Cumberland Island is one of Georgia’s treasure troves of nature, history and culture. It is one of the small barrier islands on the Atlantic coast that helps protect the mainland when hurricanes strike.
There are no bridges to Cumberland Island. The National Park Service provides ferry service. You depart from the dock in St. Mary’s, Georgia.
Visit the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum there while waiting for the ferry. Private and charter boats can also visit the island.
Inland the huge oaks sprawl near the ground providing a haven for birds, squirrels and weary hikers. You will note the island grass looks like it was trimmed by a mower. This is the result of the feral horses and wild deer you will find there. The island’s horses are a relic of many cultures ranging from the abandoned horses of the Spanish explorers to the fine riding horses and dray animals once owned by the Carnegie’s.
There are only a few dirt roads and trails so expect to hike, or bike, for most transportation around the island.
Ice House Museum near the Dungeness dock is a good place to start your exploration. It covers the history of the island from the initial English thrust into Georgia in 1733.
Shortly after the Revolutionary War, General Nathaniel Greene planned his home on the site of an old hunting camp belonging to Oglethorpe. Greene died before completion. His wife, Catherine, constructed a four-story mansion named “Dungeness.” All that is left from that era is a tabby cottage probably used as temporary housing while the mansion was being built.
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In 1882, Thomas Carnegie acquired most of the island and built a replica of a Scottish castle on the site of those ruins. The ruins of that Dungeness are a big draw for visitors.
The Carnegies later deeded most of their land to the National Park Service. Today 90% of the island is a national park.
Another Carnegie mansion on the island, Greyfield, operates as an inn and was the site of J.F.K. Jr. and Caroline Blessett’s wedding reception.
Plum Orchard, another Carnegie mansion, is open for tours. You can tour when staff is present, but the best way to see it is Land and Legacies Tour.
There is a Footsteps Tour depending on staff availability that walks you through the Dungeness Historic District. Tour start at the dock at 10:00 am and 12:45 pm and lasts about an hour.
There are no concessions on Cumberland Island. Bring your own food. There are places to refill your water bottle on the island.
Remember to pack sunscreen and bug repellent. The rule is if you bring it in, you pack it out. Passengers on the van tours may only bring a small backpack or bag, no hard coolers or camera tripods due to van size.
You can bring your own bicycles on ferry for a $10 fee (only a limited number accepted) or rent a bike for $16 on the island. Ferry tickets cost $28 plus tax per person, plus $7 park entry fee.
Cell phone reception is sketchy on the island. This may not be suitable for very young children because of walking or biking only. Roads are all dirt and not good for strollers.