This document last updated 06/19/2008 04:13:07 PM
*** DISCLAIMER: I not currently volunteering for the National Park Service. You should contact the National Park Service on Cumberland Island to verify this information or visit them on the web at http://www.nps.gov/cuis/. Feel free to send me corrections (andrew(at)koransky.com). I am only drawing on my personal experience with the Island which includes:
Cumberland Island National Seashore is a beautiful place. It's not just your typical coastal island. First of all, the vast majority of the island hasn't been logged in over 100 years resulting in a magnificent and magical maritime forest. The huge live oaks and the Spanish moss make the place look more like an ancient jungle rather than a island just a few miles from smelly paper mills and the Kings Bay Naval Base (support facility for US Trident nuclear subs, which, by the way, carry nuclear weapons). The thick canopy overhead and the lightly scattered undergrowth of palmettos and shrubs provides an excellent example how most coastal forests probably looked before the mighty whitey came over from Europe. Deserted beaches await beyond the field of dunes which protects the maritime forest from the harsh ocean winds. If the simple natural beauty weren't enough, the place is also teeming with wildlife. It would be difficult to miss the armadillos... they're all over the place and are fairly unaware of humans. Stay more than one day and you are likely to catch views of wild horses, feral pigs, and maybe an otter and alligator or two. Of course, you've got the usual shorebirds as well as the porpoises and whales. Although there aren't too many hills to challenge hikers, there is plenty of flat terrain to keep most folks busy for up to a week. Many of the less traveled trails on the North end offer breathtaking views of natural marshes and fields. Although the island is littered with historical sites, the most significant site lies on the south end: the Carnegie Family's Dungeness mansion ruins.
The island actually played an interesting role in our Nation's history. Check out my Brief Timeline of History on Cumberland Island.
Your best option is to catch the earlier morning ferry and explore the South end of the island. If you are interested in the history of the island, there's a nice tour from the Dungeness Dock / Icehouse museum out to Dungeness mansion. (The quality of the tour depends on the ranger actually.) There's gobs of turn of the century history and ruins to explore, including Dungeness mansion ruins, centerpiece of the island's society and the Carnegie family around the 1900's. Afterwards, you can walk out to the beach, head north, come in at Seacamp (where I think some of the most beautiful windswept trees are) campground and head to Seacamp Visitors center. I think that's a 3 or 4 mile hike. If that's not enough, there's a river trail, and another nature trail you could take (Nightingale trail perhaps? I forget the name.) They'll give you any maps you need to navigate the island. There's also a 4pm program / video before you catch the ferry at 4:45pm at Seacamp (or 4:50pm at Dungeness Dock).
If you just want to have a nice walk in the woods and avoid the people, exit at Seacamp Dock / Visitors Center from the morning ferry, take the Parallel Trail north or hike out to the beach through Seacamp campground and head North. You can probably hike up to Stafford Beach and back... but that's a pretty significant hike. I think it's about 7-8 miles round trip. You can choose to either walk the beach or the interior trails. There are no facilities if you head North and you MUST be back at the ferry by 4:45pm. The ferry is very prompt.
Finally, you can choose to walk south of Dungeness dock. You'd head out to the beach from Dungeness dock and head south. Make sure you are back at the Dungeness dock to catch the ferry at 4:50 pm. I've actually never explored the extreme South end, but plan on it during my next visit (December 2002)!
Bring insect repellant, sunscreen, and your lunch. Remember, no restaurants or stores and the island only has limited toilet facilities. Check with NPS (http://www.nps.gov/cuis/) about the ferry schedule. Special day trips up to the Settlement (historic North end, post-civil war, ex-slave settlement, famous church that John Kennedy got married in, etc..) and Plum Orchard are also sometimes available last I checked. Contact the NPS for more info.
The facilities include bathrooms, cold showers, picnic benches, and critter-safe (so they say) food boxes. You'll need to bring all your camping gear, food, cook gear, etc... The beach is a short walk from Seacamp campground. Staying in Seacamp provides for a very leisurely camping trip and allows you to fully explore the historic structures and ruins on the South side.
Camp anywhere else on the island, you have to lug all your gear needed for survival anywhere from 4 miles to 11 miles. There are four backcountry sites for you to choose from. If you make arrangements with the Park Service beforehand, you can boat to the Brickhill Bluff camping area which sits on the inter-coastal (a pretty long boat ride from Crooked River State Park). Stafford Beach backcountry camping area is only ~4 miles from Seacamp Dock, and like Seacamp, offers close beach access.
My camping trips, either in Seacamp or backcountry, usually last for at least three days to make it worth my drive from Atlanta. You could, however, spend up to a week in the backcountry without getting too bored. The further North (away from the public docks) you go, the fewer people you will see.
If you have money to spare, the Greyfield Inn Bed and Breakfast is your ticket. You'll pay somewhere around $300/night to stay there. It's quite famous and historic. Kellogs actually named a cereal after it called Country Inn Specialties� Greyfield Inn� Blend. I've never stayed there and haven't talked in-depth with anyone who has.
There is no better place, other than perhaps the zoo or your local bar, to find better wildlife viewing than Cumberland Island. It is literally teeming with wild life. However, to get the most out of your experience, here are a few tips:
As you can see, getting to Cumberland is a pain in the rear, but that's also what makes it so special. Unless management practices have changed, you are pretty much guaranteed that there will be no more that three hundred visitors on the island on any given day. I, for one, hope they never change this practice, and after your visit to the island, I think you'll agree. You can almost always find a little patch of beach or maritime forest to yourself. Here are a few tips:
Cumberland Island National Seashore
PO Box 806
St. Marys, GA 31558
My E-Mail address is: andrew(at)koransky.com
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