Best Parks in Savannah Offer Recreation, Nature and History
By Amy Pine
Savannah’s parks run the gamut, from recreational areas perfect for a day of frolicking to historic sites that feature fascinating relics and spectacular views of the river. Many of Savannah’s parks are free and open to the public, while some require small admission fees.
Savannah’s ultimate recreational area is Forsyth Park, 30 acres of green space in the city’s Historic District. The stunning park features a café, playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts and large fields, along with monuments and a magnificent two-tiered, white cast-iron fountain. Other popular recreational parks in Savannah include Daffin Park and Lake Mayer.
The city’s forts, including Fort Pulaski National Monument, Old Fort Jackson and Fort McAllister Historic Park, are popular destinations for history buffs and those who appreciate nature. Tricentennial Park, a series of historic sites in Downtown Savannah, is a great place to walk the land and learn about the city’s early history.
Skidaway Island State Park is a true gem, whether you choose to camp out or just visit for the day. The Ogeechee Canal and Museum, located just outside of Savannah, boasts 200 acres of swamp and woodlands, plus walking trails and a museum.
Animal lovers will enjoy spending the day at Oatland Island Wildlife Center, which features animals such as bald eagles, wolves, bison and cougar, plus walking trails that take visitors through a maritime forest.
This 75-acre park features a freshwater lake surrounded by a one-and-a-half-mile paved jogging/bicycle track with a fitness course. The lake is stocked with fish and has a fishing pier and a boat ramp. In addition, Lake Mayer has a baseball/softball field, eight tennis courts, basketball courts, a hockey rink, a volleyball play area, a handball practice court, a dog exercise area and a playground. The handicap-accessible park has plenty of parking, restrooms and two pavilions, which are available for rent. Lake Mayer is a popular spot for exercise enthusiasts, who hit the track every day, and kids, who enjoy the playground and feeding the lake's hungry duck population. (912-652-6780)
Conveniently located on the east side of Savannah off of Victory Drive, Daffin Park is an 80-acre recreational park designed in 1907 by landscape architect John Nolen. Nolen designed the park in a formal Beaux Arts style with two circular nodes flanked by tree-lined diagonal streets. Daffin Park features a lake, a two-mile paved sidewalk that's eight feet wide and handicap accessible, and a shorter 1/3-mile lighted sidewalk that traverses the lake. Daffin Park also boasts a playground, basketball courts, athletic fields, tennis courts, a volleyball court, swimming pool, picnic area and pavilion. Daffin Park is located next to Grayson Stadium, home of the Savannah Sand Gnats, a minor league baseball team. (912-351-3841)
Fort McAllister Historic Park
Located on the banks of the Ogeechee River in Richmond Hill just South of Savannah, this historic park features the Confederacy's best-preserved earthwork fortification. The site includes barracks, palisades, cannons, a Civil War museum and 1,725 acres that border the river and marsh. The site also includes shaded campgrounds, three cottages available for rent, playgrounds, large picnic areas and a boat ramp that provides access to the Ogeechee River. A 'Day in the Life of a Civil War Soldier' educational programs are available Tuesdays through Saturdays beginning at 1 p.m. and give the public the opportunity to learn about the Civil War, soldiers' lives, medicines of the time period, infantry, weapons and more. (912-727-2339)
Old Fort Jackson
Old Fort Jackson, a National Historic Landmark, is the oldest standing brick fortification in Georgia and one of only eight Second System fortifications (a series of forts built prior to the War of 1812) still standing in the United States. Located on the Savannah River, the historic fort protected the city during the War of 1812 and served as the headquarters for the Savannah River defenses during the Civil War. Today, animated guides dressed in period garb deliver riveting presentations about the life of Confederate soldiers, and cannon demonstrations thrill visitors every weekend. History buff or not, guests of all ages are awed by Fort Jackson. (912-232-3945, 912-651-6840)
Ogeechee Canal and Museum
The Savannah-Ogeechee Barge Canal is a historic canal that begins with a tidal lock at the Savannah River and continues for more than 16 miles through four lift locks, eventually making its way to another tidal lock at the Ogeechee River. Visitors can view the final lock at the Ogeechee Canal and Museum, located on Highway 204 just outside of Savannah. The site features more than five miles of hiking trails that wind by the Ogeechee River, 200 acres of swamp and woodland, and a museum and nature center that feature exhibits on the canal's history, archeology, birding and other local attractions. The site is managed by the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Society and admission is a bargain. (912-748-8068)
Tricentennial Park is a group of historic sites in West Savannah managed by the Coastal Heritage Society. The sites include Battlefield Memorial Park, an outdoor memorial to the soldiers who fought in the second bloodiest battle of the American Revolution, and the nearby Savannah History Museum, located in a historic Central of Georgia Railway train shed. The museum and memorial park are just a short walk to the Georgia State Railroad Museum (the Roundhouse), the largest existing 19th-century railroad repair facility in the country, and the adjoining Savannah Children's Museum, an outdoor, interactive museum for kids. While anyone can visit Battlefield Memorial Park, admission is required to the Savannah History Museum, Georgia State Railroad Museum and Savannah Children's Museum. (912-651-6840)
Oatland Island Wildlife Center
At Oatland Island Wildlife Center, the intimate wildlife experience of a zoo meets the untamed beauty of nature, creating an unforgettable outdoor adventure for all ages. Along a two-mile trail through tranquil marshes and maritime forests, families discover spacious enclosures housing such awe-inspiring creatures as bald eagles, majestic cougars, falcons, bobcats, red foxes, enormous bison and toothy gators. Little adventurers especially love the farm area and the "Wolf Wilderness" exhibit featuring unbelievably close-up views of gray wolves. Oatland Island's educational building features reptile exhibits, classrooms and a gift shop that sells everything from stuffed animal replicas of the center's animals to locally roasted coffee beans. (912-395-1212)
Fort Pulaski National Monument
This 19th-century fort, which was occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War, is a must-see for history buffs. Only a 15-minute drive from Downtown Savannah, Fort Pulaski was designed by Napoleon's engineer, and though it fell during the Civil War, it still remains intact, with moats, drawbridges, enormous ramparts and mysterious tunnels. After learning about the Fort's fascinating history, visitors can access one of the historic site's many walking trails, which feature magnificent views of the marsh and Savannah River. Be sure to keep your eyes out for one of the Fort's 11 protected species, including bald eagles, manatees, loggerhead sea turtles and peregrine falcons. (912-786-5787)
Skidaway Island State Park
Among the most picturesque places in Savannah, this peaceful 588-acre park borders Skidaway Narrows, part of Georgia's Intracoastal Waterway. Its soaring palms and live oaks are dripping with Spanish moss and veil an abundance of wildlife, creating a secluded natural wonderland that seems straight out of a Southern storybook. The private campgrounds are spacious and well equipped, while the nature trails, interpretive center and daily ranger programs provide myriad ways to explore this enchanting paradise. Skidaway Island State Park is home to several indigenous wildlife species, including deer, fiddler crabs, raccoon, egrets and more and is a favorite spot for birders, who enjoy looking for the area's elusive painted bunting. (912-598-2300, 800-864-7275)
This 30-acre park at the southern edge of the Historic District has a little bit of something for everyone. The park's magnificent two-tiered, white cast-iron fountain, which was made famous in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is a visual masterpiece and probably the most photographed attraction in all of Savannah. Two large expanses of grass, separated by a walkway, are perfect for throwing a disc, sunbathing or having a picnic. Two playgrounds, one for younger kids and one for older ones, give children an opportunity to burn off steam while adults can relax and keep an eye on them in the nearby shade. The park café serves breakfast and lunch items, along with an array of beverages including Starbucks coffee, beer and wine. (912-651-6610)
About Amy Pine
Amy's thrilled to have the opportunity to share her love of Savannah with the world. A Savannah native, Amy has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, and her work has appeared in numerous local, regional and national publications. Prior to launching a freelance career, she was executive editor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she served as editor of the college’s alumni magazine. Amy received a B.A. in English and communications from the University of Pennsylvania. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her young adult novel, The Girl in a Picture Frame.
Read more about Amy Pine here.