Weekend Backpacker: Atlanta
Although it is about a six-hour drive from Atlanta to St. Marys, Cumberland Island is well worth the drive if you can make reservations for the backcountry. Thousands of years of history are crammed into this tiny island eighteen miles long and only three miles across at its widest point. This barrier island, established in 1972 as one of the nation's first national seashores, was home to the Timucuan Indians for more than 4,000 years. The Indians were superseded by the Spanish in 1566 and by the English, under the direction of James Oglethorpe, in 1736. The island was last owned by the Carnegies, who donated the island to the National Park Foundation in 1971.
Recommended trip: Any of the four backcountry campsites are worth the effort, from the 3.5-mile hike to Stafford Beach to the 10.6-mile hike to Brickhill Bluff. Campsites are not assigned until you reach the island. There are a dozen trails on the island, from Southpoint Trail at the southern end of the island to Terrapin Point Trail in the north. Miles of trail lead you past all the island's habitatsbeaches, dunes, interdune meadows, ponds, maritime forests, and salt marshes. The island is also home to all manner of wildlife: deer, alligators, bobcats and river otters, loggerhead turtles, diamondback rattlesnakes, armadillos, feral pigs and horses, and dolphins in both the river and Atlantic. Many birds make their home here as well.
Getting there: Take Interstate 75 South from Atlanta to Interstate 16. From Interstate 16, head south on Interstate 95. At Exit 2, head east on GA 40 for sixteen miles. GA 40 ends in St. Marys. Turn right; the park office is on your immediate left.
Permit information: Reservations may be made up to eleven months in advance, starting on the first working day of each month. They are not absolutely necessary if you plan to make a day trip but are mandatory if you plant to camp. If you don't make reservations, you will be put on standby. Reservations may be made by calling the park office from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ferry departs St. Marys at 9:00 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. and returns from Cumberland Island at 10:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. During peak season (March 15 through September) there is an additional ferry run. During the off-season, there is no ferry service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There is a charge for riding the ferry but no charge for camping. Sea Camp features 16 sites with water, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and raccoon boxes. All food and equipment must be hand-carried the half-mile to Sea Camp.
Maps: Backcountry maps are available at the visitors' center and at the park office in St. Marys.
Practical information: Located at the Georgia border with Florida, Cumberland weather can become very hot. Make sure you dress appropriately, wear sunscreen, and carry enough water. In the backcountry, you will face biting insects such as ticks, making a DEET-based repellent necessary. Also, you will need enough rope to suspend your pack, food, and litter from a tree to keep these items from raccoons and squirrels. All water in the backcountry must be boiled, filtered, or treated.
Guidebook: There is no guidebook, but you can obtain maps with information from the park office.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication