Cumberland Island National Seashore

CUMBERLAND ISLAND is GEORGIAS LARGEST AND SOUTHERN MOST BARRIER island.  A 37,000-acre portion has been set aside to save at least a remnant of the barrier islands from development.  The island is 17 miles long and averages about two miles wide.  Habitat zones vary from great stretches of white sand beach and saltwater marshes to mixed forests of palmettos, live oaks, and pine with lacy shawls of Spanish moss.  This environment, the interface between land and sea, supports abundant species of fish, shellfish, and birds.  Nearby, the constantly moving beaches of sand attract loggerhead turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs.  Deer are common on higher ground throughout the park.  Look for alligators in the freshwater lakes, ponds, and swamps.  The island has been inhabited for years; piles of shells left by Native Americans and signs of Spanish soldiers and missionaries from the 1500s can still be found.  Crumbling mansion walls and a row of chimneys from slave cabins stand as ghostly reminders of our history.

Getting Away:

There are about 50 miles of trails available for backpacking.  The island is not particularly wild nor the trails very challenging, but the area provides a good opportunity to experience the barrier island environment.  The 9,000-acre northern part of the island has been designated as a wilderness area.  Trails and roads lead through various ecological systems and the two historic districts, Plum Orchard Mansion and the Black Settlement.  In the wet season, the trails are apt to be flooded and inhabited by snakes and alligators.


Wilderness camping is permitted at three designated locations: Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise, and Brickhill Bluff. Distances from the dock to the campsites are 5.5, 7.4, and 10.6 miles, respectively.  Reservations are required for both camping and space on the tour boat.  Camping permits are also required and are issued only at the Sea Camp Visitor Center.  Campsites are assigned once you reach the island, and no more than 20 campers are allowed at any one campsite.  Stafford Beach, located 3.5 miles north of Sea Camp, is a non wilderness area ideal for novice backpackers and those wanting easy access to island beaches.  Freshwater wells are near all sites.  Drinking water must be boiled or treated.  Ground fires are prohibited.  Rattlesnakes, ticks (carrying Lyme disease), and sharks in the surf are all potential hazards, although the most common first-aid problem is heat exhaustion.  Be reasonable in the distances you plan to hike, especially in summer.  In the off-season months of  December, January, and ,February, the island sees few visitors, the weather is cool (not cold), the ticks and gnats are scarce, and reservations are almost assured.

Worth Mentioning:

Some private inholdings remain on the island.  They can be traversed along the main road, designated trails, or the beach.  Dune areas provide vital habitat for sea turtles and some species of shore birds; use only designated dune crossings.  The island is closed to the public during periodic managed hunts, so check with the superintendent before you finalize your plans to visit


The visitor center is located in St. Marys, on Rt. 40 east of 1-95.  Access to the island is by tour boat or private charter.  The tour boat runs daily except from October to March, when it is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.  There is a fee to take the boat, and cars, bicycles, and pets are not allowed.  There are no supplies on Cumberland Island.  Sea Camp Visitor Center is located by the dock.

For More Information:

Cumberland Island National Seashore, P.O. Box 806, St. Marys, GA 31558; (912) 882-4335.  Reservations for tour boat crossings can be made by calling between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., Monday through Friday.