10 Notes on Visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

10 Notes on Visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore 1

I was able to visit one of Georgia’s best places – the Cumberland Island National Seashore. It is one of the largest protected barrier islands on the Atlantic Seaboard. I had no idea what to expect when visiting, but here are a few notes that I took away.

Ferry Bookings

National Park Service Ferry to Cumberland Island

The ferry gets booked. The only way to get to the island, other than by private boat, is to ride the National Park Service’s Concessionaire Ferry. There’s limited space, and it gets booked up. You need to judge how you want to get back because the ferry schedule is set up to where you either get a small visit on the island or a very long visit. So how you book really kind of determines what you can see, because the island is big, it takes a while to walk, and it’s also hot with not a lot of food on the island.

Development on the Island

The developed part of the island is very developed. I had no idea how many buildings were built by the Carnegie family and how many roads were carved out and different buildings and museums there are. There are plenty of bathrooms, and honestly, it feels like walking through an abandoned, really rich ghost town.

Wilderness Area

Scrub maritime forest area on Cumberland Island

The Wilderness area is very large but also very accessible. The island is huge, and there is an enormous Wilderness area that would take a couple of hours at least to hike into. There is a road back there, but you leave the developed area of the island very quickly.

Undeveloped Beach

There is nothing quite like an undeveloped beach. It takes a while and a hike through the maritime forest and the wetlands to get to the Atlantic Beach, but the beach is incredible. It’s flat, has beautiful views, has white sand, and there is no development, no human buildings or structures as far as you can see. It’s beautiful and special, and I’m so thankful that it’s preserved because on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, it is a very rare gem.

Beach Access

Old abandoned building on Cumberland Island

You can get to the beach and back between the short ferry times, but it is tight. We were walking with our kids, and the sun was out, and we’re trudging across sand and boardwalks. It takes a while to get to the beach and back; you can do it between the short ferry times, but if you want to spend any length of time hanging out at the beach or exploring the areas around it, you’ll need to book the longer ferry times.

Wild Horses

Horses on Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island is famous for its horses. The wild horses that became feral after being brought to the island in the early 1900s and then being abandoned. As romantic as horses on a Wilderness Beach are, they need to go. They’re not native, the ecosystem cannot support them, and they are also destroying everything special about the ecosystem. The only reason they are kept there is because, just like the Mustangs out west, these horses have a special part of human interest. But they need to go. None of them are healthy, none of them are living their best life, and they’re also destroying all the food resources that keep the native animals alive. So I was sad to see.

Old Mansions and Buildings

Next, the old mansions and buildings are absolutely enchanting. The Carnegies spent so much money trying to build up the island as a getaway, and they ended up leaving it. Many of the buildings are half-finished, but some of them are just fascinating to walk through. It’s interesting to see ruins of a different time and place, back when the rich had access to a lot of what we would think of as modern amenities, but when those modern amenities were still luxuries, you know, like indoor plumbing and whatnot.

Maritime Forests

Next, the maritime forests are absolutely amazing. Magnolias mixed with live oaks mixed with palmettos and sandy walkways. It’s absolutely enchanting. There is amazing birding, and it’s just beautiful to be in.

Always More to Explore

Next, like most national parks and national seashores, there’s always more to explore. And honestly, going there, I realized that the best visit is always going to be your second or third visit because it’s hard to get a sense of what to expect when you first go.

Seasonal Considerations

Lastly, it is not a summer destination. We went in the spring, and it was already hot, and the mosquitoes were starting to come out. There were a few gnats here and there, but by summer, the gnats and the mosquitoes, especially but even the heat and humidity from the direct sunlight, is going to be absolutely oppressive and would be hard to have a good trip during June or July. I would highly recommend the shoulder seasons, but even the winter would be a lot better.


Overall, I’m so thankful that Congress decided to preserve the island. Thankful for the Carnegies for donating so much of the land, and like so many of our national parks, the hard work of preservation is done. And now, the even harder work of maintaining it and protecting it for generations to come is happening.

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