Just Me & an Alligator, One Day on the Water

George L. Smith State Park, Georgia 

COMPANIONSHIP ON MY SOLO KAYAKING DAY TO PHOTOGRAPH BIRDS AT GEORGE L. SMITH STATE PARK WAS NOT WHAT I BARGAINED FOR. IMAGE: ROBERT WALLACE. 

Hello my outdoors, wildlife enthusiast, nature-loving friends! It’s an honor to be here once again and share another recent adventure with you. This one was different than the Cade’s Cove (Tennessee) trip. Rather than spending a few days in one place, as I did there to photograph black bear, this trip was a single day trip, and instead of being land-based, I was water bound! 

A Must-See Gem of A State Park

I WANTED TO BE SURE TO HAVE GLASS-LIKE WATER TO CATCH THE REFLECTION AT GEORGE L. SMITH STATE PARK. IMAGE: ROBERT WALLACE 

I have a BIG love for national parks, but with some research, you can find some amazing state parks that offer fantastic photographic opportunities. One such park I found is George L. Smith State Park located in Twin City, GA. What a gem! With a 412 acre “pond” filled with cypress trees, this was (and will always be) a must visit destination. I am going to tell you why!

Getting Ready to Photograph on Water  

"IF I HAD KNOWN HOW BEAUTIFUL AUTMEN IN GEORGE L. SMITH PARK WAS I WOULD HAVE BROUGHT BOTH MY CAMERAS & A WIDER LENS" IMAGE: ROBERT WALLACE

I had read that the George L. Smith SP was a haven for paddlers and it just so happens that I own a kayak. I wanted to be sure that I had glass-like waters for catching beautiful reflections and steadier shots so I waited for a day that the weather forecast called for very minimal winds.Then, I spent the day before the trip preparing the kayak and figuring out what camera body and lens to take as well as making sure I have enough charged batteries and empty memory cards!

SPANISH MOSS DRAPES THE CYPRESS & TULEPO TREES. IMAGE: ROBERT WALLACE

So, after waking up at 5 AM, and a little over two hours of driving including a quick drive-through breakfast (times like this that I’m in need of serious caffeine infusion) I arrived at my destination. When I first pulled into the park entrance, the light was just beginning to expose the shadows within the forest creating a beautiful start to this day’s adventure. One of the great things about state parks in Georgia is the fact that it’s only $5.00 to enter for the day and if there are two state parks close enough you can use the one pass for both parks!

The Geo.L.Smith State Park is More Beautiful Than I'd Imagined 

This lake (pond) is in one word…WOW.  Honesty. 

I love this place. Some places are just hard to describe and give justice with the appropriate words, and this is one of those. If I had known just how beautiful it was with the amount of cypress trees along with a mix of fall colors, I would have brought both of my cameras and a wide lens, but my mind was set on wildlife and bird photography only. That’s okay though. Armed with my Nikon D500 and the Tamron 150mm-600mm G2 tele-zoom lens I had room for some creativity.

At times like this I wish I had an assistant because loading and unloading my kayak is a bit of a pain. It’s 13 feet (4m)  long, 74 pounds (34 kg) and rides on top of my SUV. Of course, I don’t have an assistant, so I just have to do what I have to do. Good thing I had my breakfast!

the historic (1880) Parrish Mill, a combination gristmill, sawmill, AND covered bridge IS STILL occasionally USED. IMAGE: ROBERT WALLACE

Transported Back in Time 

Paddling around the tea-stained waters of this 412-acre lake was a breathtakingly unique experience. As you get farther out on the lake and deeper within the cypress trees, it feels like you are being transported back to a time nearly forgotten.  The air was mostly still but, occasionally I could feel a slight breeze, and on that breeze, it was easy to pretend to hear those voices from the past speaking to you. 

THIS BIG BOY (AMERICAN ALLIGATOR0 AND I KEPT PACE WITH EACH OTHER THROUGH THE CYPRESS HIGHWAY.  IMAGE: ROBERT WALLCE 

My Companion, the Alligator

As you can see, my camera still got a workout. There was no lack of waterscape possibilities, and the local wildlife was a joy to follow around, too. This big boy and I kept pace with each other cruising the cypress highway which gave me several great photo ops! 

In case you are sitting there worried about my safety with the resident reptile roaming around, fear not, he kept a certain distance away, and I never intruded in his bubble (comfort zone). For the most part, American alligators are shy creatures, and if you get too close, they will submerge under water. I do prefer when they stay on top where I can see them. 

Alligator attacks are uncommon but do occur. On those rare occasions, we usually find that that particular alligator had been fed by humans and thus associated us as a source of food. (See below for tips on Alligator Safety) 

GEORGE. L. SMITH STATE PARK  (USUALLY) HAS WHITE IBIS, GREAT BLUE HERON, OSPREY,  WOODPECKERS, SONGBIRDS AND MORE. DID I MENTION 'USUALLY" ? IMAGE: ROBERT WALLCE 

Did I Look Like An Oversized Reptile?  

My big challenge came from trying to photograph the birds. That usually isn’t a problem for me. I can only guess that I might have seemed like an oversized reptilian predator to them. My kayak is green camo, and I’m not an expert on how our feathered friends see colors, so it’s just a guess, but I took pictures of what I could and never once felt disappointed. My philosophy has always been that if I come away with one winning shot then I’m a super happy camper, and if I come away with nothing I’m still contented to have been blessed with experiencing the world's natural beauty, and it’s wild inhabitants. 

THE BIRDS MUST HAVE THOUGHT I WAS AN OVERSIZED REPTILIAN PREDATOR EXCEPT FOR THESE NORTHERN FLICKERS. IMAGE:ROBERT WALLACE

More From the Editor about George L. Smith State Park
The “pond” at George L. Smith State Park, surrounded by thick strands of Spanish Moss draped cypress and tupelo trees, is a more than a mile (1.6km) long with depth ranging from 2 – 15 feet (0.6-4.5m).  There are over 7 miles (11k) of hiking / biking trails as well as picnic shelters and a playground. Don’t miss the historic (1880) Parrish Mill, a combination gristmill, sawmill, covered bridge and dam still occasionally used for milling corn. Look for gopher tortoises, beavers, and (usually) wading and water birds, raptors, and numerous resident and migratory song birds. Child and pet friendly and accessible. 

Kayak and canoe rental is offered as well as tent, trailer and RV campsites, 8 cottages and a group shelter which can be rented for gatherings of up to 94 people.

Tips on Alligator Safety  

About the Contributor

Robert Wallace is a photographer with a life-long passion for all things in nature. His recent move back to Georgia from New York City means that we will all be able to explore the wonderfully nature-rich southern southern and middle parts of the US from his lens. Robert is a frequent contributor. Follow Robert on Facebook.

More From Robert Wallace plus  Responsible Manatee Viewing Tips


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