Nature & Outdoors

Creek winding through a lowcountry salt marsh.

Georgia has one of the least developed coastlines in the United States, and some of the most beautiful marshland scenery too. The lowcountry – its habitats ranging from the salt marsh and its winding creeks to the maritime forest, beaches and hammocks of the barrier islands that stretch along the coast – is ecologically rich, home to a great variety of wildlife, and particularly, birds.

Much of the Georgia coast has been preserved in state parks and national wildlife refuges, and is open to the public for recreational use. Hiking, biking, boating and kayaking are all popular activities, and many of the area’s coastal refuges are ideal places for birdwatching, with many migratory and endangered species.

If you are staying in Savannah or at Tybee Island, the easiest places to visit nearby where you can enjoy the lowcountry marsh landscape are either Skidaway Island State Park, just east of Savannah, or the old rice fields of Savannah National Wildlife Refuge to its northwest.

Little Tybee Island, just south of Tybee Island, is another option. Though it is only accessible by boat, several boat charter and kayak tour operators run trips to the island and to other coastal locations too.

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Wildlife & Nature Sites Of Lowcountry Georgia

Skidaway Island State Park

Open daily, 7am-10pm. Parking $5. Leashed pets welcome. Camping facilities available.
Official website

Skidaway Island State Park (see map), is one of Georgia’s most beautiful state parks, with a typical lowcountry landscape of forest and salt marsh and an abundance of bird life.

A boardwalk offers a closer view of the marsh, and nature trails through the park also pass several points of historic interest, including Prohibition-era liquor stills, the remnants of Civil War fortifications and shell middens created by Skidaway’s original American Indian inhabitants.

Nearby, the University of Georgia Aquarium’s 16 salt water tanks display examples of the marine life found in Georgia’s coastal waters. More than 100 live creatures are exhibited.

More about Skidaway Island State Park

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

Open daily, sunrise to sundown. Free admission. No pets.
Official website

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is only a few miles northwest of Savannah, lying across the Georgia-South Carolina border on the opposite side of the Savannah River. See map At nearly 30,000 acres, it is the largest wildlife refuge on the Georgia coast.

The typical lowcountry landscape is predominantly freshwater marsh and tidal creek, with areas of hardwood forest. There are also remnants of the old rice plantation fields which once occupied the land.

Slaves and Irish immigrants built the network of dikes used to control water flow through the plantations’ rice fields; today the dikes are managed as an environment for wading birds and migrating waterfowl.

The southern half of the refuge, nearest to Savannah, offers hiking and cycling trails and a 4-mile nature drive. The wetlands of the upper half of the refuge can only be accessed by boat. A visitor center, with short video and exhibits on the history and nature of the Wildlife Refuge, is located on the eastern edge of the refuge, off US 17.

Little Tybee Island

Open daily. Free admission. No pets. Access by boat only.

Little Tybee Island is an uninhabited barrier island just south of Tybee Island (which despite its name, it far surpasses in size) and around twenty miles out of Savannah. See map The nearly 7000-acre nature preserve is managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and is accessible only by boat.

Little Tybee Island’s ecosystems are typical of the Georgia coast, predominantly salt marsh and tidal creek, with dunes and beach on the ocean-facing side, and coastal hammocks of live oak, pines and palm.

The reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, particularly birds, including many endangered and migratory species, and provides a nesting site for birds of prey such as the osprey and bald eagle. Larger wading birds, including species of egret and heron, white ibis and woodstork, besides the smaller oystercatcher can be seen, as can smaller seabirds such as plovers and terns.

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Kayak and paddleboard tours and charter boat services are available to Little Tybee. Private boat trips are only recommended for experienced sailors due to the difficulty of landing on the island. Camping, picnicking, shell collecting and fishing are all permitted on Little Tybee. Dogs are prohibited, to protect breeding birds.

Read more about visiting Little Tybee

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Open daily, sunrise to sundown. Free admission. No pets.
Official website

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, just inland of Hilton Head Island (see map), has over 4000 acres of salt marsh, tidal creek and maritime forest, with open field and brush land and several freshwater ponds. Of the refuge’s several islands, Pinckney Island itself is the largest and the only one open to the public.

The diverse environments within the refuge support a wide variety of wildlife, making this an especially good place for photography or bird- and nature-watching. Birds include many species of waterfowl; shorebirds; wading birds such as white ibis, great and snowy egrets and herons (including the often hard to spot yellow-crowned night-heron); birds of prey; and smaller birds such as warblers, sparrows and the painted bunting in spring and summer.

The Wildlife Refuge has several miles of nature trails. Nine suggested hikes along these trails (which can also be cycled – mountain or hybrid bikes are more appropriate here than road bikes) range from a little over a mile in length to nearly eight miles.

Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum & Nature Center

Open Friday-Monday: Friday and Monday 10am-4pm, Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm. Adults $3, children (4-12) $1. Leashed pets welcome. Opening times may vary, call 912-748-8068 for more information.

The Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center is a recently restored section of historic canal southwest of Savannah (see map). A museum portrays the history of the canal – built in the mid-19th century to stimulate trade to Savannah – and the natural history of the surrounding area.

The site as a whole embraces a half-mile section of restored canal, between the fifth lock and its union with the Ogeechee River. Besides the historic canal, brickwork and locks, there are nearly two hundred acres of swamp and woodland bisected by several miles of nature trails through pine forest, cypress swamp, sandhill and riverine environments.

Tybee National Wildlife Refuge

Closed to the public.

Tybee National Wildlife Refuge, situated on the South Carolina side of the mouth of the Savannah River (see map), was established as a breeding place and refuge for migratory and local birds.

To protect the birds and their nests, the refuge is closed to the public. Interested bird-watchers, however, may like to observe its birdlife from a boat or from the neighboring islands.

A wide range of bird species, from shorebirds and songbirds to seabirds, waders and seasonally migrating species, can be observed. Brown pelicans, egrets, herons, gulls, terns, black skimmers, Wilson’s plovers, piping plovers, wood storks, sandpipers, gannets and many more species use the sanctuary.

Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge

Open daily, sunrise to sundown. Free admission. No pets. Access by boat only.
Official website

Wassaw Island, the second large island southwards of Tybee Island (see map), is one of the few nearly unspoiled natural areas in Georgia. The whole refuge has around 10,000 acres of salt marsh, coastal forest and dunes, though only the ocean-facing portions are open to the public.

The accessible portion of the refuge offers seven miles of beach, behind which sits a low ridge of dunes and old growth forest, together forming a barrier between the ocean and the salt marsh of the island’s interior.

Access to Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge is possible only by boat. Hiking and nature-watching are the main draws, either along the beach, or the 20 miles of trails crossing the sea-facing barrier ridge. Kayak tours of the area are also possible

More about visiting Wassaw Island

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Open daily, sunrise to sundown. Free admission. No pets.
Official website

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge is located just inland of Sapelo Sound, and of Blackbeard and St Catherines Islands. See map Salt marsh and tidal creek form the eastern and western sides of the refuge, with swamp forest, hardwood and pine mixed forest, freshwater ponds and fields in between.

The 2824-acre refuge is popular with birdwatchers for its wide variety of songbirds, ducks, wading birds and birds of prey. Almost 350 species of bird have been seen within the refuge, with 83 species using it as a breeding ground, including a sizeable colony of storks.

Harris Neck is an ideal spot for hiking and cycling. Once a military airfield, the nature reserve still has the remnants of its old runways, repurposed as hiking and bike trails. There is also a 4-mile nature drive.

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Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge

Open daily, sunrise to sundown. Free admission. No pets. Access by boat only.
Official website

Blackbeard Island lies to the north of Sapelo Island in McIntosh County, mid-way down the Georgia coast. See map The 5618-acre wildlife reserve is one of the most secluded of Georgia’s barrier islands, inaccessible except by boat.

Forest-covered dunes, salt and freshwater marsh, maritime forest and beach are its primary habitats. Bald eagles, word storks, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds can be seen on the island, which is also an important nesting place for the endangered loggerhead turtle.

More about Blackbeard Island

Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge

Closed to the public.
Official website

Wolf Island is situated at the mouth of the Altamaha River a few miles east of Darien, roughly mid way down Georgia’s coast. See map Its more than 5000 acres of beach and saltwater marsh provide a protected habitat for coastal Georgia birds and the many migratory species which use the area as a nesting and feeding ground on their annual journeys.

The saltwater areas around the refuge are available for recreational activities such as shimping or crabbing. The refuge itself is closed to the public to protect the breeding birds.