Cumberland Island is breathtakingly beautiful and I had never heard of it until GoAnniewhere shared details on this majestic place. I was amazed at how preserved this place is – untouched and serene.
The Cumberland Island National Seashore is a paradise that includes wild horses, pristine beaches, weeping oak trees, sand dunes and mansion ruins. Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest barrier island and one of the most spectacular natural habitats in the USA. Cumberland Island is truly a hidden treasure.
Cumberland Island is about 40 square miles- 18 miles long and .5 to 3 miles wide. The eastern edge of Cumberland Island is bounded by beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the north, west, and south are bounded by rivers, sounds, and marshes. Sunset across the western marsh is gorgeous. Georgia, especially Cumberland Island has many tiny organisms to shrimp, fish, sea turtles, manatees, sharks, alligators, birds, and wild horses.
History of Cumberland Island
The 1730s, James Edward Oglethorpe laid out two forts on each side of the island and after the American Revolution, Nathaniel Greene became interested in the natural resources and the first mansion was created – Dungeness.
Robert Stafford’s plantation existed between 1815 and 1870. The Civil War had a profound effect on the Island’s human history and Reconstruction saw both speculators and freed slaves trying to wrest a living out of the devastation that the war caused.
In the early 1880s, Thomas Morrison Carnegie and his wife Lucy Coleman Carnegie came to the island and established family presence – still exists today.
Many of the descendants of the Carnegie and Candler (Coca Cola) families are still on the island.
Thomas Edison created the electric grid on the island and John F. Kennedy Jr. had his wedding at the First African Baptist Church and the reception at the Greyfield Inn.
Getting to Cumberland Island
If you plan on visiting as a daytripper or intend to camp, contact the National Park Service. Ferry Schedules and National Park Service Cumberland Island website here.
The National Park Service operates its ferry service from St. Mary’s, GA, stopping at Dungeness and Sea Camp Docks. Cumberland Island can also be accessed through Fernandina Beach, FL, via the Lucy Ferguson operated by The Greyfield Inn.
There are two ways to stay on the island: at The Greyfield Inn or at one of the National Park Service campsites. Most visitors gain their access through the National Park Service. They camp at various sites on the island. There are 5 campgrounds to choose from. You must have a permit to camp on the island. Reservations are open 6 months in advance and fill up immediately. Designated spots located at Sea Camp and Stafford Beach – Hickory Hill, Brickhill Bluff, and Yankee Paradise have no amenities.
Greyfield is a converted Carnegie mansion still owned and managed by members of the Carnegie family. It was built in 1890, offers 15 rooms in the main house and 2 cottages. The Greyfield is an all inclusive which provides free ferry ride to the island, excursions while on the island, time with a naturalist, beach chairs, umbrellas, etc. a two night minimum stay is required and stays start at $750/ night. For information on staying at the Greyfield here
Guided Tours by the National Park Service
Lands and Legacies Tour
For $45 plus tax you can get a tour that takes you around the Seashore, Plum Orchard Mansion, Cumberland Island Wharf, and the Settlement. Reservations are encouraged – it is a day long tour.
This tour is best for those who want in-depth information, those less active, and want to see the most in a day. Air conditioned travel by van.
Things you will see: The Settlement, the Stafford Plantation and Cemetery, First African Baptist Church, the Cumberland Wharf, Plum Orchard, and the interior of the island. The historic district may or may not be included.
What you will not see: Dungeness ruins, Icehouse museum, horses, and beaches.
10 AM and 12:30 PM, lasting 1.5 hours.
Ranger guided tours of the Dungeness Historic Area explore the remains of this industrialist era estate and share stories of the location. Walk is an hour. There are two restrooms and a place to get water along the route. Cell phone guide is also available.
Things you will see: Dungeness Ruins, Historic Area, horses.
Things you will not see: The Settlement, the Stafford Plantation and Cemetery, First African Baptist Church, the Cumberland Wharf, Plum Orchard, and the interior of the island.
Plum Orchard Tour
Tours are offered at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 2 PM. This is 7 miles from Sea Camp Dock. Visitors are responsible for getting to Plum Orchard – keep in mind it is 14 miles round trip. Not recommended for day visitors.
Things you will see: horses, Plum Orchard, Oak trees, many parts of the island
Things you will miss: The Settlement, the Stafford Plantation and Cemetery, First African Baptist Church, the Cumberland Wharf, Dungeness Ruins, and the interior of the island.
30 minute information on the island.
You will just receive an overview.
What to do on Cumberland Island
Talk with a Ranger
Places to Visit & Things to See
The Ice House: museum near Dungeness Dock that is a good place to start exploration. Was used to store ice shipped from the north and was built by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie.
Dungeness Ruins: ruins of the largest mansion on the island
Plum Orchard Mansion: 22,000 square foot mansion. Alligators located behind this mansion.
First African Baptist Church: one Room church
Sea Camp Ranger Station: where to go and what to see
Wildlife: Wild horses are among the animals on the island and they range from small ponies to large ones. Many are near the castle ruins.
Loggerhead sea turtles build their nest on the Cumberland beaches are are marked – last year, there were over 800 that were monitored.
Armadillo, alligators, and deer are also on the island.
Best Time to Go to Cumberland Island
Summer months are perfect for the ideal beach weather. It can also be a bit sticky and hot to hike and bike around the island. Rain and clouds June- September. Mosquitos are abundant during this time period.
Winter months are great for hiking and camping, but not as good for the beach – too chilly.
The month of April into May can be a sweet spot to enjoy mild weather and clear skies. October and early November can also bring nice conditions
Feral horses are wild and you should stay at least 20 feet away. Move back if they approach you – slowly.
Keep off the sand dunes. They are fragile and an important part of the ecosystem. Stay on the trails.
Pack in, Pack Out – there are no trash receptacles on the island. Leave nothing but footprints.
If you take the ferry – buy a ticket for each way. There are no round trip tickets. Tickets sell out so buy in advance. It is a 45 minute ferry ride and departs at 9 am and 11 am. out of St. Mary’s.
What do you need to bring:
Pack a lunch
Bring water, drinks
Cumberland Island is one of the most beautiful treasures in the United States and quite honestly in the world.
Often, I get asked … what did you do?
My Mom and I flew to Jacksonville and rented a car; stayed at a Hampton Inn, boarded the Lucy Ferguson in Fernandina Beach, Florida and stayed at the Greyfield Inn in a cottage. We went on several excursions provided by the Greyfield and enjoyed all of the amazing meals and incredible cookies. One of my absolute favorite vacations!
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