Off the Beaten Path: Cumberland Island
"Cumberland Island National Seashore, a Manhattan-sized barrier island brimming with unparalleled natural beauty from top to bottom (much like Manhattan Island itself in the early 1600s), lies off the coast of Georgia and managed by the National Park Service. Stunningly pristine beaches, picture-perfect dune system, haunting forests of palmetto and live oak, interior freshwater ponds, saltwater marshes, historic ruins, standing historic mansions and an unbelievable history — from ancient times up through the gilded age — Cumberland has it all."
-Bryan Schroeder for The Bitter Southerner
There are few places that are more beautiful than Cumberland Island. We're almost ashamed we haven't been before, being as it's in our own backyard. Cumberland Island once served as a getaway for America's rich and powerful, most notably the Carnegie family. The family owned the land up until the 1960's where they coordinated with the National Park Service to donate the land to save it from development. In 1972, the NPS formally established the Cumberland Island National Seashore. We can't put into the words the beauty and majesty of this island, but we'll do our best to give you a quick synopsis of our trip and a few photos we snapped along the way.
To get to Cumberland Island, you can take a ferry From St. Marys, GA. You can buy tickets from this website. If you're camping there are some additional steps and fees but we just went for the day. The ferry ride is approximately 40 minutes, but make sure to arrive about 45 minutes before your ferry departs. A couple of things to plan for...this island is as close to undeveloped as possible. Limited bathrooms, limited water fountains, no food, and no trashcans. Bring a big water bottle to fill up, bring food, and bring PLENTY of sunscreen and bug spray. We recommend going in the spring or fall as the bugs and heat aren't as bad.
Once you get dropped off near the Ice House Museum on the south end of the island, use the restroom and fill up your water bottles and start on your adventure. We hiked around 5.5 miles the whole day and maybe saw only about 1/8 of the island. Perhaps we will return and camp at a later date so that we can see Plum Orchard Mansion (over a 7 mile hike one way to the North of the Island).
One of the coolest parts about Cumberland Island is the wild horses. It's a beautiful sight to see them drinking water from the Duck Pond or calmly grazing around the Dungeness Ruins. However, with horses comes plenty of horse "droppings" so tread carefully.
Next we walked towards the Dungeness Ruins, formerly a Carnegie home that hosted Senators, Statesman, and tycoons. Boasting a casual 57 room spread, visions of The Great Gatsby flashed in our heads as we read about the history. Can you imagine hosting a wedding here?
After exploring the area around Dungeness we headed to the Sand Dunes on the East side of the island, taking in all the beauty along the way, including old building ruins and cemeteries.
It took us about 2 hours to reach the sand dunes and beach. After stopping to eat lunch, we trekked about 1.25 miles up the seashore to the next boardwalk.
As we walked into a forest of palmettos and oaks, the sounds of the wildlife made us forget we were in Georgia. While all the sites we had seen thus far were beautiful, this landscape really took our breaths away.
Can you believe all this beauty has been in your state, right under your nose? We can't emphasize enough going to Cumberland Island and experiencing the natural beauty and history on your own. Experience the wildlife (if you're lucky, sea turtles!), sites, and sounds of an undeveloped island. You can take a day trip like us, or go camping, or spend a weekend at the Greyfield Inn. No matter when or how you visit, make sure to appreciate this little slice of natural heaven in the State of Georgia. Also make sure to keep your eyes peeled for some of the island natives. They can pop up at any time...