Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island Ferry Boat Dock, St. Marys, Georgia. Jet in blue shirt and hat.

Cumberland Island National Seashore is a small barrier island off the Atlantic Coast of Georgia. Taking the ferry and spending a day on the island offers a peaceful day trip and a pleasant hike.


Before we even boarded the ferry, wildlife were entertaining us. We noticed a group of fourth graders squealing at something under the dock, they had found about a dozen fiddler crabs in the low-tide mud.


Fiddler Crabs, St. Marys, Georgia


This roseate spoonbill was busy probing the mud, filtering crustaceans in its magnificent bill.

Roseate Spoonbill, St. Marys, Georgia


The ferry ride is about 45 minutes long and cruises past numerous islands and marshes.


The island is only 18 miles (29 km) long. The east side faces the ocean; while the west side faces saltwater marshes and rivers, the Cumberland Sound.


It has a long, peopleless beach where we watched several flocks of royal terns in their winter plumage.

Royal Tern pair, Cumberland Island

Georgia Coast overview

Ferry boat Info

Cumberland Island Wikipedia

Cumberland Sound from Cumberland Island


Cumberland Island is one of Georgia’s 14 major barrier islands–it is the largest. Fortunately for us, most of Georgiaโ€™s barrier islands are protected by state or federal governments.


Barrier islands are coastal landforms that have been formed by tides, waves, wind, sand and other elements. They protect the coastline by forming a barrier, thereby blocking ocean waves and wind from directly hitting the mainland. See graphic at end.


These islands, also known as the Golden Isles, are so named for the rich amber color of the marsh grasses.


While there are many popular tourist attractions on Georgia’s islands, what I like about Cumberland is that it’s refreshingly devoid of tourist facilities and commercialism. There are no stores or concessions here, no golf courses or gift shops, not even garbage cans. You eat and drink what you brought, and pack your garbage out.


The Park Service only allows 300 visitors a day. Most people come just for the day, but there is an inn (prohibitively expensive) and camping available.


The emphasis is on the wilderness and wildlife.


In addition to the barrier islands, Georgia’s coast is comprised of 400,000 acres (1,619 sq. km.) of saltwater marshes. Influenced continuously by the ocean’s tidal action, the marshes flood and drain constantly, bringing in microscopic organisms that enrich the water with oxygen.


Abundant fish, shellfish, plants, insects, and birds are attracted to these waters. Marsh grasses and the shallow waters provide cover for the wildlife.

Saltwater Marsh near Cumberland Island


There is also a maritime forest on Cumberland Island. It has live oak trees curiously stunted by salt air; they are thickly covered with Spanish moss. The area’s ubiquitous saw palmetto plants (in foreground) dominate the forest floor.

Maritime Forest, Cumberland Island


While in this unusual forest, we heard the crashing surf and soon found untouched dunes and the Atlantic.

Sand Dunes and Atlantic Ocean, Cumberland Island


Conservationists have been working for decades to protect this beach, successfully encouraging sea turtles to nest. Last year the National Park Service counted 885 sea turtle nests here. The majority of the nests belonged to the endangered loggerhead turtle.


This pristine beach has not always been protected. One of the most ferocious protectors of the loggerhead turtles is Carol Ruckdeschel, who has lived on Cumberland for decades. The book “Untamed” by Will Harlan outlines the many achievements Carol has made, often single-handedly, in protecting the turtles and other wildlife on Cumberland Island.


Horseshoe crab shells, one jellyfish, and several species of shorebirds dotted the beach. Coconuts, palm trunks and other washed-up detritus were covered with seaweed and barnacles.

Horseshoe crab shell, Cumberland Island


Winds were fierce, so we kept hiking.

Beach hikers, my sister and brother-in-law.


There are other attractions on the island, like the Dungeness Ruins, a fire-ravaged and abandoned estate with much human history, as well as feral horses.

Dungeness Ruins and feral horse


We did not have much time to linger on our mild winter day. The sun sets early in November, and there was only one departing afternoon ferry, it left at 4:45 pm. More ferries are offered in the summer.


After we boarded the ferry, the magic did not end. Those same fourth graders were on board, and when the squealing began, I went over to see what they had found this time. Dolphins.


Then one last parting gift: the setting sun.


As we cruised through the Golden Isles, we were surrounded by miles and miles of golden marsh grasses, lit up like only the sun can do.

Golden Isles, horizontal line through center of image is sunlit golden marsh grasses


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Coastal Landforms, Barrier Island on right. Courtesy Wikipedia.




79 thoughts on “Cumberland Island

  1. I always enjoy your informative descriptions so well accompanied by Athena’s stunning photos. I loved how she captured reflections on the water. My favorite was the roseate spoonbill. You make me want to travel more. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Iโ€™m glad you had a mild winter day to visit – Iโ€™d imagine it could get very challenging in big weather! The stunted trees giving way to an open Atlantic beach sounds a perfect coastal spot, and how wonderful to read about success for loggerheads.
    The golden sunset and dolphin sighting capped a wonderful day of discovery – thanks for sharing!

    • I, too, was so happy to hear about the success of the loggerheads here, pc. It is truly remarkable that this island is a safe nesting place for the turtles, pc. Shrimp trawlers, submarine stations, wealthy partiers, and much, much more have been a challenging opposition over the years. Wonderful to have you along for this visit, my friend, many thanks for your continual visits and support. Have a really fun weekend.

  3. Your post reinforces just how little I know about the southern United States. I had no idea Georgia and Its nearby Cumberland Island provide such wildlife refuge. Athena’s photos as always are stunning. I can almost feel the wind blowing off the sand.

    • I, too, am not very familiar with the southern U.S., Sue. If my sister hadn’t moved to this wilderness wonderland I doubt I would have ever known. We don’t have barrier islands on the west coast of No. Amer., so even this feature was new to me. Really glad to share Cumberland Island with you, thanks so much for your visit today.

    • Us folks out here on the western half of the continent don’t always have a lot of reason to go east, because the west is so beautiful in itself. But I was happy to find Cumberland Island and look forward to visiting more in future. Glad I could share it with you, Craig, thanks for your visit.

  4. It some ways Cumberland is untouched by what is happening in the world. The island is one beautiful place — thanks for sharing

    • Yes, I agree, Bill, Cumberland Island is largely untouched. Additionally, it is great that visitors like you help keep it pristine by picking up the beach garbage and carrying it back to the mainland. Most impressive. Thanks for your visit today, always a joy.

    • How wonderful that I touched on one of your dreams, Eliza. You would like it on Cumberland Island. To get there, you have to board at a small town on the east coast called St. Marys, Georgia. And given your harsh winters, I would recommend winter on Cumberland…it’s magnificent. My warmest thanks.

    • How fun that I could take you on a mini-vacation, Jill. Day trips have a way of doing that, especially when there’s a boat involved. Thank you, Jill, nice to “see” you today.

  5. As always, you did a great job of capturing the essence of Cumberland Island. So glad we could make our maiden voyage there with you and Athena… and that we could re-live it through your post! Can’t wait to go back. Appreciated your links, too.

    • It was great fun researching and learning more about Cumberland Island, Nan. But the really fun part was re-living our day together that day. I can hardly wait to return, either. Always a joy, Nan, thank you.

    • It was odd to see those mighty oaks so stunted. The trunks were still beautiful and strong, but the limbs stayed low, below the canopy where they were protected. Yes, let’s hope those islands continue to be protected, these things have been undone during this administration so we do hold on tight to what we still have. Thanks Jan, always a pleasure.

    • You’re right, Jo, there was a fair amount of exotic wildlife around these parts. Tropical environments…I do love them. Glad to share it with you today, thanks for stopping by.

    • I like that photo of the terns, too, Janet. The royal terns are pretty big birds which made their argument even more pointed. Always a joy to have you stop by, thank you.

    • Now that makes perfect sense, Michael Stephen, a demanding chick. Thanks so much for that. And how lucky that you have the pleasure of commonly seeing this delightful tern. Thank you!

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the Cumberland Island tour, Donna. The royal terns were a joy to watch, and I, too, like Athena’s photo of the royal terns. Thank you, my friend.

  6. I love your description of Cumberland Island and your adventures there. I have lived in Georgia for the majority of my life now and have yet to make it there yet. Based on this, I feel like I must go there. Thank you!

  7. Great introduction to Georgia’s protected islands. Have never been, definitely interested now. Any place that has long beaches with no people, no commercialism or tourism or golf courses, are just the kind of place we love to find ourselves spending time in.

    That’s one gorgeous spoon bill. But the horseshoe crab is the most interesting for us having never seen one of those before. Remindful of a stingray? Gorgeous photos and beautiful descriptions.

    Ahhh dolphins.. we had a wonderful viewing of dolphins on the West coast of Sri Lanka in a place called Kollipitiya.


    • Glad you liked the Cumberland Island visit here, Peta. It’s delightfully devoid of commercialism, you would indeed like it. The horseshoe crabs are fascinating, I’m glad I could introduce you to them. We don’t get them on the US west coast, only the east coast, so every time I go there I am reminded of their beauty. This animal, which is not really a crab, also lives in SE Asia so you may get to see one. Many thanks, as always, for your visit.

  8. What a wonderful day out you had Jet. The salt marsh grass sounds beautiful and the the beach on the other side of the island looked great too. The photo of the Royal Terns is perfectly caught, I love it ๐Ÿ˜Š NowI must look up those Dungeness ruins as we have our own Dungeness here in the Uk, not a building but a unique coastal area on the east coast which I would like to visit – itโ€™s a little bit closer to me than Cumberland Island which of courseI would also love to visit. Your post will do for now ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thank you again.

    • Hi Alastair, Lovely to hear from you. The Georgia Dungeness Ruins are named after the more famous Dungeness in England. Cumberland Island Dungeness was originally a hunting lodge built in 1736, occupied and reacquired, abandoned and burned. Then it was rebuilt by the steel industrialist Carnegie and eventually ruined by fire in 1959. I’m very glad you enjoyed visiting GA with us here, and thank you for your interest and visit — always a treat.

  9. Next time I go to Georgia, I will definitely plan on visiting this place. I love the photographs and descriptions. Interestingly Dungenness is a beach area in Kent, UK….quite different from this island but I wonder if there is a connection.
    I have visited Georgia a lot…as I had very close friends there, and once spent time painting on St. Simon’s Island, but this does look very interesting. The only problem with Georgia is the humidity!:)

    Thank you so much Jet….thinking of you writing:)

    • Cumberland Island’s Dungeness Ruins are named after the more famous Dungeness beach and area in Kent UK. I like how my UK friends are in tune with the name. I am never surprised at how many places in this world you have lived and visited, dear friend, and am happy to hear you spent time painting on nearby St. Simon’s Island. Always a joy to exchange greetings with you Janet, thank you.

  10. Wonderful account of another barrier island I was not aware of. Glad you had an opportunity to make a late-season visit there. We can be thankful to those individuals & organizations helping to preserve it!

    • Glad to hear I had the honor of introducing you to Cumberland Island, Walt. I thought of you while there, lots of fishing going on. And yes, we can indeed be thankful to all those individuals and organizations who helped to preserve it and continue to. My many thanks for your visit and warm words, Walt.

  11. These photos just take away my breath. They are outstanding. I know so little about Georgia, and never heard of Cumberland Island. Now I want to visit this area asap. But in some ways, I already have thanks to you, Jet, and Athena.

  12. Pingback: Cumberland Island National Seashore โ€” Jet Eliot |

  13. What a wonderful post, Jet. I was so close to that place, so many times, but never got to go. It has always fascinated me. The pair of birds was cute, and that pink spoonbill would have fit right in with my current story.
    Thanks for sharing this delightful amazing adventure with us. Hugs on the wing.

    • I’m happy to have had the opportunity to share Cumberland Island with you, Teagan. Your fascination for it is not unfounded, it is a wonderful place. If you’re ever near St. Marys GA again, set aside some time to take the ferry over and enjoy a truly fun adventure. Hugs to you, too, my friend.

    • A perfect delight to have you vicariously along for the Cumberland Island visit, ACI. It’s a beautiful place, I know you would enjoy it. Thanks so much, always fun to hear from you.

  14. Beautiful post, Jet. I never got to Cumberland during the time we lived on the southeastern coast. The maritime forest, beaches and sea life are similar to Kiawah where I used to live. Love that Roseate Spoonbill! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m glad you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the maritime forest, beaches and sea life of the southeastern U.S. coast, Jane. Marvelous place. Many thanks for your visit.

  15. OH how I loved this tour of this magical place, Jet. I can almost smell the fresh air of the ocean. Beautiful pictures, each and every one of them. I am so happy that people like Carol work so hard to preserve the beauty that we do have in this world. From what I am seeing, more and more people are becoming aware of how endangered so much of this world has become and they are doing something about it. Thank you so much again for allowing me to come to a place I will most likely not see in this life.

    • I really enjoyed hearing from you, Amy, as always. Yes, preservation of our natural parks is an ongoing effort. There is a constant friction between people who want to develop land and people who want to preserve nature, and finding that balance is often precarious. We’re lucky to have folks tirelessly working toward preservation. Many thanks.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Cumberland Island post, Kirt. You seem to be more of a west coast traveler, but if you ever do make it to the southeastern coast, I surely do recommend Cumberland. I know you would like it. Many thanks, always a joy to “see” you.

      • Yes most of our travels are up and down the west coast from top to bottom, but we do have good friends in South Carolina and are planning a visit in that direction in the next couple of years! Have a good rest of the week!!

    • Glad you enjoyed the cool oak tree on Cumberland Island, Amy. The whole forest was filled with them, it was really spectacular. We don’t often find oak forests just yards away from the beach. Many thanks for your visits.

  16. Sounds like a great day Jet! I very much like the “refreshingly devoid of tourist facilities and commercialism” The emphasis is on the wilderness and wildlife.” Also, the feathers of the Roseate Spoonbill look like a wedding dress! Very pretty! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I know you would like Cumberland Island, Bertie. I’m glad I could bring this lovely spot in the world to you. And I never tire of the feathers of the Roseate Spoonbill, glad you enjoyed it too. Many thanks and cheers to you.

  17. Hey Jet! How did I miss this? I thought I was keeping a good eye out for it. Athena’s beautiful photos and Your writing captured it all so perfectly!!! Isn’t it AMAZING? I love Cumberland. It’s really lovely down here. We camped there once, years ago, and I am wanting to go back perhaps in the fall or next Spring. Thank You for this! I hope Y’all are well during this crazy time. Stay safe! ๐Ÿค—โค๏ธ๐Ÿ˜Š

    • Oh I’m so glad you got a chance to visit the Cumberland Island post, Katy. And I am so happy you approve of what I presented here, that means a lot since you are so familiar with it. Many thanks for your cheerful message and visit, Katy, great to have you stop by.

      • Always my pleasure, Jet! You’ve lit a fire under me. It’s been brewing in my heart that I need to camp there again soon and Your post solidified that. Yay!!! ๐Ÿค—๐ŸŒ€๐Ÿ˜Š

  18. Informative post on a place I did not know existed. I think going to that island would be a good day long adventure; especially, going to the Dungeness ruins. Thanks again.

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