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Published: November 7th 2007
Cumberland Island is a hidden gem in Georgia. I've been there 3-4 times and always look forward to my next trip back. It's one of those locations that you are almost thankful that more people don't know about it. I was made aware of the place by my first graduate student who had grown up near the ferry launch in St. Mary's. She convinced me to go after describing the place as perfect for my sense of adventure. Cumberland is a barrier island off the coast of south Georgia near Jacksonville, FL. You get there via the Cumberland Queen ferry from St. Mary's, Georgia which is one of the oldest towns in the U.S. The ferry leaves at 9am and brings you back at 4:45 unless you are camping overnight. There is a $20 fee for the ferry ride and a $4 entrance fee because it is a national seashore.
Cumberland is a wonderful place to hike, bike (rentals are $16/day), take in the beach, or do all three in one day. The island is deserted except for a limited number of day-trippers and the few property owners that remain. Remains of a mansion left by the Carnegie family are
still there too in an area of the island called Dungeness. The beaches are pristine and you can have them virtually to yourself. The trails that wind through the island take you through some great vegetation and beautiful trees including palmettos on the ground level and live oaks filled with Spanish moss in the canopy above. And you can't miss the wild horses that roam free all over the island. You might see them on the beach if you are lucky or, more frequently, roaming around the middle of the island or near the Dungeness ruins. If you hear the bushes rustle it might be a group of wild pigs or just an armadillo wandering around. If you like the part about islands that doesn't include the crowds then Cumberland is probably for you.
This last trip in December was a nice change from the sweltering summer day trips in the past. Either way, if you go you might consider bringing a cooler with some food and cold drinks. You can easily find a place to stash it amongst the trees and vegetation for midday refreshment. The island stretches in a north/south fashion and you can easily hike (maybe
1/2 hour) from the west side where you are delivered by the ferry in one of two locations to the beach on the east side. Running up and down the island is a main sand/dirt road that is flat and covered by live oaks. Break-off trails shoot off of this trail as you go north. The southernmost (first) ferry stop delivers you near the Dungeness ruins where you can see remains of the early 20th century mansion built by the Carnegie family. The second ferry stop is approximately a mile north of the first and this is where you can rent bikes. Approximately seven and a half miles north of this drop off on the main road is the Plum Orchard mansion. The park service runs guided trips in vans around the island and they take you through the mansion on one stop. I have yet to be inside (on peaking in through the windows) but it looks like it would be an interesting building to tour. There is one very expensive bed and breakfast, Greyfield, also along the main road. I have yet to make it to the north side of the island which I believe would only be
reachable via the van tour or by camping overnight. Apparently there are a good number of sharks offshore in the north. Also, most people do the tour to see the First African Baptist Church where JFK Jr. was married. Whatever you do on your daytrip to Cumberland you must get over to the beach on the east side. It is amazing to see such a beautiful beach that is largely deserted. You might get lucky and see some horses roaming about or find a conk shell waiting for you.
If you are an active person who likes to get away from traffic (you won't see cars with the exception of the parks vans and a couple locals) and to see great natural beauty and wildlife then Cumberland is for you. If you are looking for food stands and creature comforts then maybe look elsewhere.
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