Driftwood Beach

Located on the U.S. Atlantic coast, Driftwood Beach immediately strikes you as a special place. Although it is one of many beaches in Georgia’s barrier islands, it stands out for the large, toppled trees that cover the sandy landscape.

Ocean tides and storms continually shape this Jekyll Island beach. Over the years the sand has eroded; removing the foundation for the roots to take hold, causing the trees to fall over.

I visited this unusual beach last week, following a family celebration.

The name implies ocean-drifted wood, but the trees that dominate the sandy expanse are not actually driftwood. They are prostrate pine, oak, and palm trees. This tree below, probably once an oak, still has the rootball intact.

The nature of coastal barrier islands is protection. There are approximately 14 barrier islands along the coast of Georgia, all of them coastal landforms created by waves and tidal action. The small islands, like Jekyll Island, take the brunt of the ocean’s wrath, protecting the mainland.

Jekyll Island is only seven miles (11 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide. While there are some hotels and human developments from various eras, there is a handsome array of natural sand dunes, marshes and wild habitats, attracting a wide array of wildlife.

My sister Nan spotted this skink on the trail leading to Driftwood Beach.

While many of the dead trees lie on the sand, there are also some dead ones that haven’t yet fallen. Giant, whole trees are standing, but lifeless.

My sister beside this tree demonstrates how huge the dead, standing tree is. Someday it will fall, but for now it remains solidly anchored in this spot.

There were dozens of dead trees dominating the beach. It was a unique sight. Most trees remained big and strong, not broken apart, and in spite of being leafless, they retained a proud elegance in their shapely limbs and roots.

Beachgoers strolled around the trees, some climbed on the trees, some sunbathed beside them, and children built sand castles in the fine, wet sand. Some people even host weddings here.

Osprey and pelicans sailed by. Willets and sandpipers scurried on the sand and rocks, while wading birds foraged on the adjacent marsh.

Across the waterway (St. Simons Sound) you can see another barrier island, St. Simon’s Island. Through this channel, cargo ships deliver goods, primarily automobiles. The yellow, arched structure seen from Jekyll Island is a giant crane. It’s one of the first things you see when you come out of the palmetto-studded trail and look out to sea.

The crane is straddling the shipwreck of the Golden Ray, a cargo ship that was carrying 4,200 cars when it capsized two years ago. The ship was improperly loaded and tipped over. Fortunately there were no fatalities, and clean-up of the shipwreck is nearly complete. The rusty heap to the right of the crane is what is left, and being cut, of the Golden Ray.

More Info: Golden Ray Wikipedia

More Info: Golden Isles of Georgia Wikipedia

We had a glorious day of ease and pleasure on Jekyll Island, watching birds, turtles, crabs, passing ships and ever-moving tides. But I’ll tell you more about this beautiful island another time.

For now, we’ll just bask in the briny air, expansive ocean, and lazing fallen trees of Driftwood Beach.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

84 thoughts on “Driftwood Beach

  1. Really interesting place. Old trees can have such artsy forms. Love the skink and the birds. I remember reading about the Golden Ray capsizing. What a costly mess.

    • It was fun to bring you Driftwood Beach, Timothy, especially since you so often bring us those marvelous trees and Rio Grande photos. The Golden Ray capsizing was indeed big news, and they’ve been steadily cleaning it up for two years, nearing the end, thanks to a lot of human effort. Thanks Timothy.

  2. A lovely narrative and great photos! I enjoyed all the species of birds, none of which I’ve ever seen before. Also, interesting anecdote about the shipwreck. I don’t remember hearing about that happening, and I can’t even imagine how huge of a mess it must be to clean up.

    • Those were really special bird species, Diana, so I’m glad you enjoyed them. Where I live we don’t have the wood storks, white ibis, or roseate spoonbill; they’re birds that live in the southeast U.S. So I’m not surprised they were new to you. Thanks for your visit and comment, much appreciated.

    • Dear Wayne, what a pleasure it is to lead you on this adventure to Driftwood Beach. It’s about as far away on the continent from you as one can get. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for your lovely visit.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this island with us, Jet. My dad took us there at least one summer when I was young. I don’t remember details much but I have always had a pleasant feeling when I heard the name. Was it the Spanish moss, the one distinct memory I have? Or is the sound of the name itself? (I am a word person!) Or is it just a under-the-surface feeling of contentment of being out in nature with my dad? I am so glad that you and Athena got to go there with family. It does seem like a wonderful island for families to gather.

    • I enjoyed your words here, LuAnne, thank you. I think your past experience on Jekyll Island, felt with a warmth for the memory, are all a combination of the beauty of the island and your times with your dad, nature and the Spanish moss. The Spanish moss is positively enchanting, and the beaches, the creatures, and the slowly waving sea grass are delightful. I, too, am a word person. And while I was there I kept thinking about one of my favorite novellas, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robt. Louis Stevenson. Of course the name Jekyll is not connected at all, but that was the word that had hold of me. fun. My warmest thanks for your words and visit, LuAnne.

  4. A fascinating example of how coastlines are constantly changing, with the sea taking away what it probably gave millennia ago. Glad you had a chance to get away for a bit of a change of pace, it has probably felt like too long!

    • Yes, you’re right, Eliza. The Georgia coastlines are fascinating with their ever-changing nature. It was great to see my (vaccinated) family, and it was surreal to travel. Having been relatively homebound for 1.5 yrs with the pandemic, and living in the Bay Area where the majority vaccinate and mask, it was strange to be out and about in a land that is very different. Mostly I was reluctant and nervous about being around people, and we only went to outdoor venues and ate food we brought from home. I do love to travel, though, and it all came back to me…like riding a bike. My warmest thanks, always a delight to “see” you, Eliza.

    • Yes, the capsized cargo ship was a big deal, and having been there I could really appreciate how much work has been done since to clean it up. Those big cargo ships go through that channel all day long and they are incredibly gigantic. Athena got some good photos of them, for a different post. All the workers on board escaped except for four in the engine room, who were trapped for a few days. But they did eventually get rescued and survived, fortunately. Hey Jan, great to have you stop by. And isn’t all the rain this week fantastic?

  5. This is a beautiful post, Jet. The driftwood is artwork in itself, and then you have all those birds improving the view! It was a good idea to have a person standing at the base of that huge tree for a size comparison. It really shows the height of the tree. I would never have thought it was so tall.

    • My warmest thanks for your lovely comment, Anneli. It was great fun bringing the joys of Driftwood Beach to you, and I’m glad you enjoyed those birds. We saw eastern bluebirds here too, not the same shades of color as our westerns, but beautiful bluebirds. Watched an osprey diving which was super, too. Thanks very much for your time and words, much appreciated.

  6. Sounds like an ideal way to spend a day, Jet. I am always impressed with how beautiful dead trees can be, whether they are found on a beach or in a mountain wilderness. They are always a favorite subject of mine for photography. –Curt

    • Delightful to have you stop by, Curt. It was an ideal way to spend the day. If dead trees are a photography specialty with you, indeed you would love Driftwood Beach, Curt. I know Georgia is quite far from where you live, but if you are ever on the east coast, I recommend this spot on Jekyll Island, you will like it. But check the tide tables first, it’s more submerged at high tides. Many thanks.

    • Hi M.B.! I’m glad you enjoyed the Driftwood Beach photos. We were so happy to see that gorgeous skink for the one minute it stopped to glimmer for us. My smiles and thanks to you.

  7. Love these shots, Jet. Reminds me of a beach in nearby Edisto, SC that was full of these driftwood trees, many of which were washed away in recent hurricanes. And you saw some Roseate Spoonbills- lucky you. Thanks for bringing me back to living on the SE coast. The barrier islands are magnificent. 🤗

    • It’s always fun to share the U.S. coasts with you, Jane. Usually you and I are on the west coast, but this was fun to share the east coast. We felt really lucky to see the roseate spoonbills. We saw one other one on another day. At this time of year there aren’t too many left in GA, they have already migrated south. They live year-round in FL but not GA. Great fun to have you stop by, thank you.

  8. A fact-filled post, illustrated with beautiful photos. The last part of the post about the Golden Ray motivated me to look further into it. It seems like the ship was plagued with mishaps, even in death when it was cut up into small sections to be sold for scrap.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Hien. Jekyll Island is a terrific place, so it was fun to share it. I’m glad you took some time to check out the Golden Ray disaster, because it is a fascinating story, and you’re right, there were mishaps all the way. Thanks so much.

  9. What an interesting island! A fascinating post, and the strange mix of nature and human activity is exciting – surely a location for a mystery or some mayhem?!
    Thanks, Jet, and I’m looking forward to reading more!

    • When I was on Driftwood Beach I thought of you, pc, because there was so much wood there that it reminded me of your PNW beaches that collect those huge logs. I considered leaving the Golden Ray info out of the post, keeping it naturely, but it was such a prominent part of the landscape that I kept it in. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I have now been to several of the GA barrier islands and each one has quite a bit of mystery and intrigue from the past. I read that America’s banking system, the Federal Reserve, was created in a secret meeting on Jekyll Island, for instance, in 1910. Sounds like a good mystery, espec. combined with a few man-eating alligators and all that Spanish moss. lol. My warmest thanks, pc.

  10. I’m very familiar with the island, it’s a great place to relax or visit al around. Photography becomes beauty in every inch of this island. I have always consider this piece of land a favorite garden of Nature. Thank you, my friend for picking Georgia for your post. 🙂

    • I thought of you while I was in GA, HJ, as I know it’s your state. I think you’re more on the western side though? There was indeed so much beauty in SE GA. I espec. like the swamps and the barrier islands. Truly a beautiful place, your state. Thanks for your lovely comment and visit, my friend.

    • It’s astonishing how different the east coast is from the west coast, Janet. And really fun to adventure there. I am always amazed at how very huge our country is. And happy I could share GA with you, thank you.

  11. Such a unique place to visit. I found a skink once upon a time and it let me hold it and it climbed on me. They seem like snakes with legs, but for some reason I don’t want to hold snakes – I think it’s mostly out of concern they will bite me. Enjoyed all the beautiful bird shots!

    • We were delighted with the reptiles we found in GA, Eilene, and I’m glad you enjoyed the skink. I liked hearing about your skink experience too. Skinks are curious beings, aren’t they? Thank you so much for your visit and comment.

  12. It’s been a fun morning following you along Driftwood Beach and the other intriguing barrier beaches.
    Although little to no vegetation, the remaining trees are truly interesting, great photos all around!
    Thank you for your interesting photos and presentation! hugs, Eddie

    • Always a true pleasure, dear Eddie, to share the beauties of our land with you. Thank you so much for your visit and lovely words. The sun is just starting to rise here, and I am hoping you have a day of peace.

  13. Thanks for the lovely tour and reminders Jet. We vacationed on Jekyll Island a few years when I was a kid, and I have many fond memories, although I’m not sure we visited the driftwood beach. I do remember it being a largely uninhabited island with nature in the spotlight.

  14. Beautiful photos, Athena, and thank you for a wonderful trip down memory lane, Jet! It’s been years since I’ve visited Jekyll Island and St. Simon Island, long before my interest in birds and photography. I had/have family on those islands, I’d love to revisit, this time with my camera!

    • It is easy to imagine you returning to the GA barrier islands, Donna. Great fun you will have with your camera and bird affections and knowledge. My warmest thanks for your visit.

  15. What a great post, Jet!! I was aware of barrier islands along this part of the east coast, but have never been to any of them. Fascinating how the trees still stand….great pics as always from Athena!! Stunning!! Thanks for sharing!

  16. What a beautiful place. We love going there and soaking up the sun and watching the wild life. You give a perfect description.

  17. I enjoyed visiting this unusual, beautiful beach with you, Jet! Our son and daughter-in-law live in Georgia and took us to Jekyll Island back in 2012, but not to Driftwood Beach. That huge dead standing tree your sister is next to is very impressive. I loved all the bird pictures and how they share the branches for resting and surveying the scene. The blue tail on the Five-lined Skink is pretty striking. Love the Willet looking out to sea…

    • So often I have enjoyed vicariously walking on the east coast beaches with you, Barbara, via your blog. So I am delighted I could host you this time. If you ever visit Jekyll Island again, I am certain you will enjoy Driftwood Beach. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  18. Love driftwood although when they are entire trees usually they drifted as the result of some storm damage but that’s just nature at work. The creation of the reservoir I visit often resulted in hundreds of trees being excavated (along with four towns and their residents’ homes being displaced) and there are many along the shoreline such as this one.
    The skink is cool and rhymes with my high school nickname. The tree in the shot with your sister is amazing and surprising that a good gale hasn’t blown it over yet.

    • I am happy you enjoyed Driftwood Beach, Steve, and all the other creatures like the skink. I appreciated the link to your driftwood stump, and found the photos lovely and captivating. Thanks so much.

  19. A wonderful place to spend a day, or even an afternoon! The shore looks pretty untouched, glad the birds find a nice refuge between those stumps.
    have a lovely afternoon, Christie

  20. Looks to be a lovely visit and so very different from the coasts to be found back home. Good to see you’re getting to visit family. Have fun, be healthy and happy!

    • How wonderful to “see” you, Gunta. Yes, the GA coast is so different from “our” coast, but also very lovely. It was great to see family. Covid protocol is very different than the US west coast scene, but we are fully vaccinated and rarely ventured out, and only into a few outdoor venues. This worked well. Sending smiles your way, and thanks.

    • Yes, it is. Here’s the info: “Expect catches of whiting, croaker, spot, saltwater catfish, sharks, stingrays and flounder. A Georgia fishing license is required for any saltwater fishing activities, including crabbing, shrimping and harvesting shellfish.” Thank you for stopping by, SurfFishingSoCal.

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