Cumberland Island Guide – Georgia’s National Seashore

Cumberland Island Guide - Ferry Dock
The Cumberland Island Ferry dock in St. Marys, Georgia.

Have you read about the Top 10 reasons for visiting Cumberland Island? Now let’s look at the logistics! The process of visiting the island can be a bit difficult. Ferry tickets and camping permits need to be acquired separately months in advance. On the day of your journey, you must check in and collect your permits from the visitor center, gather and load your gear onto the ferry boat, and park your vehicle. This all takes place in less than an hour and the dock, visitor center, and overnight parking areas are not directly adjacent to one another. This Cumberland Island guide is written to make the journey easier.

Cumberland Island Guide Quick Links

Seasons – Cumberland Island Guide

The best time for visiting Cumberland Island will depend greatly on what you desire out of your journey and how many bugs you are willing to endure. The mosquitos and biting flies can be brutal for much of the year.

December thru February

A great time to explore the island. The weather is cooler and the bugs are minimal allowing for the full exploration of the interior of the island. This is prime backpacking season. The colder weather however makes the beach a little less appealing. The shorter days also give you less daylight to explore.

Main Road Wild Horse
A wild horse walks the main road on the interior of Cumberland Island.

May thru October

Cumberland Island will have warm to hot days making it ideal for swimming. The bugs on the interior of the island will most likely be overwhelming making it more difficult to explore the historical structures and trails. Bring an umbrella so that you can spend the hottest part of the day on the beach in the shade where the exposure will keep the bugs at bay. This is also the Loggerhead Turtle season making it a great time to visit.

March thru April and October thru November

The shoulder seasons are less ideal for visiting Cumberland Island. These months can be very buggy and aren’t especially warm, making the option of swimming less appealing. If it is windy the bugs will be less but if the air is static expect to be swarmed.

Camping Reservations

Sea Camp Campfire
The Sea Camp allows for campfires and we took full advantage of this while visiting Cumberland Island.

Camping on Cumberland Island requires a permit. Permits are released on a 6-month rolling window. They become available 6-months to the day in advance. It is recommended that you bring a printed copy of your permit with you when you check-in at the ferry station but the parks service will usually print a permit for you to be hung at your campsite. When you arrive on the island a ranger will give an orientation to all campers before you are allowed to head to your campsite.

Park Fee – Cumberland Island Guide

When you check-in at the Cumberland Island visitor center you will also need to pay the park’s entrance fee. As of early 2021, the fee is $10 per adult. National Park passes are accepted for as many as four visitors so make sure you bring your pass with you when checking in and carry your pass to the island. It is common to be checked by the rangers on the island as visitors can arrive by personal watercraft.

Cumberland Island Sailboat
A personal sailboat in the intercostal waterway near Cumberland Island.

Getting to the Island

If you own your own boat you can anchor offshore and dock on the island during the day. For those of us who do not own a boat, there is a ferry concessionary. The ferry runs between the quaint town of St. Marys, Georgia on the mainland and Cumberland Island. Tickets can be purchased up to 6 months in advance. The ferry doesn’t run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from December thru February. This is important to keep in mind when planning a camping trip which is highly recommended. If you choose to bring your own bike you will need to reserve a bike spot on the ferry when reserving your ticket.

Cumberland Island Ferry with Bike
Jennifer unloads her bike from the Cumberland Island Ferry.

Parking – Cumberland Island Guide

Cumberland Island Guide - Visitor Center
The Cumberland Island Visitor Center in St. Marys, Georgia.

Temporary parking is available on the street in front of the visitor center. There is also 15-minute parking available at the ferry dock (east of the visitor center) for unloading and loading of your gear. But the overnight parking lot is located to the west of the visitor center in a dirt lot covered by large oak trees. All three parking areas are marked on the Google Map below.

Cumberland Island Cell Service

Verizon works on most of the island’s western side as well as the east side beach, but it is less reliable inside the trees on the eastern side of the island. This is good because, along with safety, this allows the park to convey information about many of the historic sites digitally, which they do through QR codes posted in the Dungeness area. T-mobile and AT&T are more spotty on Cumberland Island so bring a friend with you who has Verizon. 🙂

Live Oak
The Live Oak trees permeate the heart of Cumberland Island.

Food

There is no commercial food available on Cumberland Island so make sure you pack enough food for your visit. St. Marys, Georgia is the gateway to Cumberland Island and it is a quaint spot to relax after your journey to the island. The River Side Cafe is a Greek-inspired restaurant and a great place to refuel back on the mainland.

Ghost Crab
A large Ghost Crab sifts the sand on Cumberland Island for food.

Drinking-Water

Wilderness Water Pump
One of the non-potable water pumps found in the wilderness campgrounds on Cumberland Island.

Most of the campgrounds have access to water but only Sea Camp’s water is filtered. In addition, the ranger station at Sea Camp Dock also has a filtered water station.

Toilets

There are numerous public toilets found on the south side of the island. Sea Camp and Sea Camp Dock both have flush toilets. There are also flush toilets at the Ice Museum and in the village area to the east of the Dungeness ruins.

Campgrounds/Accommodation – Cumberland Island Guide

There is so much to see and do on Cumberland Island that we highly recommend spending a few days on the island. While the park has a seven-night limit, three or four days is plenty of time to see everything the island has to offer. Depending on how much exploring you wish to do or the level of isolation you seek will determine the campground that is best for you.

Sea Camp

Sea Camp Hammock
Jake relaxes in a hammock at our Sea Camp campsite.

Sea Camp is the main campground and very nice. It is located at the narrowest point on the island making it about a half a mile journey from the inlet-side Sea Camp Dock to the oceanside campground. The campground has flush toilets, potable water (filtered), cold showers, bear boxes (there are no bears on the island but these work on raccoons too), and usually allows campfires. It even has some electrical outlets for charging up small devices near the water station. There are even carts on the island to help you transport your gear from the dock to the campground.

The Sea Camp Campground is typically booked very quickly. All the campsites are nice but campsite #9 is our favorite and site #5 is the least desirable. The only negative about the Sea Camp is that campers are often required to take the 10:15 AM ferry back to the mainland, cutting your stay short. It is, however, the closest campground to the majority of the historical ruins.

Stafford Beach Camp

Stafford Beach Camp is located 3.5 miles north of the Sea Camp Dock. You will need to carry all of your gear as the carts aren’t allowed to be taken north. The hike is flat. The Stafford Beach is more secluded and gets fewer day-trippers than Sea Camp does. It also has fire rings, flush toilets, cold showers, and bear boxes. While it does have a spigot for freshwater it needs to be filtered or treated before consumption. This makes for a good campground when wanting easy amenities, a little more isolation, and also wanting to explore the northern part of the island.

Beach Wild Horse
A Cumberland Island Wild Horse grazes on the dune grass overlooking the beach.

The Wilderness Campgrounds

The remaining three campsites (Hickory Hills, Yankee Paradise, & Brickhill Bluff) are considered wilderness campsites and are designed for backpacking or kayaking journeys across the island. The wilderness campgrounds have no real amenities other than water pumps which need to be treated or filter. You are also required to bring your own bear canister or properly hang your food. Hickory Hills is located 5.5 miles north of the Sea Camp Dock, Yankee Paradise is 7.5 miles from the dock, and Brickhill Bluff is 10.5 miles from the dock.

The Bluffs
The Bluffs on the north side of Cumberland Island. The campground is located more than a mile to the south.

Greyfield Inn

Want to stay on Cumberland Island but not down for sleeping on the ground? You can stay at the Greyfield Inn. It is a Carnegie Era Mansion that is still owned and operated by the Carnegie family. Not only do you get a little bit of luxury during your visit but you get to immerse yourself in history.

Visiting Cumberland Island Sunset
The sunsets on the intercostal waterway west of Cumberland Island.

Cumberland Island Guide

Cumberland Island Guide Cover
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Whether you intend to spend a long day on the island, a few days in the Greyfield Inn, or an entire week in the campgrounds, Cumberland Island is a great place to get away from it all. The history and scenery found on this beautiful barrier island is truly unique. If you haven’t checked out our top 10 reasons to visit Cumberland Island make sure you do. Then take this Cumberland Island guide and make your own journey to this amazing place.

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