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DO IT: Hiking - General Coffee State Park

General Coffee State Park - General Coffee State Park

Billed as one of South Georgia’s “best kept secrets,” this park is known for agricultural history depicted at Heritage Farm, with log cabins, a corn crib, tobacco barn, cane mill, and other exhibits. Children enjoy feeding the park’s farm animals, which usually include goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, and donkeys. Overnight accommodations include 50 tent, trailer and RV campsites, cottages, and the Burnham House, an elegantly decorated 19th-century cabin perfect for romantic getaways.

The 1,511-acre park features a 4-acre lake, a section of Seventeen-Mile River, and a boardwalk that winds through cypress swamp where rare and endangered plants grow. Pitcher plants, shy indigo snakes and gopher tortoises make their homes in this wiregrass community. Birding and nature photography are exceptional, so bring your binoculars and camera.

For horse lovers, the park offers more than 13 miles of equestrian trails. Ride-in campsites are primitive, offering exceptional privacy surrounded by nature and a true campout feel. Drive-in campsites offer nearby water spigots, pit toilets, grills, fire rings, and picnic tables. Stables are not provided.

The park, which is in Nicholls, GA, was donated to the state by a group of Coffee County citizens in 1970 and is named after General John Coffee, a planter, U.S. Congressman and military leader.


Highway 158 between Waycross and Douglas will be closed at the Satilla River Bridge until late 2020. Read below for suggested alternate routes to take from Waycross to General Coffee State Park during the road closure.

Alternate Route #1

  • Take Hwy 82 west out of Waycross to US 1
  • Turn right unto US 1/Hwy 23 north to Alma
  • In Alma, turn left onto Hwy 32 west toward Nicholls
  • The park’s main entrance will be on the right about 6 miles west of Nicholls

Alternate Route #2

  • Take Hwy 82 west from Waycross to Pearson
  • Turn right on Hwy 441 north to Douglas
  • Turn right on Bowens Mill; go about 3 miles
  • Turn right on Hwy 32 east
  • The park’s main entrance will be on the left around 6 miles east of Douglas

Recommended Trail: West River Swamp Trail to Gopher Loop Trail

This out-and-back loop combines two of the parks most popular trails, West River Swamp and Gopher Loop. The West River Trail is the oldest trail in the park and travels along the western edge of the Seventeen-Mile River from the picnic shelter #4 to campground #2 where it meets up with the Gopher Loop.

From the trailhead, the pathway crosses several drainage areas where wet weather creeks feed the river. The West River Swamp rises to its highest point at 0.5 miles into the 1.35-mile trail. The pathway is relatively compacted and easy to walk, but the trail can be narrow in places with exposed roots, so use caution in these areas.

As you travel along this trail, you’ll be walking along the ecotone, which is a boundary between two distinct habitats. This is a rare hiking opportunity, so take note of the river habitat on one side and mostly upland pine forest along the other side.

As you scan the river area along the trail, you’ll see a mixture of cypress, black gum and red maple trees. Scattered within the river are small islands that support pond pine and other species of trees and bushes.

The upland pine forest in this area is dominated by longleaf pine and wiregrass. This is one of the two types of longleaf habitats seen at General Coffee State Park. The other is the longleaf-turkey oak forest found in the sandhill areas. These upland forests are home to many types of songbirds and small mammals. During the spring and fall, these woods are full of native wildflowers.

This variety of plant life leads to wildlife that can live in one habitat or both habitats. As you walk along the trail you may see or hear songbirds, owls, hawks, raccoons, whitetail deer, snakes, and many other animals. Trekking just after sunset on a summer evening, you may be treated to a light show as fireflies rise from the riverbanks for their nightly mating flight.

Follow West River Trail as it joins into Gopher Loop behind campground #2 and make the 1-mile loop through the sandhill management area of the park. Keep in mind, this is the driest area in the park, and during the summer it can be very hot, so be sure to take water and a hat. It is along this trail that you have the best chance of seeing the protected gopher tortoise and the threatened indigo snake.

While you can take the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise, we recommend bearing right at the intersection of the West River Trail and taking the Gopher Loop counter-clockwise. The low point of Gopher Loop is around 0.2 miles from the intersection and sits at around 171 feet above sea level.

Over the 0.4 miles, the trail gains about 60 feet in elevation. At the 2.0-mile mark, the trail levels out atop the sandhill ridge. Scattered throughout the sandhills are many gopher tortoise colonies. Each colony usually contains 10-15 burrows and is home to 10 or more tortoises. These burrows can be over 30 feet in length and may be 6 or more feet below the sandy surface. When walking around these burrows, be careful to not step on the apron or near the tunnel entrance, as sometimes the beginning of the tunnel will collapse under your weight. This species is the only tortoise in the Southeast and is an important member of the sandhill community; preservation is the highest priority.

A restoration project began in this sandhill area in 2005. Designed to bring balance back to the system, the restoration project relies on controlled burns and the growth of 25,000 longleaf pine seedlings. While this arid landscape may look dry and desolate during the day, in the early morning and late evening the environment is teeming with wildlife.

The crest of the Gopher Loop soon descends back toward the West River Trail and you’ll bear left at the trail intersection to head back the way you came, this time with the swamp habitat on your left and the sandhill habitat on your right. If for some reason the trail is too buggy or wet on the return trip, John Coffee Road runs parallel to the trail and can easily bring you back to the starting point.

Other Trails to Check Out at General Coffee State Park

Equestrian Trails

The park features miles of horse trails that loop through the eastern side of the property. Parking for horse trailers is available at picnic shelter #7. All riders must check in at the park office before proceeding to the trail area. A small fee is charged for use of horse trails and proof of negative Coggins test is required on all horses.

Riders will experience every type of habitat present at General Coffee State Park. The lower sandhill areas were clear-cut in the early 1970s and have re-grown as a mixed oak forest. Small sections of this area are being used as experimental areas to study various sandhill restoration techniques. The upper sandhill areas contain oaks and mature longleaf pine, while the scrub area toward the back of the park is a rare glance at a unique ecosystem. The trail crosses multiple drainage areas and travels along the edge of the Seventeen Mile River and Otter Creek for several miles. The area is filled with wildlife such as whitetail deer, wild turkey, gopher tortoise, and songbirds.

Trails include: Otter Creek Equestrian Trail (2.2 mi), River Equestrian Trail (4.8 mi), Yellow Jacket Equestrian Trail (1.6 mi)

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