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TR: Cumberland Island

vcv
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TR: Cumberland Island

Last week I spent Sunday through Tuesday on Cumberland Island. As with my earlier visits, I stepped off of the ferry into the most peaceful vacation paradise that I know.

This time I camped with a friend making her first trip. Since she has foot problems that limit her walking, we decided on only a three-day visit (IMO four days or longer would be ideal). Here’s how we spent our time:

Sunday:

After the orientation at Sea Camp and receiving our campsite assignment, we set up camp and strolled along the beach to Dungeoness, where we followed the boardwalk across the dunes and along the edge of the salt marsh. We explored the Dungeoness area and returned to the Sea Camp dock on the River Trail, which I believe is the shortest connector between the Dungeoness and Sea Camp docks. Back at Sea Camp we attended an excellent ranger program on sea turtles given by a volunteer for the Student Conservation Association who had worked closely with the turtle program this year. The short days and shadows created by the live oak canopy shrouded campsites in almost total darkness by 6 p.m., so we returned to camp for a quick dinner and spent the rest of the evening reading by the light of our headlamps.

Monday:

We lingered over breakfast, chased a beautiful but unwelcomed garter snake away from our tent and into the palmetto palms, and packed lunches to eat at Dungeoness. After lunch we joined a park ranger for an hour-long tour of the area (the tour is currently offered after the ferry arrivals at 10 and 1 and comprises an excellent introduction to the history of the island. The ranger pointed out that a house marked “private residence” had recently been acquired by the park, leaving its grounds and dock on the salt marsh open for exploring, so after the tour, we meandered over this new area, where we found orange trees ripe with fruit.

In mid-afternoon we returned to Sea Camp, this time following the road. My friend continued to the campground, but I enjoyed a rocker on the office porch until time for the afternoon ranger program. Though today’s ranger had intended to show the sea turtle PowerPoint, he decided on a Plum Orchard presentation after learning that the sea turtle program had been given the day before. I’d seen the Plum Orchard program about two years ago, but it is so detailed that I welcomed the chance to see it again, since a visit to the mansion is included in the Lands and Legacies Tour, which we had scheduled for the next day.

Tuesday:

The recently introduced Lands and Legacies Tour, which leaves the Sea Camp office soon after the first ferry arrives, takes visitors to the north end of the island. We were divided into two groups for separate vans and tours. During travel along the road, our ranger narrated the history of the island, occasionally stopping the van for points of interest. While driving, he spoke into a mike, and passengers in the rear of the van listened through a transmitter and earbud. Unfortunately the batteries in some of the transmitters failed before the turn-around point, depriving those in the rear seats of a good part of the narrative. We roamed around Stafford cemetery, were led through the restored Plum Orchard mansion, visited the site of a former wharf at Terrapin Point, and finally stopped at the modest First African Baptist Church. The van returned to Sea Camp about an hour before the last ferry. Since we were leaving the next morning, we opted out of the ranger program and returned to camp to organize our gear.

Wednesday:

We left on the first ferry. I always feel sad watching the island fade into the distance, but dolphins leaping among the waves but a nice touch on the final minutes before arrival in St. Mary’s.

(I’ll add some general thoughts in a reply.)

vcv
Tennessee
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1. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

Additional comments and thoughts—mostly for first-time visitors:

The official website: http://www.nps.gov/cuis/index.htm

Campers need more than three days to fully enjoy even the activities easily accessible from Sea Camp. Several groups were staying a full week, the maximum amount of time allowed. Dungeoness alone can consume a full day as does the Lands and Legacies Tour. Other activities near Sea Camp include attending ranger programs, beachcombing, hiking, shark-tooth collecting, fishing, biking, and just relaxing in this tropical paradise. We had perfect weather with daytime temperatures in the mid-70s and highly recommend November.

Bicycles:

Bikes can be rented at Sea Camp. Also campers may bring their own bikes by chartered boat (charters available from Lang’s Seafood) but not by the public ferry. One couple who rode their own bikes to the church said they wouldn’t again go the expense of bringing their own bikes. The condition of the road varies, sometimes making biking too tedious to enjoy.

The Land and Legacies Tour:

We reserved the tour the week before arriving, bur rangers recommend reserving at least two weeks in advance.

This tour has been controversial. It passes through a wilderness area and was made possible only by removing the road (but not the adjacent land) from the designated wilderness. The tour is offered daily except during managed hunts and makes the north end accessible to people who could not otherwise see that area of the island. (To reach the church from Sea Camp requires biking or a demanding all-day walk. Plum Orchard walk-up tours are currently available Fridays through Tuesdays from 9-12 and 1-4; but Plum Orchard is a 12-mile round trip from Sea Camp, though the Park Service does offer Plum-Orchard-only tours twice a month from St. Mary’s). On the other hand, some consider the van tour the first of a possible series of concessions that will further develop the island. One member of our tour asserted that since residents on the north end drive private cars, she should be allowed to bring a car to the island. Another tourist objected to the rough road and thought it should be paved.

Horses:

All visitors enjoy the horses that roam the island at will, but every ranger we spoke with commented on the damage they do to the ecosystem. Some wilderness advocates would like to see the horses removed, but the rangers seem to feel that a more likely action might be a thinning of the herds.

Day Visitors:

For those who prefer not to camp, the island offers much for a day trip. Some visitors spend all their time at Dungeoness; others disembark from the ferry at Dungeoness and make their way to Sea Camp by way of the beach, road, or River Trail. Drinking water is available at several places at Dungeoness and at Sea Camp, but not in-between. Day visitors should carry canteens and keep hydrated.

For Campers:

On arriving in St. Mary’s, campers may unload gear at the dock but must park in an overnight lot a block away. Gear may then be loaded onto the ferry before a short orientation near the park office. Check-in is on the second floor of the office building, which also has a small gift shop.

Carts are available at the Sea Camp office for carrying belongings from the dock to the campground; campers may bring carts all the way down the boat ramp.

On arrival, backcountry campers receive assignments first. Sea Camp campers then request campsites in the order they made their reservations.

Solar showers are a nice luxury, and the boardwalk to the beach is a popular place to leave them to warm. However, one couple returned from a walk to find theirs had been emptied (presumably by the herds of teens overrunning the island that day).

Campers may buy firewood and ice from the ferry when it is docked. Cages for food storage are available at Sea Camp (and I think Stafford, which also has cold showers). A ratsack would offer additional security from the raccoons that have apparently leaned all sorts of tricks for raiding food supplies.

Flashlights are essential (a camp lantern is also nice). One ranger mentioned a camper’s having recently stepped on a diamondback rattler when walking around in the dark; fortunately he wasn’t bitten.

Insects and sun:

Though insects weren’t a problem this month, ticks can be found year round. Plenty of repellant is highly recommended. And of course sunscreen is essential.

Mainland food and lodging:

We stayed at the reasonably priced Cumberland Inn and Suites the night before heading to the island, a 3-mile drive from the dock. St. Mary’s also has numerous b & bs. The hotel across from the dock is convenient but has recently received negative reviews.

We enjoyed good seafood meals at St. Mary’s Seafood (a pub-like atmosphere with local memorabilia on the walls) and at Lang’s Seafood (a bright atmosphere right on the waterway and near the park office).

Mississippi
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2. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

Thanks for a great TR. I always wanted to visit Cumberland Island but my wife does not like camping. I think she would enjoy Greyfield though. Thanks again.

http://www.greyfieldinn.com/

Atlanta, Georgia
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3. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

Thanks for the trip report. Sounds like a great trip. I love the beauty of Cumberland and the other coastal islands of Georgia.

Ohio
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4. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

Your TR makes it sound lovely! Maybe a day trip for me. I am past being interested in camping! (I know-I know- I've gotten lazy in my old age!) :) It's nice to have some coastal areas still left without the mar of commercial madness!

vcv
Tennessee
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5. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Of course I realized I'd misspelled Dungeness right after my edit time had expired.

Axle, I imagine all of us would enjoy Greyfield, but Sea Camp is more within my budget! : )

Peachbelle, the only problem I have getting to CI is driving through Atlanta; but I survived 4 times this fall!

Wings, you'd get wonderful photos from CI. I think you'd really enjoy a day trip there, especially in fall or spring.

Atlanta, Georgia
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6. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

If you can handle Atlanta traffic then you will have no problem driving GTTSR in Glacier next summer!!!

little rock arkansas
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7. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

We have camped for years at Cumberland. I recommend Stafford campsite, a 4 mile backpack to an amazing site just over the dunes from the beach, which now has a bathroom and shower. From there you can day hike much of the island to great trails like Willow Pond and Duck House. I also like hiking to Brickhill Bluff campsite which allows a hike to the north end. We like the Roller Coaster trail up there. We like Nov-Dec camping as they are fairly bug free times and the weather is usually decent. We swam in the ocean this Thanksgiving. If you stay at Sea Camp, try to hike to Dungeness by sunrise and in the fields north of the bath room and the old Carnegie garage, you can see some white deer grazing as the sun comes up. Saw a white doe twice about 7 a.m. this week. At that hour, the dunes near a boardwalk at Dungeness on river, is a good place to try to see a bobcat though they are hard to spot. I have only seen one in 6 tries. We have mostly camped but have also stayed at Greyfield. It is really an interesting experience - extremely high priced but somehow worth it. I did it for an anniversary surprise for my family and am glad I did. They also have a deal where you can have dinner there and/or arrange a day trip to save the cost of lodging. They offer fishing gear, kayaks, bicycles, great food, a nature specialist etc. The old Carnegie mansion is plenty cool.

vcv
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8. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

Great tips, JimJade. I like the Stafford site also, though I haven't camped there since it was "remodeled." I've stayed at Hickory Hill and Yankee Paradis too, but Brickhill Bluff may be the prettiest backcountry site of all and definitely more convenient to other attractions at the north end.

I've never seen deer on the island but will try your Dungeness walk at dawn the next time I'm there.

Your Greyfield experience sounds really intriguing--am grad you had a good visit there.

little rock arkansas
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9. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

I'm interested in learning more about the newly acquired houses by the National Park Service. I understand there are six of them, including the old caretaker's home at Dungeness. VCV says that one of these properties is now available to hikers to visit. Where exactly is that? Is it just above the visitor's center at sea camp? Is that the case for all of the six? I saw two more of these new acquisitions (by the large govt dock below Stafford House) and they still had "private property" signs on them. I did not get the chance to inquire of the rangers as to whether visitors can now just walk around these newly acquired properties. I did prowl the old caretaker's property at Dungeness and found its boathouse pretty interesting.

A couple notes about kayaking in case someone is interested in the future: We used the Greyfield kayaks for two pretty good trips. The first we put in behind Dungeness and paddled down the small river to the southern tip of the island and around the island then back up to Greyfield. This allowed us to hunt for sharks' teeth along the lower tip of the island where they are said to collect. We had fair luck. The better trip was north from Greyfield along the shore up to a large govt dock and back. We were tucked in between marshes and the shore and the large and various water fowl at every turn were pretty amazing. Both trips are best (and in some cases only possible) near high tide (and at early morning for best birding) if the two should coincide. Work out the best times with the rangers and avoid the trips altogether during high winds.

Asheville, North...
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10. Re: TR: Cumberland Island

I am over camping even in a magical place like Cumberland Island.. the Greyfield Inn is a special place if at all possible stay in the main house... it is rather like time travel back to the Edwardian era.. I loved every second I was there an would like very much to return