The Rails to Trails Conservancy is making March 30, the last Saturday in March, the opening day for trails across the nation. How do you plan to celebrate in Savannah?
Did you know that Savannah, Georgia is home to over a dozen trail systems, the most famous of which is the McQueen’s Island, a.k.a. Fort Pulaski/Tybee Island trails which stretch six miles from historic Fort Pulaski southward along the Savannah River. This scenic path is six miles down and six miles back with the only exits at the midway point of three miles and near the entrance of Fort Pulaski.
Parking is free at either entry, but the midway entry has limiting parking area which is right on the street, whereas the entry near Fort Pulaski has plenty of free off road parking in the dirt and grass.
There is a restroom (two portable toilets) at the midpoint, but no water and the shade varies, so you will need sunscreen and a hat and sunglasses if you run anytime between sunrise and sunset. Many picnics and benches line the path, but some are in disrepair or are overgrown with weeds. The trail is in decent shape the further away from the water it gets, but the part that runs directly next to the river is being eroded by boat traffic and natural currents and storms so take precaution.
Some people have reported seeing rattlesnakes in the middle of the path along with racoons, but so far, no one has reported being harmed by either. You are more likely to get attacked by gnats, flies and mosquitoes.
The path is mostly sand and gravel and can be rough on bike wheels and baby carriages at some point, but it is one of the favorite paths in the area.
On the opposite end of town is Skidaway Island State Park and the Oceanographic Institute, both with miles and miles of well traveled and off road trails with bridges and towers and a view of the marsh and waterways. After a rain or after a high tide, some of these trails can be flooded.
Dogs are welcome on the trails, but the only bathrooms are at the start of the trails in the campground at the Park and inside the museum at the Institute. If the museum is closed, you will have to bring toilet paper and squat in the bushes. Bicycles can be taken on both these trails, but some of them get pretty rough and the roots are tall enough to grab the pedals of a bike in the down position, so be wary of going too fast and yield for pedestrians.
Again, you will want to bring water, sun screen and bug repellent or wear long sleeves to protect yourself and it never hurts to carry a snack either in case you get lost, which is surprisingly easy to do. Even though the trails are not much longer than three miles, a lot of them double back and loop so it is easy to get confused.
At the Aquarium at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the trails are more extensive and if you are willing, you can go off trail on foot and find sink holes, old stills, deer skulls, turtle shells and more. Just remember to leave it the way you found it and not take anything home with you or leave anything behind.
If you live further out on the edges of Savannah you can visit the Ogeechee Canal with about 1.6 miles of trail. This site can be very buggy in summer and is known for its huge fat rattlesnakes and gopher tortoises. It is a fun place to bring the kids with a little museum and nature center as well.
Both the Skidaway Island State Park and Ogeechee Canal trails are prone to flooding in high tide and strong rain events, so wear old shoes.
There are also trails behind Fort Pulaski and a small trail system at Wilmington Island Community Park and at Oatland Island.
Richmond Hill and Pooler also have trails located in parks as do many smaller towns with church retreats and river parks and if you really want a thrill, you can travel to the Savannah River Wildlife Refuge and see alligators along the trails or paddle to one of the barrier islands and hike back into the woods, though the dangers are many, from small prickly cacti with long thorns that lay close to ground and are easy to run into with sandaled feet, to wasp nests, snakes and an assortment of biting insects.
Pick a trail that suits your needs and your ability. Most of the trails in Savannah and surrounding areas are not that strenuous, but some are quite hilly with lots of roots, rocks and loose gravel and not much in the way of amenities.
While we don’t have mountains to climb, we have plenty of trails to trek and with March 30, set as Opening Day for Trails, what better way to kick of the season with a visit to a trail near you for a stroll through the woods and a picnic lunch?
There is an adventure waiting right around the corner, and what better way to introduce your children to a healthy life style! Just be sure to bring a backpack and wear a comfortable pair of hiking shoes, though for short distances, any type athletic shoe will suffice.
Don’t forget to bring a camera. Often you won’t find much in the way of wildlife if you arrive later in the morning or earlier in the afternoon, but you may spot an occasional water or song bird and if you arrive early, you may spot a deer family or other wildlife that disappears further back in the forest as the sun begins to rise.
If all that sounds too intimidating to you then why not try one of the areas urban trails? Take a walking tour around Tybee houses or bike downtown early on a Sunday morning before the tourists are out.
To find more trails you can visit: http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-savannah-georgia , where you can see trails others have taken and rated in Savannah and post your own. There are many nice trails in Beaufort and Bluffton as well as in route to St. Simons Island, almost all of which follow rivers and ocean.
Happy Trails to you, until we meet again…