Saint Marys Waterfront
We continued on south toward the Florida border. Just before crossing the state line, we exited from the interstate on St. Marys Road. From St. Marys Road we took GA-40 eastward which turned into Osborne Street in the city of St. Marys. The Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitor Center and ferry dock are located near the intersection of Osborne and St. Marys Streets along the St. Marys River waterfront. The only way to get to Cumberland Island is aboard the Cumberland Queen ferry or by private boat. While entrance to Cumberland Island National Seashore is free, the ferry ride costs $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for children age 12 and under.
Departure days vary according to the time of year.
Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest, most southerly barrier island and is located just 7 miles east of St. Marys. The island is over 17 miles long and spanning over 36,000 acres. Parts of the island are private property, the public lands were designated the Cumberland Island National Seashore in 1972. Cumberland Island National Seashore is a complex ecosystem of saltwater marshes, freshwater swamps, estuaries, mud flats, tidal creeks, maritime forests, sand dunes, and of course beaches. A herd of feral horses roam freely on Cumberland Island. The horses were the main reason my cousin wanted to visit Cumberland Island.
Saint Marys Waterfront
..and the Spanish moss too!
The 45 minute ferry ride to the island was relaxing. The ferry-generated breeze was a welcomed delight to the muggy and stifling humidity. We disembarked the Cumberland Queen at the Dungeness Dock and briefly listened to the park ranger’s spiel in the Ice House Museum. We proceeded along Coleman Avenue to the Dungeness Trail which meanders through the maritime forest and the Dungeness Historic District. When we reached Dungeness Ruins we came across part of the feral horse herd. It was picture-perfect…mansion ruins and feral horses.
The Dungeness Ruins are the remnants of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie’s mansion which was built in the 1880s. During the Gilded Age, Dungeness was a coastal retreat for high society. When the 1920s came along, Dungeness too felt the effects of the Great Depression.
Saint Marys Waterfront
In 1959, Dungeness burned, leaving the structure that remains today.
After viewing the mansion ruins, we headed down the trail to the right which led us to the ruins of the original Dungeness of the late 1780s, which was owned by the family of Nathanial Greene, a general in the Revolutionary War. We kept following this trail thinking it would end at the beach but we ended somewhere in the salt marshes of Raccoon Keys. So we turned back towards Dungeness.
We took a lunch break at the intersection of Coleman Avenue and Main Road. As we ate lunch, a couple of local teens came along on their ATV trying to sell us refreshments. We refused and they hastily drove off leaving a dust cloud in their wake. HOW RUDE! After lunch we headed north along Main Road.
Our trek begins...
It was a relief to walk under the shade provided by live oaks and saw palmetto trees.
We then turned off Main Road
to follow the trail to Sea Camp Beach
, the only developed campground on the island with restrooms, cold showers, and drinking water.
At the Sea Camp Beach facilities I changed into my bathing suit so I can go into the water. The sand felt like an inferno…scalding my bare feet. So I quickly made my way to the water. At the beach’s edge, the waves looked really choppy and there are NO lifeguards on the island. So I waded in a bit while Mar sunbathed. There were vast stretches of fine white sand…it was gorgeous! But our time on Cumberland Island was coming to a close so we trekked back down Sea Camp Beach Trail to Sea Camp Dock, where the Cumberland Queen ferry was to pick us up.
Wild horse of Cumberland Island
We got to the dock early, so while Mar lounged atop an empty lunch table, I walked along part of the River Trail to see views of Cumberland Sound and explore the maritime forest.
The ferry ride back to St. Marys again was relaxing…especially after a long afternoon of walking unpaved trails.
In hindsight, we only saw the southern tip of Cumberland Island. There is so much more to see like Plum Orchard Mansion, part of the Carnegie estate which is currently being restored, and First African Baptist Church in the Settlement, recently famous for being the wedding site of JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette. I would like return to Cumberland Island to go camping and to hike more of the 50 miles of trails.
EEWWW...the southern humidity
We had planned to wake up early and see Savannah in the morning sunlight. Unfortunately, we slept in so we had to jam out of the Savannah area in order to catch the last ferry of the day at St. Marys to Cumberland Island. From Savannah, we started heading south on I-95. About halfway to our destination, we had a run in with the law. Note to all travelers along this interstate…DO NOT SPEED! The highway patrol used a tag team strategy to catch my cousin driving over the speed limit. I-95 is separated by long stretches of greenspace which can include grass, wildflowers, and trees. One patrol car was discreetly tucked beneath some low lying leafy branches facing oncoming traffic while another patrol car was driving somewhere behind us with the flow of traffic. I don’t recall which patrol car ended up pulling us over but my cousin got BUSTED! I am positive that the out-of-state plates made us a moving target for the 5-O…so be forewarned!