Updated: Jun 21, 2021
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Are you planning a beach vacation soon and tired of the same old same? If this sounds like you, I have the perfect Island, and I'm sure that it will quickly become a family favorite. Best of all, it doesn't require a plane or passport to access. So, it can soon become your go-to Island destination in which you visit whenever you please.
If this sounds interesting to you, keep reading to learn more.
Most people have heard of the large well known National Parks such as Yosemite. When we hear the words, National Park, it's those that typically come to mind. But outside of those, many more areas hold the NPS designation, and they're equally, if not better, as wonderful as the well-known. So far, my family has visited three of these parks, and it's safe to say, our new favorite is Cumberland Island National Seashore!
Cumberland Island is located off the coast of Georgia and is the state's largest and southernmost barrier island. Sitting on more than 36 thousand acres and 17 miles long, you have opportunities to encounter wildlife, maritime forests, salt marshes, sand dunes, mansion ruins and learn the history of what makes this place so incredibly magical. At this magnitude, it's impossible to see in one day. Plus, why rush such a good thing?!
Accessing the Island
Cumberland Island is only accessible by personal boat, private charter, or ferry services ran out of St. Marys, Georgia. We took the ferry, which is a 45-minute ride with other eager souls ready to explore. On the ride over, it's a great time to ask any last-minute questions and make sure you have a good plan for getting around. If you didn't get a map before boarding, this would be the time to ask for one or snap a picture of someone else's.
Your options for exploring the island range from day trips to overnight camping. There's also a guided tour that allows you to see everything in one day, but you're mostly seated, listening, and learning from an employee for this option. It's excellent for those traveling without young kids, people with limited mobility, history buffs, or those looking to avoid the heat. If you'd rather explore on your own, your best bet will be a map and your own two feet. There's nothing quite like taking your time and moving at your own pace.
Whichever option you choose, it's important to remember you must pack in everything you need for your visit and pack it all back out. That includes trash! In efforts to maintain the land's beauty, there are no trash cans anywhere on the Island.
What to expect
Expect to be on the Island all day. The ferry only runs a few times a day, so this isn't something you want to do if you don't want to spend a significant part of your day away.
If visiting during the warmer months, expect it to be hot. I mean, really hot! Make sure you have enough water and protect your skin from the sun. You may also encounter a lot of bugs, so load up on bug spray and carry extra.
Expect to walk a lot, our piggyback rider came in super handy for this trip. We had a lot of people stop to ask about and they expressed how they'd wish they had something similar! Besides work vehicles, there are no vehicles on the Island. You do have the option to rent bikes or bring your own over on the ferry, but I wouldn't consider it a good choice for those with young kids as I didn't see any family-style bikes available. If you have a good stroller with trek wheels, you should be able to use it on the main road and trails. However, you'd need to leave it on the boardwalk when heading to the beach.
Whichever way you decide to see the Island, make sure you see it!
If you're traveling with young kids or looking to see a variety on your day trip, follow the itinerary below.
𝐃𝐚𝐲 𝐓𝐫𝐢𝐩 𝐭𝐨 𝐂𝐮𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐝
*Book your ferry (don't forget your return trip)
*Save time and pay park admission in advance
*Get off the at the Dungeness stop
*Wild horses are typically seen as soon as you exit the ferry at Dungeness. Be sure to stop and see them (from a safe distance!)
*If traveling with older kids or all adults, stay on the road until you get to main road, once at main road head south towards the ice house museum and Dungeness ruins.
*If traveling with young kids stay on the road until you get to main road, once at main road travel through the maritime forest until you reach sea camp
-don't rush through, it's beautiful, and you should take time to soak up the tree canopies, the abundance of Spanish moss, and any wildlife in the area.
*Main road is full of sharks teeth, so spend some time searching for them as you walk
*Once at Seacamp, take the boardwalk to the beach and enjoy!
There are bathrooms and water filling stations on the Island. Not many, but they're there. This first portion of this itinerary is a shortened version of the Southend loop. In my version, you don't loop. You turn around and head towards sea camp after seeing the museum or ruins.
The Southend loop will allow you to see much more, but it isn't advised to cross the sand when temps are high. If it's hot outside, the sane will be much, much hotter.
There are no lifeguards on duty; swimming is at your own risk. I would make sure even my strongest swimming child had a life jacket for this reason.
There are cold showers located on the boardwalk at sea camp, and they're perfect for cleaning off before boarding your ferry back to St. Marys. It's also very refreshing after a hot day on the beach.
There's so much more to see on Cumberland Island. Plan your return trip now!