Exploring Georgia’s Unforgettable Detours Off I-95 Part I

Tom & Karla Talleur
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Think “Coastal Georgia,” then let your imagination sweep you away to the imagery of the old South at Savannah with its antebellum homes, intricately wrought iron gates, age-old cobblestone streets, and Spanish moss drapery over a canvas of live oak trees. But it doesn’t end there–the entire Georgia coast is chock full of old southern charm that awaits your exploration.

Picture this: you’re driving along the around 110-mile stretch of I-95 that cradles the borders of South Carolina and Florida. This route, familiar to many, cloaks wonders–the unexplored beauty of the Georgia coast. For those bold souls who dare to take a delightful detour down the less-trodden coastal roads, a treasure trove of experiences awaits.

You’ll step back in time as you uncover historic sites tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the interstate and the big cities. You’ll tease your culinary cravings at quaint rural eateries that serve up hearty local dishes unique to the South and the real showstopper–the 11 major barrier islands that call the Georgia coast home, some of which are reachable only by boat, turning every journey into an adventure.

In part I of this series, we’ll take you inland to the west of I-95 to explore two unforgettable spots: Folkston and Okefenokee. We’ll end this part of our tour with a stay at the Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Indulge In the Rush

Freight Train at Folkston Funnel, Folkston, Georgia
Folkston, Georgia’s unique train-watching spot offers 60 trains daily

Folkston, Georgia, should be on your radar if you’re a train enthusiast or enjoy the thrill of watching massive locomotives whiz by. This small town in the southeastern part of the state has gained a reputation among train enthusiasts as a mecca for train watching. It’s about a 20-30 minute drive from I-95 depending on which exit you take off the interstate.

Folkston’s unique train-watching spot, known as the Folkston Funnel, offers a visual and audio mechanical extravaganza of about 60 trains passing daily. Found at the intersection of two major rail lines, the Funnel provides an ideal vantage point for watching trains from all directions.

The Folkston Funnel is a favorite spot for rail fans from all over the country who flock here to witness the 3-mile-long trains. From passenger trains to freight trains and occasional rare sightings of historic locomotives, the Funnel delivers a captivating experience. Folkston has become a popular train-watching destination because of the locals’ hospitality. The town’s residents extend a warm welcome and support of train enthusiasts. They even run a train museum. You can binge out over trains here!

The Train Museum at Folkston, Georgia

Folkston has a dedicated Train Viewing Platform with benches, shade, and informational displays about the trains. The platform is a great place to meet other train enthusiasts, exchange stories, and share excitement about each passing train. Many visitors bring video gear to capture imagery of the trains as they speed by.

If you plan to visit Folkston, check the train schedules to increase your chances of seeing the most trains. The busiest times for train movements are typically in the mornings and evenings.

For those who want to take their train-watching experience to the next level, Folkston offers a unique opportunity to spend the night in a retired caboose. Railside Lodging provides a cozy and comfortable stay right next to the tracks, allowing guests to fall asleep and, yes, wake up to the clickety-clack sounds of trains passing by. But it’s likely you won’t need to stay in town since you can find tranquility in a State Park co-located with our next stop – the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Delve into the Heart of Southeast Georgia 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is an expanse of over 400,000 acres, brimming with wetlands, islands, and forests, where alligators bask lazily in the sun while herons strut elegantly among the cypress trees. The Swamp is a natural wonder that’s been drawing travelers for decades.

The main reason to visit this ecological marvel is its diverse range of flora and fauna. Giant pond lilies seem ready to jump out of the water at you as you paddle through or walk over the Swamp on wooden walkways. Carnivorous plants, rare bird species, black bears, and ‘gators’ ensure the Swamp is teeming with life, offering countless wildlife watching and photography opportunities.

Swamp, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Cricket in a water lily at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

The park offers flatboat tours and provides canoes and fishing gear for rent. You can paddle along winding water trails or hike over the water along the wooden boardwalks.

It’s quiet here, save the sounds of the resident wildlife. As you glide through the reflective waters or walk beneath the towering trees, you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility. You’ll find the balance of course, between tranquility and an awareness of the presence of the resident alligators. Make sure you don’t step into or stand on the edge of swamp waters. We live in Coastal Georgia and can tell you from personal knowledge domestic and wild animals disappear from the Georgia coast regularly.

Alligator at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Camp in the Swamp

With your diversion off I-95 at the end, you may be ready to set up camp for the night. Camping at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is for tenters only. Fortunately, the nearby Stephen C. Foster State Park offers roomy, full-hookup RV sites nestled under the canopy of southern pine and live oak. This park is adjacent to the swamp, and you can camp here, fall asleep to the soothing sounds of nature, and wake up to the symphony of swamp bird voices.

The park offers more than just a camping experience–it’s an immersion into the wild, given its proximity to the swamp. The Okefenokee reveals repeatedly the best art isn’t always in museums but in the masterpieces crafted by Mother Nature herself.

Make sure to take Skin-So-Soft bug repellent or deet products with you. The entire Georgia Coast is home to bugs galore. Why so many bugs? The barrier islands of marsh and scrub are habitats for both rare and commercial marine species. Their preservation drives the existence of the bugs. We carry an extension cord to plug into the outside 110-volt port of our Unity, and we connect an electronic bug zapper to the cord and hang it up outside our coach, usually on the tall metal poles with hooks in campsites at the Georgia State Parks.

  • Travelers Tip 1: Are the plastic louvers that cover your headlights turning brownish yellow? Spray on Skin-So-Soft and wipe the louvers with a microfiber cloth to restore them.
  • Travelers Tip 2: The harsh marsh and scrub make the Georgia barriers islands ideal spots for bootlegging booze (as it did during Prohibition) and hiding stolen booty on places like Blackbeards Island. We’ll talk more about these facts in future stories.

A typical campsite at a Georgia State Park. Note the metal pole with hooks on the left -- useful for hanging bug lights and wash and wear clothing.

This photo of our Unity presents a typical layout at Georgia State Park—level, dirt-gravel landings with an adjacent grill, fire pit, and picnic table. Note the metal pole with hooks on the left—useful to hang bug zappers and wash and wear clothing. This photo was taken in the Kolomoki Indian Mounds State Park. Many Georgia State Parks offer waterside campsites.

When To Visit

You can visit Folkston, Okefenokee, and the Georgia State Parks throughout the year. Some services at the latter two may not be available during the winter months. If you plan to spend much time in Georgia consider an annual park pass. The cost is $20 for seniors (those over 65 years of age) and a bit more for non-seniors. The pass will save you the daily $5 parking fee at all parks.

Coming Up

We’ll take you through more Coastal Georgia delights in part II of this series. There’s much to see and do on the barrier islands, and Savannah is an entire story in and of itself. The excellent news for all is these sites are easy to reach with our LTVs. These sites are, at the most, 15-30 minutes off I-95 in Coastal Georgia.

Tom & Karla Talleur

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