Skidaway Island State Park, Georgia
Overview of the State Park
Twilight turned to darkness and, in the beam of my flashlight, there appeared the sparkle of green glitter among the dead leaves. Spider eyes reflecting back the light in a green glow. I swept the beam from side to side and watched as hundreds of tiny, black spiders skittered among the leaf litter. Who knew we were being observed by so many as we hiked the marsh trail this evening?
This was our first night at Skidaway Island State Park. Situated just off the coast of Georgia near Savannah, the 500+ acre park is something of a surprise. A quiet respite from the noisy city nestled in a coastal marsh. The entrance welcomes you with an alley of Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss - a scene from a movie, a remnant of a bygone era of plantations and grand houses. But the park is not at all pretentious. A welcoming staff and spacious campsites make it an easy place to slow down. Lot's of room and everything surrounded by those huge moss-draped trees.
The interpretive nature center at Skidaway, offers a peek into the area's wildlife and its ancient past with exhibits of taxidermy and illustrations. A model of a giant sloth stands on its hind legs in the corner of the room - almost 20-feet tall but looking more placid than ferocious. The naturalist tells us the ancient animal was an herbivore and we listen somewhat distracted by the large snake wrapped around his arms - the snake is no model and, though seemingly tame, we keep our distance. The center houses a reptile center if you would like to get up close and personal with the reptilian residents of the area!
The night hike was the suggestion of our ranger at check-in. She mentioned the hike and invited us to tag along with one of the rangers and a naturalist that evening. Good suggestion. The marsh is a very different place in the evening, with an assortment of creatures you don't see during the daylight hours. Although the "sights" only last about an hour before twilight turns to darkness, it's a fascinating introduction to this environment.
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The next morning, we walked to the office to rent bikes for our day's adventure. The only trail in the State Park that allows bikes is the Big Ferry Trail. It's 3 miles long with a couple of loops and an observation tower. We started down the path on the fat-tired bikes, which make navigating the roots a bit easier. The handlebars are too high for me and my shoulder begins to ache from the awkward position. Nonetheless, it felt good to be on a bike again, riding high with a breeze in my face. The trail is crisscrossed with tree roots and I slow down to avoid them along with the spiky palmettos growing alongside the trail. Ever-present are the Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss, downed trees from the last hurricane, and tall pines reaching for the canopy.
We made our way to the observation tower, down a long boardwalk crossing over the salt flats, and then climbed to the second story. The view from our perch was lovely. We could see the open channel of the Skidaway Narrows and a lazy parade of boats making their way to the ocean. The marsh grass swished quietly in the breeze. Most of the surrounding area was dry with the tide low, and we could see fiddler crabs below, busy with their housekeeping.
We returned to our bikes and plowed cautiously around the Still Loop (where an abundance of stills was supposed to have been hidden during prohibition), then to the earthworks where Confederate soldiers once hunkered down to defend their position. Along the way, Jim took a spill on a particularly gnarly section of tree roots. His backpack protected him from injury, but we chose to walk our bikes back to the wider part of the trail to continue.
Skidaway Island State Park is part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail and we had hoped to catch a glimpse of an Eagle or Osprey but we only spied a few cardinals, a blue jay and heard the call of a hawk. I suppose one of the challenges of riding a bike over walking is that you don't have as much time to observe. You're always looking at the path - especially with this path so crisscrossed with roots. Bikes are fun, but to really enjoy the surroundings and observe wildlife you have to be on foot.
After dinner, while Jim rested watching a movie, I went for a walk around the park. I stopped at a massive, ancient live oak that was covered in Spanish moss - every branch. It hung down like a gray beard and swayed in the gentle breeze. I took several photos knowing none would do it justice. Some things just have to be seen in person to appreciate. Jim called it majestic - I think that's a good word for this tree. gigantic and ancient looking, every branch embellished with the gray moss.
This entire park has been a nice surprise. We didn't know what to expect since it is situated in a marsh, but it has a great "feeling" to it. Peaceful and well cared for. On my walk this evening I met a long-time volunteer and he told me about the park, its history and importance. I learned that the staff has been here a long time as have some of the volunteers. I think that may explain why it has a good feeling - the park is loved by these people and it shows.
Where to Stay
Skidaway State Park Campground - 87 spacious campsites with enough room for an RV and a tent are well spaced in a wooded area. Each is equipped with a picnic table, fire ring, and hook-ups for water and electricity. Several have sewer hook-ups as well but there is also a dump station on property near the exit road. The two shower houses and laundry are older, but clean and quite functional and there was one just steps from our site. Good thing since we needed to do laundry!
If you are not camping, the park also offers three well-equipped cabins tucked into the maritime forest. Each offers a screen porch, although the air-conditioned interior is probably more coveted in the hot Georgia summers.
You can make reservations for specific campsites and cabins on the State Park's website.
Things To Do
The Big Ferry Trail - This 3-mile loop trail weaves through maritime forest and salt marsh and leads to an observation tower overlooking the salt flats and the Skidaway Narrows. The trail is bikeable but challenging with all the tree roots along the trail. Quite a beautiful hike though, as it includes civil war-era earthworks and the remnants of an old still.
The Sandpiper Trail - A one-mile loop through salt flats, the trail crosses over a tidal creek by several footbridges. This was the night hike trail during our visit and the sounds of the marsh creatures as evening descended were amazing.
The Avian Loop Trail - A one-mile loop connected to both the Sandpiper Trail and the Big Ferry Trail (by a one-mile connector through the primitive campground area). The Avian Loop tracks through the salt marsh, maritime forest and skirts the Skidaway Narrows.
The park offers bikes for rent and the paved roads around the park make for flat riding.
The Big Ferry Trail is the only bikeable trail, though saying it is bikeable is a bit of a stretch! Tree roots meander throughout the trail, making biking quite a challenge and in several places, the roots are so tangled, it is a quick trip to the ground to the unsuspecting cyclist. The views from the observation tower that reaches into the marsh via a raised boardwalk are spectacular. You can watch the boats make their way up the Skidaway Narrows to the open ocean. You can rent bikes from the Ranger station - and find ice cream goodies to buy when you return your bike!
The park is part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. You can use binoculars from the interpretive nature center to sight many migrating and wading birds. Great viewing on the Avian Loop. Since it is near the Skidaway Narrows, you will find wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds. You are likely to see Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Painted Buntings and others depending on the season.
Interpretive Nature Center -
The Interpretive Center is a nice way to orient yourself to the park. They offer a bird-watching window with binoculars, and a great section for the kids to learn about the creatures indigenous to the marsh. Of course, there is also the reptile room and the opportunity to meet these residents personally. The rangers and naturalists conduct regular programs for visitors, like the night hike we experienced. Check the park's event calendar for a schedule of programs.
Don't forget to bring:
Bikes (or you can rent them from the park)
Stuff for s'mores
Camera for capturing the moment (take a photo from the top of the observation tower on the Big Ferry Trail)
Binoculars for watching birds
Bug spray! (keep in mind Spanish moss often harbors chiggers)
The ancient Live Oak tree draped in Spanish Moss at the bend in the road to the campground. It is massive and majestic. Worthy of a walk around staring up at the skyward branches that seem to be trees themselves.
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