Last week, on our not-so-sunny trip south, we took a jaunt to Cumberland Island.
Off the coast of St. Marys, Georgia, this barrier island is an fascinating place. It's four miles bigger than Manhattan, yet on any given day, has less than three hundred inhabitants - most being campers, day-trippers and guests. While it historically was home to Native American tribes and colonial settlers, the Carnegie family put it on the map.
Visually, Cumberland Island is a dream - specifically, the type that's covered in Saw Palmetto and dripping with Spanish moss. A mix of beaches and maritime forests, it's the kind of place that you could find sand dollars on the beach and see an armadillo burrowing amidst the dense trees. It also doesn't hurt that it's full of horses that run freely across the beaches and marshes.
On the day we visited, it was cool and quiet, almost hauntingly so. I can't stop thinking about the pristine beaches and the way that the live oak trees curl away from the shore. And while I look forward to returning on sunnier days, I'd be remiss if I didn't say that Cumberland Island has got me under it's spell.
What to Do
Cumberland Island consists of a small network of sandy roads that are perfectly packed for bike and foot traffic. Rent bikes at the Sea Camp dock, and depending on how much time you have, either head north to the sandy beaches and historical sites, or turn south to the Dungeness ruins and Pelican Banks for some birdwatching.
We spent much of the time that we weren't biking on the beach, which was vast and gloriously empty. We walked and talked for hours, hunting for shark's teeth and shells. Despite the endless fog and cool breeze, the water was fairly warm and the rays somehow poked through. For this, I was endlessly happy for my big sun hat and a new gorgeous natural sunscreen.
With a history of wealthy residents, Cumberland Island is scattered with historical manses that were built as the Carnegie children grew up. To the south of the island are the ruins of the Dungeness mansion, Thomas and Lucy Carnegie's home, which burned down in the late 1950s. To the north of the island is the nineteenth century First African Baptist Church, most known for being the place that John F. Kennedy Jr. got married.
On the day we visited, we selected a site halfway between the two (nearly eight-miles from the ferry dock), Plum Orchard. The Georgian Revival was built for one of the Carnegie sons, touted extremely advanced technology (for the 1890s!) and was filled with the most gorgeous hand-painted wallpaper I've seen.
Where to Stay
Cumberland Island is a great place for a day trip, but staying longer affords you the possibility to see more and take your time. Unless you're a descendant of the Carnegie family, you have two options: stay for two or more nights at the lovely all-inclusive Greyfield Inn or camp at one of several campsites.
How to Get There
The Cumberland Island Ferry has several departures daily from St. Marys, Georgia. Make sure to book in advance, as the ferry is small and fills up fast. St. Marys is a sleepy port town, but there are a few places, like The Blue Goose, to pick up breakfast or snacks before your journey begins.