Wild Jekyll Island

It was a fun day romping on this barrier island–hiking through native forests, observing wildlife, and delighting in shoreline discoveries.

The State of Georgia has 14 barrier islands lining the Atlantic coast. They are owned and managed by different entities; vary in size and accessibility. A map at the end outlines all the islands.

Barrier islands are coastal landforms shaped 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.

Salt marshes and maritime forests are important natural features of the barrier islands.

Like all the Georgia barrier islands, Jekyll Island has a rich history of human settlement going back hundreds of years.

But the beauty of Jekyll Island today lies in its ownership and laws. The State of Georgia owns this island, and state laws restrict development to only 35%.

This allows 65% of the island for natural habitat. Stewards of the land have done a great job of protecting the wilderness from human development.

Roughly seven miles long (11 km) and two miles wide (3 km), it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side, and a tidal creek and salt marsh on the western side. It is 5,700 acres (2,307 ha). Map below.

I was impressed with the sand dunes and native sea grass on Jekyll’s oceanside beaches. Often American beaches have been completely cleared of native habitat, succumbing to human establishments like high rises and amusement parks. There are about nine hotels and a few restaurants, but the natural landscape prevails.

The beaches have been preserved with native flora, providing habitat and protected nesting for endangered sea turtles and migrating shorebirds.

We spent a few hours at Driftwood Beach on the north end. It is adjacent to a protected marsh where we saw many thriving waders, songbirds and shorebirds.

The island has many miles of maritime forests, as well. Maritime live oak forests are the dominant woods in Georgia’s southern barrier islands. In addition to the live oaks, so beautifully draped with Spanish moss, there is a variety of hardwood and pine trees.

The understory is alive with unique lichen, ferns, wild blueberries, and the ubiquitous saw palmettos.

We explored Tupelo Trail and Horton Pond. Even in October it was very hot and humid, but still it was an easy hike under a towering canopy complete with mosquitoes, shimmering spider webs and many species of foraging birds.

Signs warned of alligators, but our reptilian experiences were highlighted that day with numerous lizards and skinks, not alligators.

Horton Pond–named after Major William Horton, a land owner here in the 1740s–is a testament to the island’s ongoing conservation efforts. With fund-raising donations and the Jekyll Island Authority, the pond was updated in 2014.

It has a handsome observation deck, providing great views of the entire pond, while protecting the wild denizens.

We saw woodpeckers, songbirds, anhingas, and herons in the pond’s surrounding trees, and dozens of native softshell turtles swimming in the naturally tanic waters.

This softshell turtle is taking advantage of the floating raft anchored in the pond.

We had a great time on the north tip of the island, too. Clam Creek Road offers picnicking and wildlife viewing and an abundant plethora of tidal wildlife. I could easily and joyously have spent the entire day here.

The parking lot at Clam Creek was mellow and not teeming with cars and people, affording us the opportunity to enjoy this boat-tailed grackle bathing (and singing) in a puddle.

There is an extensive fishing pier, here, too. Built in 1969, it is a large T-shaped concrete structure that juts 360 feet (110 m) into the waters of St. Simons Sound. I’ve read there’s good fishing: red drum, spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel, flounder, shark, and more, as well as shrimp and blue crabs.

In the photo below you can see what the pier looks like at most moments. It was low tide, and seemingly quiet and low-key, but there was a lot going on under the surface.

We were having a great time spotting shorebirds and hermit crabs, and all the wildlife who live in this plentiful world.

And then an incredible event happened.

A super giant cargo ship quietly passed by.

The Bravery Ace is 623 feet (190 m) long and 104 feet (32 m) wide. It’s called a Vehicles Carrier, transports thousands of cars and trucks.

You can see how big it is compared to the pier. It stirred the waters as it slowly labored by.

Although we stopped and stared at this magnificent vessel, the gulls didn’t stop picking the dead crabs apart and the shorebirds were undeterred in their feeding frenzy.

I hope to one day return to this Georgia gem. But in the meantime, I have sweet memories of a precious day on Jekyll Island.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Two Jekyll Island websites: Wikipedia and Jekyll Island.com

Sherpa Guides | Georgia | Coast | Jekyll Island
Courtesy Sherpa Guides.com

Georgia’s 14 Barrier Islands, Courtesy herbmiles.com

75 thoughts on “Wild Jekyll Island

  1. This is such a delightful post to read and view its photos. I did not know about Jekyll Island, but now it is on my list should I ever drive down that way! By the way, that cargo ship looks too close for comfort, but that may be just photography. 😃

    • Wonderful to hear you enjoyed the wild side of Jekyll Island, Hien. You would like it there, it’s very birdy and so many photogenic scenes. That cargo ship seemed really close to me, too, I guess that’s why I just stopped what I was engaged in and stared for several minutes. Many thanks.

  2. A very beautiful and special place. I love these photos. Thank you for the tour through these beautiful photos! The Wood Stork is my favorite, I haven’t seen it here or California.

    • I really like that wood stork photo, too, Amy. They’re such hefty birds, I like seeing them up above perched in a tree as if they’re a little songbird flitting by. We don’t see them in most of America, as they live in South America. But they do reside in Florida and some live in GA and migrate south to Florida in winter. A joy to see you, thanks for stopping by.

    • A beautifully briny world, Craig, yes, and truly delightful. I, too, can see you pulling up a chair there. I can imagine your acrobatic writer’s mind would be busy. Many thanks, my friend, much appreciated.

    • That gulf fritillary is wonderful, isn’t it? I like that photo because there are grains of sand on the plant, and of course the butterfly with its curved proboscis is heavenly. Thanks so much, Wayne.

  3. Ever since I first heard of the barrier islands of the Southeast, I’ve wanted to visit. Unsure of the ones that are developed and those that have been protected from development, I’ve never traveled there. Your posts are most enlightening, much appreciated!
    btw, you must have heard about the huge Whimbrel population discovered on a small island off of the Carolinas? Very exciting!

    • I am so glad I could share some of the barrier island magic with you, Eliza. My sister is a recent transplant down there, and she knows Athena and me and how we go for the less populated places. So far she has taken us to two of the barrier islands, both were fantastic. Cumberland is even less developed, and the biggest of the islands; and Jekyll, which I highlighted here and in the Driftwood Beach post, is truly lovely too. I have aspirations of going to others, too. St. Simon’s, she said, is more developed. Thanks for the exciting whimbrel news, I’ll check it out. Eliza, always a pleasure…thank you.

    • I am happy you enjoyed the post, Bill, and happier still that you have had the joy of exploring this wonderful island. I hope it inspires you to pick up your fishing gear and head to that swanky fishing pier. ha. Many thanks.

  4. Definitely looks like a place I’d enjoy and good for them to preserve so much of it. Love the shot of the butterfly. The grackle is so much prettier than the ones we have here. Ours are all grey/black. 🙂 Thanks for sharing a bit of your trip!

    • Yes, I think you would enjoy Jekyll Island, Janet. And yes, that boat-tailed grackle is a beauty, I agree. The lighting was just right, which helps. Always a joy to see you here, thanks for stopping by.

    • It’s easy for me to picture you here on Jekyll Island, Anneli. The wildlife is really a joy, and the land stewards have done a good job of protecting the wildlife, so they continue migrating here and reproducing. Thanks so much for your visit and words, Anneli.

    • I hope you do someday see a roseate spoonbill and wood stork, Deborah. The reds and pinks on the spoonbill are so vibrant and that bill is so cool. It’s really fun to watch them use their bill as they feed. And the wood storks are so enormous, they are delightful to observe as well. Many thanks, Deborah.

  5. Jet, just the barrier reefs in of themselves you could spend months exploring. LOVED your pictures of Jekyll Island and the historical overview you gave. I love to explore and sometime in the future travel is on my list to do. My brother who lives in Georgia is always going to Jekyll Island and sending me pictures from there. I have to admit Alexander’s images I enjoyed so much more then my brother’s. But please don’t tell him that! Thank you both so much for sharing this place with us. (smile) xo

    • I am so glad to hear your brother lives near and visits Jekyll Island, Amy. I am quite certain there will be a day when you get to visit there with him. He probably knows many good places to explore. In the meantime, I’m glad I could share the island with you here. Thank you so much. BTW Get him to take you to the Okefenokee Swamp, too. Sending smiles back to you.

  6. Wonderful post (again). Informative and beautiful. Conservation is a term that has dropped out of parlance, replaced by ecological/environmental lingo. But saving what we have, not wasting things, conserving, preserving the gifts of nature. EO Wilson sets 50% as minimum portion of uncultivated land that must be preserved in order to support sufficient biodiversity to allow the present scheme to be sustained.

  7. It is wild! Lots to see here, and I liked reading it hasn’t been overdeveloped. The storks are striking, and the bathing bird singing a tune was fun. Not too sure I’d enjoy wandering through an area posted with alligator warnings…
    Thanks for another good one, Jet!

    • You know how it is with the outdoors, pc, we gravitate to the wild sections and tend to overlook or ignore the human development. Fortunately, Jekyll Island is well managed. The storks really are striking–your word but I like it–in their stately tallness. The bathing grackle was great fun, making the most out of a parking lot puddle. Thanks so much for joining us on Jekyll Island, it is always a pleasure to see you, pc.

  8. So nice to see this sort of conservation/restoration happening.
    Loved the stork with what appears to be attitude!
    What a fascinating place, but I’m pretty sure the alligator warning would have done me in right from the get go. 😲
    Such an adventure! Thanks for taking us along! 🙏

    • I’m delighted you vicariously enjoyed the Jekyll Island adventure, Gunta. It’s always fun to see the wildlife on the other coast of our country, and a complete joy to share it with you. My warmest thanks.

  9. Thank you for your in-depth tour of Jekyll and its wild, natural state. We vacationed on Jekyll a couple of times when I was young. It was my favorite island and beach even though I didn’t explore as you have.

  10. Jet, you always burst my bubble. Every time I think I certainly have learned, read, or watched of every animal, you teach that I am wrong. So, somehow, I look forward to being wrong, and also I expect it now. Its okay. I forgive you and also thank you.

    • I am smiling, Dawn Renee. Thanks very much for both your visits. The beauty of wildlife and the natural world is that there is always something new to learn. It will keep us on our toes always. I’m glad you stopped by, had a chance to take a look at Jekyll Island with me.

  11. What a beautiful place! Our son and daughter-in-law took us to Jekyll Island nearly a decade ago and I remember loving the pristine sand dunes on the ocean side. It’s good to know that development is restricted to 35%. I love the wood stork standing on the driftwood. And the boat-tailed grackle singing and bathing in the puddle. And the willet looking out to sea. The huge vehicles carrier ship was a striking reminder of how close civilization is to nature. Thank you so much for sharing the highlights of your wonderful day on Jekyll Island.

    • Yes, I agree, Barbara, how wonderful to know that development on Jekyll Island is restricted to 35%. We are fortunate there are so many people devoted to making and enforcing stringent laws to protect our wildlife. I am also glad you have visited this beautiful little island. I, like you, found those pristine sand dunes truly special. The wood stork was in a dead tree, and there were several lined up along Driftwood Beach, and it was great to see. I especially liked that photo Athena took of the one by itself. We don’t have wood storks on the western side of the country. I am happy you enjoyed the other photos too, and thank you, Barbara, for coming by and sharing the experience.

  12. What a gorgeous place Jet! Now that it’s almost winter it’s delightful to see greenery and wildlife – hopefully spring will come soon!

    • Sometimes those warm venues and photos really do help brighten up a cold or dreary day. I am glad you enjoyed the Jekyll Island photos and post, Meg. Thank you very much.

  13. I always love reading about your outdoor adventures, Jet. Jekyll & other barrier islands that are well-preserved are fascinating places to observe wild nature & be taken by the beauty. Thanks for sharing another excellent trip!

    • It was truly a pleasure to share the beauties of Jekyll Island with you, Walt. I know you would like it there, lots of fishing and wildlife. I was just watching Monday Night Football in Buffalo tonight. Oh my, sooo frigid and blustery. I hope Jekyll Island photos thawed out your NY bones a bit!

  14. The image of the boat-tailed Grackle is an amazing shot by Athena. It’s eye look so wide. Jekyll Island looks so peaceful and well maintained. Great there has been conservation efforts, and it would probably be why some wildlife still call this place home.

    • Lovely to have you stop by today, Mabel, thank you. Thanks for your appreciation of the boat-tailed grackle photo. Athena had to approach for photographing by peering around the back of the car and quickly snapping while he was still in the bathing process. It was tricky and quick, and your recognition of that is appreciated.

  15. It is such fun to read your reflections of adventures we’ve had together – they’re so rich and detailed! Almost as much fun as the many adventures we’ve shared themselves! Almost.

    • The fun of writing about our adventures together, dear Nan, is that I vicariously get to enjoy the experience again. It was great fun adventuring Jekyll Island with you. You did a great job of finding the venues where wilderness was most abundant, driving us around and delivering us to these spots, trekking across sand and trails and into the mosquitoes without a complaint, and staying alert and attentive and spotting the wildlife. My warmest thanks and love to you.

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