Six of Georgia’s natural wonders

From rivers to caves, swamps to beaches, Georgia’s got it all. See them while they’re still here.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Photograph by John E. McDonald

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
The largest intact freshwater swamp in North America, the Okefenokee spans 700 square miles, much of it under federal protection. Vast swaths remain unexplored. In April 2007 a lightning strike led to a fire that burned more than a half million acres in Georgia and Florida. Four years later, the Honey Prairie fire consumed more than 300,000 acres. Such events are part of the swamp’s natural cycle, and the wildlife adjusts. Alligators, for example, will burrow into peat beds to escape the heat.

Pine Forest Telfair County Georgia
Photograph by John E. McDonald

Pine Forest, Telfair County
In the years after the Civil War, Georgia was the nation’s largest producer of timber, thanks in part to harvesting tens of thousands of acres of longleaf and loblolly pine trees, especially in counties such as Telfair. In 1932 a University of Georgia chemist named Charles Herty, alarmed by the effects of the Depression on his home state, pioneered a process to convert wood pulp from young pines into paper. His plan to “eat into our forest capital” created a new industry.

Cumberland Island
Photograph by Jodi Cobb

Cumberland Island
The salt marshes on the coastal side of Cumberland Island are complex eco­systems, thanks in part to the tidal surges that circulate massive amounts of organic material in and out of the marshes. The cordgrass serves as a buffer against shoreline erosion. Georgia’s preservation of the salt marshes stands in stark contrast to the overdeveloped buffer islands farther up the east coast.

Ossabaw Island
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson

Ossabaw Island
The state of Georgia acquired Ossabaw Island in 1978 from Sandy West, who is now 103 years old. When West was a girl, her parents bought the island for $150,000. West was recently moved to an assisted living facility  on the mainland, and how and if the state will expand access to the island’s 25,000 acres—visits there are tightly regulated—remains to be seen.

Ellison's Cave
Photograph by Manuel Beers

Ellison’s Cave
Ellison’s Cave, in Walker County, features the deepest cave pit in the continental United States. At 586 feet straight down, it’s like descending from the top of the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.

Cloudland Canyon
Photograph by Mike Colletta

Cloudland Canyon
This 3,485-acre state park in Dade County was once so remote it was reachable only via Tennessee or Alabama. No wonder, then, that the canyon, formed by the erosion of sandstone over hundreds of millions of years, boasts old-growth trees hard to find elsewhere, such as hemlock and yellow poplar. After the state purchased the land in 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps built the roads that opened it up to Georgians.

This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.