Where Nature and History Meet St Marys is the gateway to Cumberland Island, Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island. Here pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches and wide marshes whisper the stories of both man and nature. Natives, missionaries, enslaved African Americans and Wealthy Industrialists all walked here. Cumberland Island is also home to over 9,800 acres of Congressionally designated Wilderness.
I led a trip as part of our campus recreation's outdoor adventure program to Cumberland Island; we stayed for 5 days from March 2nd-6th. We had an incredible time overall. The island has so many different ecosystems that anything short of 3-4 days and you risk not being able to see it all.
We camped in Sea Camp the first night. The next morning a few of us were going up to the bath house when we encountered 2 wild horses entering our camp. It was pretty cool; they just grazed and paid us no attention, and once they grew bored of the area they moved on. Sea Camp is the most developed site; the morning we left a crew of about 10-15 people were hauling in enough stuff to stay for what seemed to be 2 months. I imagine it could get pretty loud/roudy over the weekends, so if you really want to enjoy nature, I'd suggest another site on the island.
My favorite campsite by far was Brickhill Bluff. It's in the back-country of the island and you have to walk about 10.5 miles from Sea Camp to reach it, but the trip is definitely worth it. We saw pods of dolphins swimming by in the morning, and an awesome sunset the night before. There's non-potable water at the site so be prepared. We hiked up to Brickhill in one day, and then meandered our way back to Sea Camp over the course of 3 days. It provided us with opportunities to do a bit more relaxing, and a bit more exploring.
Parallel Trail was extremely well kept; great views all around and plenty of opportunities to see various wildlife. The main road didn't exactly feel like a road, which I liked. It was a dirt road, but still felt as though we were on a trail. We only encountered 2 problems on trails; the first issue was on Tar Kiln Trail. We wanted to explore trails rather than the main road; we discovered this trail to be immensely overgrown - we were likely the first people of the season to hike it. Barely wide enough for one person, we were pushing through pushing palm limbs and tree branches for about 15-20 minutes at the end of the trail. We took a break to discover that we were covered in ticks - I pulled about 25 off of myself, but I suppose that's nature for ya! Willow Pond Trail was the only other issue; it has a raised board path for a part of it but it dead ended to about 4 inches of standing water. Some of our group pushed on, while others backtracked and took the main road past the cemetery and Stafford property. Stafford Beach Camp was really cool too - if hammocking is your thing, this place has plenty of places to string up!
Overall definitely a great place, and one I hope to visit again sometime in the future. I imagine it would get very buggy during the hot months so plan accordingly. You also have to pack out everything you brought to the island including your trash. You're never too far from the ocean and are constantly hearing the sounds of crashing wavers, which creates a very soothing atmosphere.
I spend a week here each August (no one is there because of heat and bugs). If you go in summer, use the industrial-strength Deet and wear a bug net over your face. You sweat and they will swarm around you. But don't let that deter you.
I rode my bike up to Plum Orchard (solo) only to find out it was closed that day. The heat was awful, so I ddecided to ride back on the Parallel Trail. (For you nitpickers, there were no signs saying no bikes where I entered). Lovely trail except the mosquitoes... and the rattlesnake. And the 2 hogs that ran out in front of me, clipped my wheel, sent me flying in a marshy area that alligators are... Seriously! Still, was a beautiful experience - variety of areas... plus you see more horses and deer.
My blog has a ton of tips and info
I head out to spend a week each August on Cumberland Island for the full moon and Perseid Meteor shower.
Early risers get to see all the good stuff - deer, bobcats, the horses... Find a spot in the meadow beyond the slave quarters and just sit. (A poncho works great as a blanket) I would see the sunrise and watch the horses and deer (including the white buck) graze. I would move below Dungeoness to watch more horses graze, then head down to Racoon Island for more close encounters. (Day visitors rarely make it down there) You can dig for sharks teeth there as well.
Check my blog for more details -
The isaland is a really amazing place to visit. there are deer, wild horses, turkey, armadilloes and plenty of other wildlife that I've seen on the island. This is one of only two place I've ever been to that there were wild horses (Mesa Verde is the other). You could easily spend a whole week or more on the island exploring.
Spend a weekend on Cumberland Island recently. You really have to backpack up the Island to see the whole thing in a weekend. Actually, there is so much to see that you cannot see the whole thing, but we were able to make it most of the way up the island on Saturday via the Parallel Trail and Beach. This is a really amazing place. We wound up at the first campground. It's first come, first server on campgrounds. The first is called Stafford and only a 3.5 mile hike from the ferry. It is the best equipped with water, bathroom, fire rings, etc. Beyond that, you are into back-country camping. We checked those out and they are pretty much just clearings in the woods and do not allow fires.
I spent 5 days on the island working the John Kennedy wedding. First 2 nights I was invited to sleep in the Grayfield Inn while preparing for security. Wonderful views, wild horses and sea birds. I don't think they let you visit the old church that John Jr. was married in any more.