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Coastal Georgia
The surprisingly stunning south—served sunny-side up, on a paddle. By Michael Benoist

DAY 1: Take winding U.S. Highway 17 south from stately Savannah to sleepy Darien (population 2,000) and join Altamaha Coastal Tours for a drive, paddle, and hike into the haunted wilderness of Blackbeard Island. Named for the pirate whose loot is rumored to be buried here, this 5,618-acre (2,274-hectare) refuge is home to tangled maritime forest, pristine beaches, centuries-old ruins, and a surprising jumble of wildlife. Spot American alligators, bald eagles, armadillos, and rattlesnakes in the gnarled live oak forest en route to deserted North Beach. Come evening, return to Darien for a room and a poolside peach iced tea at Open Gates Bed & Breakfast (built in 1867).

DAY 2: Rise early for shrimp and grits, motor an hour south to the Cumberland Island town of St. Marys, and gauge the tides of Cumberland Sound. Experienced kayakers can make the trip from Crooked River State Park to the backcountry Brickhill Bluff campsite (bottlenose dolphins in tow) in four hours. Novices can paddle from St. Marys to Sea Camp—a 16-site campground on Cumberland's sandy southern half—in just over two hours. Either way, you'll want to set out when the four-mile-an-hour (6.4-kilometers-an-hour) tide begins to ebb. On the island, swim in 70°F (21°C) surf, fish salt marshes for bonito and flounder (permit required), and watch for wild horses on the dunes.

DAY 3: Follow the clear Atlantic tides to the mainland and drive west to the darkened waters of 396,000-acre (160,256-hectare) Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. From the East Entrance Visitors Center, paddle west along the Suwannee Canal, following orange mile markers (this time with gators in tow) to the interior of America's last great swamp. By November, migrating birds have replaced troublesome mosquitoes and the cypress are shedding their auburn needles. After a ten-mile (16-kilometer) paddle (about five hours), make camp atop the Suwannee Canal Run platform, and doze off amid the croaking frogs and hooting owls.

DAY 4: Before paddling out, explore the swamp and search for sandhill cranes, black bears, and One-Eyed Jack—the resident 11-foot (3.6-meter) gator. Follow the canal a mile and a half (2.4 kilometers) east to Chase Prairie—a clearing dotted with cypress houses—for the best wildlife viewing.

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November 2004

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