Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located on the lower Savannah River eighteen miles upstream from the city of Savannah. Established in 1927, the Savannah NWR habitats include freshwater marshes, more than sixty-three miles of tidal rivers and creeks, as well as bottomland hardwoods composed primarily of cypress, gum, and maple species. A three-thousand-acre freshwater impoundment system, which by the early twenty-first century was managed for the benefit of wading birds and migratory waterfowl, makes use of dikes and trunk gates built in the eighteenth century for the cultivation of rice.
The refuge offers a variety of public-use opportunities, including wildlife observation, photography, interpretation, hiking, bicycling, fishing, and hunting (deer, turkeys, feral hogs, squirrels, and waterfowl). Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive (entrance on S.C. Highway 170 six miles south of Hardeeville) follows a four-mile route along the former rice-field dikes and is open to vehicular traffic from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. The refuge is home to a large variety of wildlife—especially waterbirds such as ducks, egrets, herons, and ibises. It provides excellent habitat for the American alligator, the refuge resident attracting by far the most public attention. Hardwood hammocks provide resting areas for neotropical migratory songbirds including tanagers, warblers, and thrushes. Several threatened or endangered species make use of the refuge, including bald eagles, wood storks, manatees, and short-nosed sturgeon.