Cumberland Island

From Cumberland Island

Well, in my travels and talks with folk in Georgia, people often say, “you gotta go see…” I appreciate the suggestions and I take them all seriously. There seems to be one place that seems to get mentioned a lot and it has until 2010 stayed off my travels because it is beyond my self imposed limitations on this website, sitting beyond a 3 hour drive, being 5 hours away, tucked into the very Southeasternmost point of Georgia. So with this post I am creating a new category for the website entitled “A bit farther away” and starting it with a little information about Cumberland Island .
Deformed Trees

Cumberland Island is probably the most well known, the largest, and certainly the most pristine of all of Georgia’s Sea Islands. It is 17.5 miles length and its greatest width is no more than six miles, though in most places its much thinner, often less than a mile. There is no bridge to the Island and you must take Ferry over from St. Marys, Georgia or arrange for private charter. It has beautiful relatively untouched beaches, saltwater marshland, and a maritime forest with gnarled oak trees. Because the earliest Ferry leaves St Mary’s at 9 am and the latest departs the Island at 4:45 pm (Schedule and Reservations) there is really no way you could hike the 50 miles of trails in a day trip, so unless you are camping, you will probably limit yourself to walking the Southern loop, leaving out all of the North Island sights, like Plum Orchard or the First African Baptist Church . This is what we did, but don’t worry there’s still plenty to enjoy.

The Island has stayed pristine due to the lack of settlement. There have been times when there were larger groups of people on the Island. The original settlers were Timucuan Indians , then a Spanish Catholic Settlement, and later a period of plantations and slaves. But, fortunately for us, during historical periods of rapid construction, the Island was in the hands of a single family or at best a small cabal of families. The first was Nathanael Greene’s descendents just after the turn of 19th Century. The latter being the Carnegies, who amassed owner ship of about 90% of the island, starting around 1880. The high point for population came just before the Civil War, with 500 Gullah slaves working the plantations with less than 75 white settlers and overseers. Today, there are still families living there complete with homes and cars, mostly descendants from the Carnegies or those in their employ. But by agreement, upon passing of the families the land will revert to the government, creating a complete National Seashore Conservation site.
Dungeness from the front

The South end loop still has plenty to offer. There are three majors things of interest there. First, as was previously mentioned is about two miles of perfectly deserted beach. The only people you will see are the handful of campers and those that came over on the boat with you, as access is restricted to 300 people daily. The quantity of seashells, if your into that sort of thing, are unparalleled (and it’s the only thing allowed to be taken from the island). The second items of note are the wildlife and the ecology. You walk between fantastic oak, Spanish moss, and palm trees. There feral horses are the most famous animal occupants, but unfortunately we missed them (although there was ample evidence they were there). But we saw armadillos, wild turkeys, and several species of flying birds. The hiking details are listed at the end of the post.
Dungeness Castle

The final thing is the ruins of Dungeness Castle . Built by Thomas Carnegie and finished in 1886 after his death, and destroyed by fire in 1959, it is the most magnificent piece of Georgia Ruins I have seen. One can only imagine (or look at old photos) the opulence of the site in its heyday. A much smaller version of Dungeness was built by the Greene family in 1802 and the restored tabby house next door serves as a reminder of that previous era. Nearby there are ruins and some restorations of companion buildings including servants quarters, storage houses, and their activities building. There are also some very interesting rusted out automobiles and the original resting place of General Lighthorse Harry Lee (the man who proposed American Independence) though he’s been moved and we were unable to find the marker.
Rusted Cars

So I’ve been raving about this place for a few minutes now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the things of which to be wary. First, you must pack a lunch and water and all necessaries as there is no way to purchase anything, save water at the ranger station. There are places in St. Marys to buy pack lunches, if you are unable to make them yourself (We got ours at the Riverfront Inn for $7 a person). Second is the cost, the ferry ride is $17, with an additional admission of $4 to the park ($2 extra bucks a night for campers - 2010 prices). If you throw in the hotel/motel stay, it is certainly not a cheap excursion. You can easily discount the cost of the boat ride as a neat event in itself. And as I have said, I was very pleased with what I spent my money on. Finally, there’s the time limitation. You can walk the 2.5 mile Southern loop in an hour, give yourself an additional hour to both play around on the beach and to frolic in the Dungeness area and you are still left with an hour till the return ferry arrives (if you take that later morning voyage). You can easily double back on some of the internal trails in search of more wildlife, as we did. But you know you can’t make it to the northern sites and back, so the trip leaves you somehow wanting less and more simultaneously.
Spanish Moss

We stayed in St. Marys, a historic event it is own right. Our hotel was the the Riverview Hotel (a bargain for a bed and breakfast type atmosphere at just North of $100 bucks a night for a room with a view). There is less expensive lodging at the Cumberland Inn and even cheaper accomodations 8 miles away in Kingsland. We ate at Captain Seagle‘s Restaurant and Saloon one evening and the Borrell Creek Landing another, but there are less expensive options up the road 5 or 6 miles. The Saloon at the Inn is great hangout for locals and visitors and I consider myself fortunate to get cussed out by the infamous Cindy Deen the Porno Queen who runs the joint.
Ferry back to St Marys

Trail Essentials
Approximate Time: 2 hours (with sightseeing)
Approximate Distance: 2.5 miles
Trail Surface: Compact Soil, Sandy Beaches
Features: Ruins, Wildlife, Ocean Views, Marshland

Overall Rating: A-

Scenic Quality: A+
Athleticism: C
Solitude: A
Value: B+
Parking: ample at the Seashore Ferry Landing and free
Hours of Operation: Closed Christmas, No Tues or Wed during the winter, Visitor Center 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Facilities: yes, thankfully
Maps: Available at the Visitors center
County: Camden County


  1. HI! I live on Cumberland Island 24/7/365, have for a while now.
    Here's my new blog:
    Let me know when ya'll are back over here and i"ll hook up w/ya and give ya a tour! XO

  2. okay, try this again... dont' think it went through the last time.
    Look me up when you next want to feature "cumbersome island" and i"ll give you a tour.... behind the scenes from a retained rights holder.
    oh, and don't waste your money on a hotel room.



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