Cumberland Island National Seashore
|Wild horses in Cumberland Island National Seashore (courtesy, Georgia Department of Economic Development)|
Cumberland Island, Georgia's southernmost barrier island, is situated three miles off the mainland and boasts a diversity of ecosystems including saltwater marshes, mud flats, tidal creeks, maritime forests, white-sand beaches, and dunes. The island, three miles wide and 18 miles long, is a bit larger than Manhattan. It is a lot less crowded too: Cumberland Island limits visitation to 300 people per day. You must make a six-month advance reservation to gain access to the island.
The island serves as a sanctuary to the threatened loggerhead sea turtle. The turtles, which can weigh up to 350 pounds, lay eggs from May to September. Other unique wildlife on the island includes wild stallions, mares, and hogs. These species are said to be feral, meaning that their ancestors were domesticated animals that have now returned to their wild state.
Much like its feral animals inhabitants, Cumberland Island is also in the process of returning to its wild state. The island, established as a national seashore in 1972, is reclaiming the land. This is most evident at the Dungeness ruins. Revolutionary War hero General Nathanial Greene purchased land on Cumberland Island in 1783. Following his death, his widow Catherine Greene constructed a four-story tabby home that she named Dungeness. Thomas Carnegie and his wife Lucy began building another Dungeness on the original foundation in 1884. It was abandoned in the 1920s and burned down in 1959. The haunting stone ruins are now being usurped by the forest's overgrowth.
The island can be accessed by a 45-minute ferry ride that departs from St. Mary's, Georgia.
Sea Kayak to Cumberland Island
Sea kayakers craving adventurous paddling should launch their kayaks at St. Mary's, Georgia, and paddle down the tidal waters of the St. Mary's River. The river serves as the state line between Georgia and Florida before it spills out into the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. As you kayak up the waterway and across the sound, you will likely encounter curious botttlenose dolphins and great blue herons. Strong paddlers can reach the mud lips of the island in four hours.
Explore Live Oak Forests
Spanish moss drips from the sinewy limbs of live oak, creating an eerie overhanging canopy that shelters the lush emerald fronds of saw palmetto and Resurrection fern below. Check fern leaves for tiny green tree frogs. The frogs are less than an inch long and are particularly noisy after rain sprays the forest. Keep an eye out for the creepy, but harmless, giant banana spider. The Nightingale Trail maritime forest walk penetrates deep into a labyrinth of overhanging vines, magnolia, and cedar as the bellows of courting alligators echo throughout the forest. On the Atlantic side of Cumberland Island, the 3.5-mile Parallel Trail pushes its way north toward Stafford Beach through a forest of slash pine, longleaf, palmetto, and loblolly.
Fish the Salt Marshes
The salt marshes of Cumberland Island are abundant with nature's bounty. The warm waters are teeming with redfish, bluefish, bonito, flounder, and sea trout. Surfcasters can stand at the edge of the open Atlantic and try to land one of the sharks that chase after schools of black mullet. King mackerel and redfish are also frequently caught in the surf. Fishing is sweet from June through November, but the monster-size surf fish are reeled in from September through November. Don't be surprised if osprey show you up. These magnificent raptors dive into the sea, surfacing with an impressive catch.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication