Your Journey Begins in St Marys, Georgia.
Here you will board the ferry bound for Cumberland Island National Seashore, visit our museum and our visitor center and enjoy learning a bit about the history and nature of the area with purchases made in our small Eastern National run bookstore.
Preserved and protected for future generations, Cumberland Island National Seashore includes a designated Wilderness area, undeveloped beaches, historic sites, cultural ruins, critical habitat and nesting areas, as well as numerous plant and animal communities. Interpretive and educational programs are available and you may hear compelling stories of the many people who have shaped and been shaped by Cumberland Island.
Cumberland Island provides visitors with the opportunity to enjoy numerous different coastal activities, including the following:
Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum
Free and open daily, the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum offers visitors a glimpse into thousands of years of human history related to the island. Here you will see artifacts of daily life from the many peoples who have influenced the island’s history. On display are an American Indian Canoe, Scottish Target (shield), horse drawn carriages, a Tiffany desk set, an anchor lost from an 1815 British bomb ship, and articles of daily life from an enslaved populace.
Visit the ruins of a mansion that was once called Dungeness. First built in 1884, the Dungeness Mansion was intended as a winter home for Thomas Carnegie (younger brother and business partner of Andrew Carnegie), his wife Lucy, and their 9 children. Though Thomas passed away soon after construction, Lucy Carnegie went on to spend more and more time and resources on the island estate. Several additions and remodels were made over the next thirty years. By the time Lucy passed in 1916 the mansion had grown to approximately 35,000 square feet. The mansion caught fire in 1959 and only the brick and stone walls remain.
Plum Orchard Mansion
Construction of the mansion began in 1898, as a wedding gift for George Lauder Carnegie and Margaret Thaw. The architecture firm Peabody & Stearns was employed to design the original home, as well as the additions that were made over the next two decades. The house served as the couple’s primary winter residence until George’s passing in 1921.
Visitors can take a free tour of the 22,000 square foot mansion. On display are the architecture, furnishings, and machinery that made operation of the house possible. Plum Orchard offers a glimpse into Edwardian High Society at the turn of the 20th century and the importance of recreation, indulgence, and rejuvenation in nature. But further exploration tells the story of a family who valued the island, and their time spent with friends and family there.
The First African Baptist Church
This humble, one room church was established in 1893 by African American residents of the island and their families. Some of the founders were born into slavery and emancipated following the American Civil War. The church served as a free place of worship and community center for the Northend community known as the Settlement. The church was rebuilt in the 1930’s. It was the site of the September 1996 wedding of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette.
Ice House Museum
This building was constructed around 1900 during the Carnegie Era. It was designed to store ice that was shipped by barge from New England to Georgia. The ice was shipped in large blocks, cut from frozen lakes and ponds and tightly wrapped in burlap sacks stuffed with straw and sawdust. The Ice house was constructed like a giant cooler, with a thick layer of straw and saw dust insulation. A gabled cupola runs the length of roof and provides an outlet for warm air that accumulates in the upper portions of the building. Once electricity was generated on the island, ice was produced on-island and the Ice House became a storage area. Today, the building has been restored by the National Park Service and converted into a small museum with stories and images from the island’s past. During the renovation of the structure, the tabby foundations of what is believed to be an old general store was discovered. These foundations date back to the early 1800’s and may have been active during the Greene-Miller era.
More than 50 miles of hiking trails and roads meander through maritime forests, interior wetlands, historic districts, marsh ecosystems, and the beautiful beaches. Trails, beach, and roadways (not marked private) are all available for hiking.
Popular trails on the southern end of the island include:
- Dungeness Roadways – a self-guided walk through the Dungeness Historic District
- River Trail – a short walk along the water’s edge between Dungeness Dock and Sea Camp
- Nightingale Trail – offering a view from within the maritime forest
- Parrallel Trail to Little Greyfield Road – walk through the trees, across the dunes, and back down the beach
There are multiple ranger-led guided tours on Cumberland Island. The Footsteps Tour explores the remains of the Dungeness Historic Area, a large industrialist era estate. The Plum Orchard Tour visits an early 1900s home that echoes an opulent era in the island’s history; one of recreation, relaxation, and time spent with family. This 22,000 square foot home offers a glimpse of times gone by.
Beachcombing & Swimming
Cumberland Island is home to 17 miles of undeveloped beach. Plenty of warm sun, blue water, and soft sand greet visitors. Swimming is a very popular activity for day visitors and campers alike. It is a wild beach, so being prepared and taking a few precautions will make for a more enjoyable visit. With miles of undisturbed beach there is always something to find. Some of the best times to explore are following storms when shells have been turned up by the strong surf. There is much to explore and investigate but please remember only fossilized sharks teeth and unoccupied seashells may be collected and taken home.
Biking can be a great way to explore the island; however, please note that there are no paved roads on the island. All roads, including the Main Road, are sandy surfaces. Conditions can vary but often the surface is soft, making riding more difficult and slower. Bikes will need wider tires to be ridable (no thin street tires).
Cumberland Island offers five campgrounds , which include designated campsites at Sea Camp and Stafford Beach; and Wilderness campsites at: Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise and Brickhill Bluff. Camping is only permitted in these five campgrounds. A permit is required to camp in any of these five camping areas.
Cumberland Island offers multiple managed hunts for hog and deer each year on a seasonal basis.
Boating & Kayaking
Visitors are welcome to take their own boats to Cumberland Island. There are currently three docks available for private boats: Dungeness, Plum Orchard, and Sea Camp. Kayaking can be a great way to journey to the island. Kayakers often depart from Crooked River State Park to avoid battling the tide, but some paddlers will launch from St. Marys or Amelia Island as well. Tides are very strong around Cumberland Island, with a rise and fall of 6 to 9 feet twice a day.
The island’s beaches and open fields provide wonderful unobstructed views for stargazing. If you are camping on the island, you have the opportunity to head to the beach, lay in the sand and gaze at the night sky. The best star watching will be during a new moon and looking to the east from the beach.
Anglers enjoy numerous fishing opportunities including stream fishing for trout, bobbing for Blue Gill and Bass in freshwater lakes, shore and deep sea fishing, and gathering shrimp and crabs from the marshes. Fishing is welcome within the boundaries of Cumberland Island National Seashore – including from Sea Camp, Plum Orchard and Dungeness Docks – in a manner which does not interfere with boat and pedestrian traffic.
Opportunities for photography are endless. Numerous historic structures and ruins scatter the island. Sunrise at the beach, sunset over the marsh, tangled vines connecting forest canopies to dappled forest floors, jumbles of Saw Palmetto, gnarled live oak limbs, either bare bones dead or filled with abundant plant life, various animals scurrying about, and interesting cultural and natural features, all provide excellent subjects for photos.
Cumberland Island National Seashore charges a $10 admission fee per adult (16 and older). Children (15 years or younger) are free.