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.
At nearly 30,000 acres, it is the largest wildlife refuge on the Georgia coast. The typical low country landscape has freshwater marsh and tidal creek environments, with areas of lowland cypress swamp and upland hardwood forest.
The southern part of the refuge, where the trails, scenic drive and visitor center are located, is the most easily and commonly visited. The larger, northern stretch of the refuge consists mostly of swamp and marsh, with access limited to boats and kayaks.
The Savannah National Wildlife Refuge’s Visitor Center (with restrooms and a gift shop), is located on the eastern edge of the refuge, off US 17. Inside the Visitors Center, you can watch a short video about the history and management of the refuge, and see exhibits about its wildlife and environments. Outside there is a short interpretive trail bordering a cypress swamp, and pollinator and bird gardens.
The Wildlife Refuge is located in an area formerly used for rice plantations, the remnants of which remain today a distinctive part of its landscape and important, too, in the conservation of local birds and aquatic animals.
The wet fields required for rice culture were artificially constructed – mostly by African-American slaves and Irish immigrants – alongside the Savannah River. A network of dikes and gates, of a sort employed commonly along the Georgia and South Carolina coast, was designed to control the flow of water into the rice fields from the adjacent river.
This form of agriculture became uneconomic after the Civil War, once forced labor was no longer available, and the plantations fell into disuse.
Georgia’s earliest wildlife refuge, then called the Savannah River Bird Refuge, was created following the purchase of nearly 2500 acres of these defunct plantations in 1927. The name was changed to Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in 1940, additional parcels of land added over the years until it reached its present size.
Today, the dikes are managed as an ideal environment for wading birds and migrating waterfowl.
In the southern portion of the Savannah NWR are several trails suitable for hiking and biking, ranging in length from a short, less than 1 mile loop around Kingfisher Pond to 3-4 mile trails along the refuge’s canals and impoundments that can be combined into a longer hike.
The 4-mile Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive offers another way to enjoy the landscape and wildlife of the Savannah NWR, with numerous parking stops and information points along the way. The Wildlife Drive connects with several of the hiking trails.
More than 250 different species of birds have been spotted in Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, including many species of ducks, geese, and shorebirds, and birds of prey such as ospreys, kites and great-horned owls.
Other wildlife, too, is plentiful. Alligators, many dozens of which make the refuge their home, can be seen, as can turtles, salamanders, snakes (some of which are poisonous), frogs and fish. Larger mammals such as deer and otters can sometimes be spotted.
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge Paddle, 1hr30-2hrs. With Stand and Paddle. Paddleboard outing to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, including instruction in how to paddle. $35 per person, 4 person minimum. Text or call 843-368-8690 for reservations or book online. More details
Alligators & Others, 3hrs or 4hrs. With Wilderness Southeast. Guided nature tours (some driving, some walking) of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. 3-hour tours $125 for 1-2 people plus $20 for each additional person to a maximum of six. 4-hour tours $135 for 1-2, plus $20 for each extra person. Call 912-236-8115 for reservations or book online. More details
Bull River Cruises provides larger-group boat tours of the Savannah River and Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. More details
Fishing is allowed in the the Savannah NWR’s impoundments, creeks and canals, from a boat (some restrictions apply) or from the bank, during daylight hours.
Please note that you will need either a Georgia or a South Carolina fishing license depending on which part of the refuge you fish in. More information
The following is correct at the time of writing. For additional information, call 843-784-2468 or visit the official website.
Address The Savannah NWR Visitor Center is at 694 Beech Hill Lane, Hardeeville, SC 29927, roughly 7 miles north of downtown Savannah.
Hours Refuge hours are sunrise to sunset, daily. The Visitor Center is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-4pm (closed on Federal holidays).
Admission Admission is free.