouse, and some of the miles of fabulous beach. We’ll kayak past local fishing boats and out to a historic lighthouse, landing on the rocky island that it calls home. We’ll finish off the day with a farewell dinner at a famous local restaurant.

Day 7: After breakfast, we’ll pack up our belongings and say goodbye to new friends after an exciting week of exploring coastal Georgia. The trip will be over by mid-morning. The city of Savannah offers numerous attractions for those wishing to extend their visit.

Photos

Details

Getting There

Savannah, Georgia has the closest major airport to our lodging and is about a half-hour drive away. Directions will be provided and a group roster will be sent to all participants several months in advance of the outing. We encourage carpooling to/from the outing and we will carpool/caravan to our various destinations throughout the week. We will need volunteer drivers and you may be asked to give/get a ride with someone to minimize the number of vehicles we use each day.

Accommodations and Food

We will spend six nights in cozy cabins at Fort McAllister State Park, within a beautiful marsh, surrounded by palm trees, and near historic Savannah. The cottages are surprisingly nice to most people and have most modern amenities. Each cabin has two bedrooms with two double beds in each room. Participants coming alone will share rooms and couples will room together.

Participants will take turns helping the leaders prepare meals and clean up. The first meal will be dinner on day one of the outing, and the last meal will be breakfast on day seven of the outing. We will go out to dinner twice during the week -- those dinners are NOT INCLUDED in the trip price.

Trip Difficulty

We will paddle intermediate routes, averaging 6-12 miles and 3-6 hours on the water each day. You should be comfortable sitting in a kayak for up to 3-4 hours at a time. You need not be an expert paddler, but you should have previous kayaking experience. Basic paddling and safety instruction will be given on the first day of the outing. Each participant should understand that this is a group outing and that he/she will be required to stay with the group while we are on the water or trail. You should be flexible as plans and itineraries often change due to tides, weather, water levels, group ability, or other unforeseen reasons. Hikes will be 1-5 miles in distance on level terrain or sandy beaches. We will carpool/caravan to our various destinations throughout the week. Drive times vary from 30-60 minutes. Due to limited parking at some of the destinations, you may be asked to give or get a ride in order to minimize the number of vehicles that we take.

Note: Alligators are a regular highlight while kayaking coastal Georgia waterways. They are not interested in kayakers, but you should be aware of and comfortable with the possibility of paddling among alligators.

Equipment and Clothing

We will provide a rental kayak, PFD, and paddle to each participant. We will provide all group cooking gear. You will need to bring a reusable lunch container, water bottle(s), and a dry bag(s) to use throughout the week. We will need volunteer drivers with vehicles as we will carpool throughout the week. A full gear list will be sent to all participants prior to the outing.

References

  • Lenz, Richard J., Georgia Coast and Okefenokee, RR Donnelley and Sons, 1999.
  • Kap, Stann, Moon Handbook to Georgia, Avalon Travel Publishing, 2008.
  • Molloy, Johnny, Paddling Georgia, Morris Book Publishing LLC, 2009.
  • Bowen, John, Adventuring Along the Southeast Coast, Sierra Club Books/John Bowen, 1999.
  • Berendt, John, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Turtleback Books, 1999.

Conservation

“The environment doesn’t have a vote at the General assembly of Georgia or U.S. Congress, unless someone represents it. While one developer may not get his or her way on a single project, every day we benefit from the naturally occurring processes supplied free of charge by healthy ecosystems.” - Richard J. Lenz

We will witness what this statement means firsthand. The Ogeechee River is an amazing river and one of the most scenic rivers to paddle in the entire Southeast. There is an ongoing legal battle between the state of Georgia, a local manufacturer, and local environmental organizations over the dumping of manufacturing waste into the Ogeechee. We will meet and listen to a short presentation from a representative of a local environmental group who will discuss and update us on the status of this ongoing issue.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Fort Pulanski National Monument.

Staff

Leader:

John Kovacevic has led and co-led many Sierra Club Outings since completing an Outdoor Leadership Training Course in 2004. He is certified as a Wilderness First Responder, and completed both ACA kayak instructor certification courses as well as several water rescue courses. John’s current focus is on kayak trips in the Southeast, with South Carolina, Coastal Georgia, and Florida being like second homes and favorite paddling destinations. John looks forward to sharing some amazing places with you that he has explored and discovered, as well as finding some new ones. After adding cozy and comfortable lodging in scenic locations and great meals to the mix, you’ll enjoy the trip of a lifetime!

Assistant Leader:

Terry DeFraties leads local outings for the Thomas Hart Benton Group (Kansas City) of the Missouri Chapter and lives in the Kansas City area. He owns a small construction company and backpacks, canoes, kayaks and caves whenever he can. He has participated in, organized and led wilderness trips for over 30 years. With Sierra Club, he has led or assisted on service, backpack, kayak and canoe national outings. He is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

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