Stephen C. Foster State Park

"From Stephen C. Foster State Park, let North America’s largest black water swamp’s current drift you through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and disconnect you from the modern world on a journey to encounter primordial wildlife, touch history and see the universe unfold in the dark skies above."

This remote park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia's seven natural wonders. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Here, paddlers and photographers will enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife. Alligators, turtles, raccoons, black bears, deer, ibis, herons, wood storks, red-cockaded woodpeckers and numerous other creatures make their homes in the 402,000 acre refuge. Stargazers will appreciate the particularly dark sky.

Same-day reservations are recommended for guided boat tours of the swamp. Sunset and night tours may be available. More adventurous visitors may wish to rent canoes, kayaks or jon boats for further exploration of the swamp, including a trip to historic Billy’s Island. Fishing in the lake is excellent, particularly for warmouth, bluegill, catfish, chain pickerel and bowfin. Boating is dependent upon water levels.

Perhaps the most famous inhabitant of the Okefenokee Swamp is the American Alligator. Officials estimate that 12,000 of the country’s largest reptile live within the refuge. To safely view these creatures, visitors should admire them from a distance and keep hands and feet inside boats. Pets are not allowed in boats, even privately owned vessels.

Because Stephen C. Foster State Park is located within a National Wildlife Refuge, gates lock at closing (10 p.m.) and a $5 refuge fee is charged.

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Dark Sky Over Stephen C. Foster

Stephen C. Foster is a fun place to visit during the day, but it truly comes alive at night. More than half of the mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and insects here are nocturnal and function best in pure darkness. The setting sun brings out spring peepers, pig frogs, cicadas, whip-poor-wills, crickets, grey foxes, alligators, and the laughing barred owls whose collective sound creates a dynamic, pulsing swamp symphony. We aim to have a minimal impact on the wildlife so in 2016 park staff removed all unnecessary artificial light. By limiting our use of light, we minimize our impact on the behavior of nocturnal critters and maximize our opportunities to appreciate them. Stephen C. Foster State Park is a certified dark sky park by the International Dark Sky Association.

Our lack of light pollution along with our remote location in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge means that guests can experience some of the darkest skies in the southeast. Stand beneath a sky full of stars and see the Milky Way stretched out above you while watching for the occasional meteor streaking across the night sky. Although we don’t currently have a dedicated stargazing area, the parking lot across from the trading post offers wide open views of the night sky. Visitors are encouraged to travel slowly through the park at night and use artificial light only when necessary.

It is worth considering a few things while planning your trip if your goal is to see a dark night sky. Environmental factors and seasons can affect what you see and how well you see. Ensure when you are planning your trip that you consider them.

One of the most important factors to consider is the position and phase of the moon. If the moon is up and the phase is anything greater than a thin crescent, the moonlight will drown out many of the dimmer objects in our night sky. If a full moon has risen, you will not see anything but the brightest stars and planets. Try to plan your trip around a new moon or when the moon will not rise overnight for the best night sky viewing. Clouds will also degrade your viewing experience so consider weather conditions as well.

Seasons will determine what objects will be visible. The summer night sky and winter night sky appear quite different so make sure if you want to see a specific object that it will be up when you plan to observe. One of the most popular night sky objects people come to see is the Milky Way. The Milky Way in the Northern Hemisphere is best observed in the summer months. This is when our view of the densest, brightest portion of the Milky Way galaxy, our home galaxy, is at its best. Best viewing times vary throughout the season.

Dress appropriately for the weather conditions during your planned observation time and be respectful of those around you who may also be trying to observe. Ensure all white lights are turned off. This will help your eyes, and those of your fellow observers, adjust to the darkness. Any interruption of white light causes this process to start over. Full adjustment can take as much as 40 minutes.

Enjoy viewing one of the darkest skies in the southeast. The Okefenokee’s isolation gives you a great opportunity to see a truly dark night sky, something that has become increasingly hard to find. Come prepared, respect those around you and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The park offers night programs throughout the year. Check the online schedule to view upcoming programs.