History & Ecology: Okefenokee Swamp, Amelia & Cumberland Islands

Alongside naturalists, discover the idyllic landscapes and unique wildlife of the Barrier Islands and Okefenokee Swamp. Plus, visit historic towns and learn about Civil War history.
Rating (5)
Program No. 11603RJ
6 days
Starts at
6 days
5 nights
13 meals
5B 4L 4D
View Full Itinerary

At a Glance

Deep in the tangled swamplands of Okefenokee, prehistoric alligators wade through black water lakes in the shade of the cypress trees. Along the backwaters and beaches of Amelia and Cumberland Islands, terns and plovers nest, and storks and egrets dry their feathers in the Georgia sun. Encounter the vivid natural and human history on two beautiful barrier islands and the amazing Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge as you spot rare birds, dolphins, manatees and other wildlife in the marshes, forests, beaches and rivers with a local expert. Take a field trip to Cumberland Island to learn the history of the natives, missionaries, plantation owners, enslaved people and wealthy industrialists who lived there. And journey by trolley through historic Amelia Island to observe the uniquely gracious homes of another century.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Frequent getting on/off boats, trolleys, vans and buses. Walking up to 1.5-2 miles on two days. Standing and stairs, uneven walkways. The Cumberland Island visit will be a 4 mile hike or opt for a 2 mile hike on the island. No transportation on Cumberland.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Spend a full day exploring the wildlife, landmarks and landscapes of Cumberland Island National Seashore with a local expert.
  • Venture deep into the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp on a two-hour boat ride and 1.5-mile boardwalk exploration to learn about black water lakes, pond cypress and the American alligator.
  • Meet a soldier in period costume to learn the fascinating history of Fort Clinch, an important 1800s fortress for both Confederate and Union forces.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Kevin McCarthy
Kevin grew up in Gloucester, Mass. and settled in Fernandina Beach in 1968. He spent 41 years sailing the waters of northeast Fla. and southeast Georgia. He holds a 100 ton master’s license and developed his knowledge of the wildlife and history exploring the waters that surround Amelia Island, Cumberland Island and St. Mary's, Ga. Generations of Kevin’s family have been shrimpers, and he shares with participants his knowledge of shrimp farming and the future of the shrimp industry in the U.S.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Patrick Leary
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Kevin McCarthy
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Ron Kurtz
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp
by Megan Kate Nelson
This innovative history of the Okefenokee Swamp reveals it as a place where harsh realities clashed with optimism, shaping the borderland culture of southern Georgia and northern Florida for over two hundred years. From the formation of the Georgia colony in 1732 to the end of the Great Depression, the Okefenokee Swamp was a site of conflict between divergent local communities. Coining the term “ecolocalism” to describe how local cultures form out of ecosystems and in relation to other communities, Megan Kate Nelson offers a new view of the Okefenokee, its inhabitants, and its rich and telling record of thwarted ambitions, unintended consequences, and unresolved questions. The Okefenokee is simultaneously terrestrial and aquatic, beautiful and terrifying, fertile and barren. This peculiar ecology created discord as human groups attempted to overlay firm lines of race, gender, and class on an area of inherent ambiguity and blurred margins. Rice planters, slaves, fugitive slaves, Seminoles, surveyors, timber barons, Swampers, and scientists came to the swamp with dreams of wealth, freedom, and status that conflicted in varied and complex ways. Ecolocalism emerged out of these conflicts between communities within the Okefenokee and other borderland swamps. Nelson narrates the fluctuations, disconnections, and confrontations embedded in the muck of the swamp and the mire of its disorderly history, and she reminds us that it is out of such places of intermingling and uncertainty that cultures are forged.
Amelia Island
by Rob Hicks Dr (Author), Amelia Island Museum of History
Tiny Amelia Island, in the northeast corner of Florida, was once among the most important ports in the western hemisphere. Before Florida was granted statehood, the island served as an international gateway between Spanish Florida and the English colonies that would later become the United States. Where Spanish monks and pirates once roamed, the island eventually developed into a significant seaport that exported the rich resources of Florida's interior in the late 1800s. This era was known as the Golden Age of Amelia Island and the town located on its north end, Fernandina. The railroad that connected Amelia Island to the Gulf Coast was largely responsible for the Golden Age, as it brought a burgeoning economy and many of the South's most prominent and wealthy figures. Today the island is best known as a resort community but retains the influence and charm of its remarkable past.
Cumberland Island: A History
by Mary R. Bullard
Cumberland Island is a national treasure. The largest of the Sea Islands along the Georgia coast, it is a history-filled place of astounding natural beauty. With a thoroughness unmatched by any previous account, Cumberland Island: A History chronicles five centuries of change to the landscape and its people from the days of the first Native Americans through the late-twentieth-century struggles between developers and conservationists. Author Mary Bullard, widely regarded as the person most knowledgeable about Cumberland Island, is a descendant of the Carnegie family, Cumberland's last owners before it was acquired by the federal government in 1972 and designated a National Seashore. Bullard's discussion of the Carnegie era on Cumberland is notable for its intimate glimpse into how the family's feelings toward the island bore upon Cumberland's destiny.
The Golden Age of Amelia Island, Revised
by Suzanne Davis Hardee and Kathleen Davis Hardee Arsenault
Late 19th Century history/Adult
Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses
by Charles Seabrook
In Cumberland Island, Charles Seabrook uses his talent as an award-winning environmental writer to describe the island's natural bounty and to tell its long and intriguing history. You'll meet Catherine "Caty" Greene Miller, the widow of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene and the woman who inspired Eli Whitney to invent the cotton gin. She was also the inspiration behind Dungeness, the 30-room tabby mansion built on Cumberland Island in 1803. Another strong woman who currently resides on the island is Carol Ruckdeschel, a naturalist who was the subject of a John McPhee profile in the New Yorker in 1974. GoGo Ferguson and Carol were great friends until they disagreed on the future of the island. Their ensuing feud reveals the continuing debate among residents, conservationists, and developers about how the island should be managed. In Cumberland Island, Charles Seabrook provides a fascinating look into the history of one of America's greatest natural treasures.

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