Since access is limited, reservations should be secured well in advance. Boats leave each day at 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., with two return options during spring through summer. Come prepared for a full day of beach and hiking with food, water, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. These things are not available on the island.
Good to know
Cumberland Island is maintained by the National Park Service. Access is limited per day and only available via ferry from St. Marys, Georgia.
If you visit during the summer, I would definitely recommend the 9 a.m. ferry, so you can beat the heat of the day.
Recommended time of the year
We visited in spring because we are well aware of how hot summers are in the South. Spring provides mild temperatures and few thunderstorms, making it an ideal time to visit.
About This Day
Many believe Cumberland Island has one of the most beautiful, undeveloped beaches on the east coast. But, while it may boast Georgia's best beach for families, a trip to the island isn't just a trip to the beach. For one, the Cumberland Island horses are famous. Quite a few visitors come just to see the beautiful wild horses. In addition, the island is also rich in history, architecture and natural areas. It is a must visit for any family wanting to get away from the crowds and enjoy a day of solitude in the coastal south. Begin by getting off the ferry and heading to the beach. Next, head to the Ruins of Dungeness, the former home of Thomas Carnegie and his family. Lastly, try your luck at Cumberland wild horse sighting. Perhaps you'll get to view a playful bunch as we did.
Start the day off by visiting one of the best beaches in Georgia for families. Nothing can really prepare you for the beach at Cumberland Island. It is vast and beautiful. With so few visitors each day you will have plenty of space for yourself. You can swim and hunt for shells, but most of all relax and enjoy the solitude. Your kids will be easy to spot.
DIRECTIONS After exiting the ferry, follow the trail straight ahead of you just past the Sea Camp Ranger Station to the beach. It is about a mile (1.6 km) from here to the entrance. Along the way, observe the live oaks dripping with moss and dense palmetto plants. Few of the populated southern barrier islands possess such a pristine canopy to protect you from sun and wind. Just before the beach entrance you will pass campsites and a well-maintained bathroom.
TIP Even if the trail out to the beach seems busy, trust me, once you’ve arrived the crowd will thin and you will feel like you have the place to yourself.
Dungeness was first built in 1884 as a winter home for Thomas Carnegie (younger brother and business partner of Andrew Carnegie), his wife Lucy and their 9 children. Catching fire in 1959, today only ruins are left of a mansion that was once 35,000 square feet (10,600 sm). It is a picturesque spot and one of the most visited locations on the island.
DIRECTIONS South of the Sea Base Ranger’s Station are the Ruins of Dungeness. There are a couple of options for getting here, depending on how you would like to spend your day. If you opt to visit the ruins, first follow the River Trail south after exiting the ferry. It is a short distance from the dock to the house. Along the way, you will pass the Ice House Museum. Built in the 1900s when the Thomas Carnegie family was living on Cumberland, it was used to store ice from the mainland. Today you will find an exhibit with a history of the island.
TIP Not far from the ruins are the stables and other outbuildings. There are plenty of large trees that provide shade; and picnic tables, making this is a great spot to have lunch.
Wild Horses of Cumberland
Stafford Beach Road, Saint Marys
Seeing horses in the wild is exciting for both children and adults. It is not advised that you try to touch the animals, but some may get very close to you.
DIRECTIONS The best spot to see the wild horses that call Cumberland Island home is near the Ruins of Dungeness; or along the Dungeness Roadway that takes you from the historic ruins and outbuildings to the beach.
TIP The day we visited two of the horses were having quite the game of chase. Running full speed back and forth from one spot to other. While no one was hurt they did startle quite a few visitors, so be on the lookout.