I first went to Cumberland Island National Seashore now almost 30 years ago. We visited and camped on the island on our 8th Grade class trip which also included stops in Charleston and Savannah, and (perhaps our favorite at the time) Kings Dominion amusement park near Richmond. I’ve often thought about Cumberland Island and how much I wanted to go back. Since my last visit, I’ve visited 320 or so units of the National Park Service, but Cumberland Island has eluded me. Because you have to get there and back by ferry, it takes more than a few hours of commitment and at least enough planning-ahead time to make a ferry reservation. But finally I made it back to the wild island off the coast of Georgia, and it was spectacular. One of my friends asked if it was as beautiful as she remembered and I told her one of the most wonderful things about a National Park site is that it doesn’t change much - that is, in fact, the whole idea! So while I am older and bigger and perhaps a touch wiser, Cumberland Island is very much the same as I remember it in my dreams.
Cumberland Island is the southernmost of the Barrier Islands which stretch up the east coast, protecting the mainland from storms and erosion. The island is home to three major ecosystems: beach, maritime forest and salt marsh, all of which can be explored in a day. It also houses many species of wild animals, including the wild horses and armadillo you’ll see below. The first inhabitants we know of were part of the Timucua language group and may have been there as long as 4000 years ago. There was once a Spanish mission on the island which was abandoned after attacks by French pirates. When Georgia’s founding father James Oglethorpe arrived, he named the island after King George II’s son William, the Duke of Cumberland. Since then the island has had many residents, including Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene and Thomas Carnegie (who built Dungeness, the ruins of which are pictured below). Several members of the Carnegie family still live and/or own property on the island, but it was also the Carnegies who helped the National Park Service develop the majority of the island into a National Seashore. Some of the conversation about how the island should or shouldn’t be developed is covered in one of my all-time favorite books: Encounters With The Archdruid.
My visit to the island started on the 9 a.m. ferry. The ride to the island is about 45 minutes, after which we arrived in Sea Camp. From there I headed down the west coast on the River Trail to the Ice House Museum and then on to the ruins of Dungeness. Then I made my way out onto Raccoon Key where I spotted some wild horses and found some cool shark’s teeth. I headed past the historic cemetery and then on to the salt marsh boardwalk and out to the beach. I walked up the beach back to the Sea Camp connector trail, and then meandered under the oaks up the Parallel Trail to Little Greyfield Beach. From there I made my way back down the beach, completing maybe a seven mile figure 8 hike, and got back to Sea Camp for the 4:45 p.m. boat back to St. Marys. It was a wonderful day on the island, and the weather was perfect. It was definitely a wild trip down an oak lined memory lane. I hope you enjoy these photos from Cumberland Island, and remember you can always click on them if you want a larger view.