With nearly 18 miles of shoreline, Cumberland Island is the largest barrier island in Georgia. It is accessible only by boat. The island is owned and operated by the National Park Service so be sure to bring along your National Parks Passport if you’re collecting stamps. Sadly, our Passport wasn’t among the many things we carried to the island that day.
To get to the island, we took the Cumberland Island Ferry from the Mainland Visitors Center in St. Mary’s, GA. Aside from a handful of private vessels docked on the island, it seemed most folks were arriving via the ferry. From the ferry, there are two options for disembarkement – the Dungeness Dock and the Sea Camp Dock. We got off at Dungeness, which we had previously been told was the “hardest way to get to the beach”.
The very first sight we were greeted by at the dock was a group of manatees gathered in the shallow waters.
The second sight was a team of wild horses grazing by the picnic tables.
The trail through the Dungeness Ruins is indeed the hardest path to the beach and they don’t call it the “Sahara” for nothing. From the moment you pass Dungeness (the former home of Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew), you enter a sandy desert that seems to stretch for miles. In reality, it’s only about a mile from the dock to the beach but a good bit of the walk is through a sand dune.
The beach on Cumberland Island is everything that a beach should be…and then some. We especially enjoyed playing in the shallow pools that formed on the beach during low tide. The water in the pools reflected the heat from the sand, making it feel like you were sitting in a hot tub. We even decided to eat our snack – a bowl of cantaloupe purchased earlier that day from the St. Marys Farmer’s Market – while sitting in the tide pool. Why? Just to say we did.
After a few hours of walking the beach (from Dungeness to Sea Camp) and trying to capture photos of the inside of waves with our waterproof Nikon Coolpix camera (one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever received), we started making our way back to Sea Camp Dock to meet the outgoing ferry. In total, we walked about 3 miles from dock to dock.
Midway up the trail, we came upon the showers for the Sea Camp campground and decided to change back into our dry clothes. Outdoor showers with no hot water are always a fun experience! Being clean also meant we’d rinsed off the bug spray we just put on. Not good when you’re on an island in the South at the height of summer. If you take no other suggestion from this post, take this one – bring bug spray and use it often!
The ferry ride to/from St. Mary’s to Cumberland Island takes roughly 45-minute each way. If you’re lucky, like we were, you may see dolphins swimming alongside the boat.