Plan an Epic Cumberland Island Day Trip: Tips & Tricks for Visiting the Island

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Picture this: standing on the edge of a secluded beach on the Atlantic Ocean, with the tide lapping against your feet and wild horses neighing in the distance. It’s possible, and this place exists! If you’re looking for an unforgettable adventure and a day trip to remember, then plan your ultimate day trip to Cumberland Island.

This guide will provide tips and tricks for visiting this stunning barrier island off the coast of Georgia, so read on and start planning!

Is A Day Trip to Cumberland Island Worth It?

Yes, a day trip to Cumberland Island is absolutely worth it!

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an outdoor adventurer, or just looking for some peace and quiet in one of Georgia’s most beautiful places, you’ll find all these things and more on this south Georgia barrier island.

The island offers the perfect opportunity to explore its stunning undeveloped beaches, take in breathtaking views of the marshlands, and observe the wild horses and other creatures that roam freely across the island.

Plus, there are plenty of historic attractions and activities waiting to be explored. With its unique mix of nature and history, Cumberland Island is truly a must-visit destination for any traveler looking for an unforgettable day trip experience.

Now that you know how wonderful Cumberland Island can be, why not plan your own day trip?

Cumberland Island Day Trip Ideas

A day trip to Cumberland Island is the perfect way to get away and experience some of Georgia’s most beautiful scenery. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach day or an adventurous wildlife viewing experience, there are plenty of activities and attractions to enjoy on the island.

Make sure to plan ahead and book your ferry ticket in advance so you don’t miss out!

Once on the island, take some time to explore its stunning beaches and observe the wild horses that roam freely across its terrain.

Dive into history and explore the iconic Plum Orchard Mansion and Dungeness ruins! Experience the one-of-a-kind blend of nature and history on Cumberland Island!

Cumberland Island provides an unforgettable day trip experience unlike any other. From its beautiful beaches and wild horses to its historic sites, there is something for everyone to explore and appreciate on the island. And that’s not all – Cumberland Island Lands and Legacies Tour allows visitors to delve even deeper into the island’s intriguing history with a guided tour of some of its most iconic sights.

1) Join a Lands and Legacies Tour

The Cumberland Island Lands and Legacies Tour is a great way to learn more about the island’s past as you explore its present without having to plan a thing after you book your ticket.

This guided tour offers visitors an exclusive glimpse into some of the most beloved spots on the island, such as Plum Orchard Mansion and Dungeness ruins.

Enjoy a leisurely (but sometimes bumpy) drive in an air-conditioned van while your knowledgeable guide shares stories about the island’s unique history.

Catch glimpses of the wild horses on Cumberland Island that roam freely across the terrain.

The tour lasts approximately 5-6 hours, giving you plenty of time to soak up all that Cumberland has to offer. Traveling by van, you’ll reach spots many other visitors never visit, like the Settlement and First African Baptist Church towards the northern end of the island.

Taking the Lands and Legacies tour allows you to learn so much more about the island than you likely would while exploring on your own. The tour guides really possess an absolute wealth of information.

A person walking a dirt road approaching the burned ruins of the Dungeness Mansion on a Cumberland Island day trip.
Approaching the Dungeness Ruins

2) Take a Guided “Footsteps” Walking Tour

Cumberland Island is full of fascinating history and breathtaking natural beauty, so why not get the most out of your day trip by taking a guided walking tour?

These ” Footsteps” tours are free to visitors and led by knowledgeable park rangers and volunteers who will take you through the southern part of the island’s historic sites and share their insight into its past. Tour highlights include Dungeness Ruins and depart from the ferry docks after you arrive on the island.

You will have to be able to walk a distance, as the tour typically covers 1-1.5 miles and is not a loop. You’ll have to walk a similar distance to return to the ferry dock after the tour ends.

Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to spot some of Cumberland Island’s feral horses, armadillos, and other native wildlife on the 1-1.5 hour tour.

Whether you’re interested in learning about the island’s history or just want to soak up its beauty, a guided walking tour is an excellent way to make the most of your time on Cumberland Island!

3) Enjoy a Cumberland Island Beach Day

Cumberland Island National Seashore is a great place for beach lovers to spend the day undisturbed.

With miles of unspoiled coastline, it’s easy to find a secluded spot to relax and soak up some sun.

The beaches here offer plenty of activities for everyone in your group, from taking a leisurely stroll along the shoreline to swimming in the Atlantic waters.

There aren’t any facilities on the beach, so bring everything you’ll need to be self-sufficient for the day. Carts can be rented to wheel your things to the Sea Camp beach if you’re not able to carry everything. You definitely don’t want to forget your sunscreen!

With its endless possibilities for adventure and relaxation, Cumberland Island is sure to be an unforgettable beach day destination.

The wide, undeveloped beaches on Cumberland Island
We found a spot on Cumberland Island’s beaches where we couldn’t see another soul for the afternoon!

4) Hike to Dungeness and the South End Trail

Creating a loop by exploring the ruins and the beach is a perfect way to explore the beauty of Cumberland Island’s wildlife, breathtaking waterfront views, and historic sites.

The loop is about 4.3 miles long and typically takes at least three hours to complete. If you walk south on the beach to where you can see Amelia Island on a clear day, you could add another mile.

Along the trail, you’ll be able to take in the natural sights as you hike through majestic live oak trees, saw palmettos, and salt marshes.

Be sure to keep an eye out for some of the island’s wildlife such as deer, wild horses, wild hogs, armadillos, sea turtles, and nesting birds! While some of these creatures are much easier to see than others, all can be found on Cumberland Island.

As you make your way around the loop, be sure to spend plenty of time wandering around Dungeness Ruins, imagining what it was like to visit when the mansion was in peak condition! After exploring these ruins, you can take the boardwalk out to the wide, undeveloped beach.

You can walk the length of the beach north to the sea camp area, where a trail crosses back to the other side of the island to board the ferry for your return trip to the mainland.

5) Take a Bike Ride North to Plum Orchard Mansion

Enjoy an adventurous day out and explore Cumberland Island by bike – all the way to the Plum Orchard Mansion!

The entire round-trip ride is about 14 miles long and takes about three to five hours, depending on your skill level and how often you stop along the way. You’ll have to bring your own bicycle, and you can transport it on the ferry for an extra $10 fee.

Once you’re on the island, begin your journey by following the main road north until you reach the drive for the Plum Orchard Mansion. Keep an eye out for wild horses as they roam freely across the terrain!

Once you reach Plum Orchard Mansion, enjoy its grandeur with a leisurely stroll before making your way back down south. Tours of the inside of the mansion are offered three times daily (except during the island’s hunting season).

The tour lasts less than an hour but takes you through many of the rooms inside the mansion. There is even a swimming pool inside! 

After your tour of the mansion, you can enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the outdoor picnic tables nestled under the large live oak trees before making your return trip to the dock area.

The large Plum Orchard Mansion has been preserved and restored for limited tours, a perfect thing to do on a Cumberland Island day trip.
You can wander the grounds of the Plum Orchard Mansion or go inside on a limited guided tour.

How to Get to Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island is located off the coast of southern Georgia, but you can’t just drive to it. The only way to access it is by boat.

The best way to get there is on the passenger ferry from St Marys, Georgia. Purchase tickets ahead of time to reserve your space on the ferry.

When you arrive at the dock in St Marys, you can sometimes purchase same-day tickets for the ferry from the Cumberland Island Visitor Center. This option may not always be available, as the ferry can sell out during busier seasons.

The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes and offers stunning views of the waterways and coastline as you approach the island. Once you arrive on Cumberland Island, you can explore its miles of hiking trails, pristine beaches, and maritime forests.

Cumberland Island Ferry: Know Before You Go

Visiting Cumberland Island is the perfect way to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. To get there, you’ll need to take the ferry from St Marys, Georgia. Here are some tips to make your journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible:

First off, book your tickets in advance for the smoothest trip (although this is weather dependent, too)! There are only two departures per day during the summer and even fewer during the slower seasons. It’s always best to reserve ferry tickets as early as possible. You’ll need to purchase a ticket for both the trip out to the island and your return trip to St. Marys.

Also, keep in mind that the separate $10 admission fee for the Cumberland Island National Seashore can only be paid upon arrival at the Visitor Center in St Marys. Signs with QR codes and directions can be found at the visitor center.

When you arrive at St Marys, you’ll find plenty of parking available nearby and a few restaurants worth checking out before your departure, if you’re hungry. The ride takes about 45 minutes and provides stunning views – so don’t forget your camera!

If you’re camping or transporting equipment for an extended beach day, you’ll be able to take all this on the ferry at no extra charge. Bikes can also be transported on the ferry for you to enjoy on Cumberland Island, but there is a fee of $10 per bicycle to transport. 

Where To Catch the Ferry?

The ferry to Cumberland Island departs from St. Marys, Georgia. Even with advance reservations, the National Park Service (NPS) advises people to check in one hour before the ferry departs, so make sure you leave plenty of time!

St. Marys is a small town, but there are a few restaurants and overnight places to stay if you’d rather stay overnight on the mainland. 

You should allow time to travel to St. Marys, and suggested travel times include:

  • Amelia Island: 45 minutes
  • Jacksonville (center): 45 minutes
  • Savannah: 2 hours
  • Atlanta: 5 hours
Hop aboard the Cumberland Island Ferry, the best way to get to the island on a day trip.
The Cumberland Island Ferry approaches the Sea Camp dock.

How Do You Get Around on Cumberland Island?

Once you arrive on the island, there are a few options for getting around.

The first option is to hike. Cumberland Island has over 50 miles of hiking trails, so if you’re up for a little adventure, this is a great way to explore the island. Just be sure to bring plenty of water and wear comfortable shoes.

Another option is to bring a bike. There aren’t currently any bike rental options available on the island, but bring your own on the ferry. This is a great way to cover more ground than you would on foot.

If you’re looking for a more leisurely way to get around, you can also take a guided tour. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable, telling stories of the island’s history, and the vans are air-conditioned! These tours are a great way to learn more about the island’s history and see some of the highlights without having to do all the legwork yourself.

No matter how you choose to get around, be sure to plan ahead and make any necessary reservations in advance.

Cumberland Island Day Trip Packing List

Visiting Cumberland Island is a unique experience, and it’s important to be prepared for the trip. Since there are no stores on the island, you’ll need to bring all of the supplies you might need for a day of exploration.

The most important thing to pack is plenty of water. Temperatures can reach over 90 degrees in the summer months and with high humidity levels, it’s imperative that you stay hydrated. There are water fountains at the dock and south island camp areas where you can refill if you do run out, but it’s best to come as prepared as possible.

Sunscreen and hats are also essential items for protection from the sun’s rays. Bug repellant can be a must if you are planning to take advantage of hiking the miles of trails.

Spending the entire day on Cumberland Island, you’re going to need to pack a picnic lunch and some snacks, too!

Due to its remote location, you won’t have access to medical facilities so make sure you bring basic first-aid supplies, just in case.

And don’t forget your camera—Cumberland Island has some of the most stunning scenery in Georgia!

Lastly, if you plan on exploring more than just the beach, be sure to wear sturdy shoes as there are plenty of trails through dense vegetation.

With these items packed and ready, your Cumberland Island day trip will be an unforgettable experience!

A long raised boardwalk is used to approach the Sea Camp beach.
This long, raised boardwalk leads you to Sea Camp beach.

Is It Free to Visit Cumberland Island?

Visiting Cumberland Island is not free, but it doesn’t have to break the bank either.

The entrance fee for adults is $10 and children 15 and under get in free.

Keep in mind that you also need to factor in the cost of the ferry ride both ways—at a little over $90 plus tax for two adults roundtrip.

The good news is that you can pay the entrance fee at the Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitor Center in St. Marys, Georgia, or you can pay in advance on the website.

If you’re planning multiple trips during your visit to Cumberland Island, consider purchasing an annual pass to save some money. Once you reach the island, you’re free to enjoy the natural landscape at your leisure without any further costs.

What Amenities Does Cumberland Island Have?

Cumberland Island is a beautiful and remote island in Georgia, and visiting can be an amazing experience. But it’s important to know what amenities are available before you go. The island doesn’t have restaurants or touristy hotels, but there are some basic amenities that will make your trip more enjoyable.

First off, there are public restrooms located around the island, including Plum Orchard and near the First African Baptist Church. These facilities have been well-maintained and are very clean, in our experience. There’s also potable water available on the south side of the island.

For camping trips, you can find primitive sites with fire rings with attached grills for a campfire and cooking.

Supplies like firewood, ice, and cold beverages other than water can be purchased from the ferry when it is docked midday. They’ll have drinks and snacks available for purchase on your return trip to St. Marys, too.

Otherwise, expect a primitive experience on your trip to Cumberland Island!

You might see wild horses and other wildlife on Cumberland Island during your day trip.
These wild horses grazed behind us as we enjoyed a picnic lunch near Dungeness.

Will You See Wild Horses?

The wild horses on Cumberland Island can be stunning. The wild horses roam freely around the island, grazing on vegetation and enjoying the sun. You might even get to see them galloping along the shoreline or through the woods!

Unfortunately, these incredible animals are also quite skittish, and some groups view them as a nuisance harming the island. That means that if you’re too close, they might run away in fear; or worse, they might get defensive. If you want to get a good look at them, make sure to keep your distance.

It’s also important to remember that they are wild animals and should never be approached or fed by humans – no matter how tempting it may seem!

By taking a tour or exploring the south end of the island on foot, you’ll have a great chance to see Cumberland Island’s wild horses.

Can you take shells from Cumberland Island?

According to the NPS, you are permitted to take both shark teeth and unoccupied shells as personal souvenirs from Cumberland Island. Be sure to check the shells thoroughly!

There are limits to how many shells you are permitted to collect. 

The types of shells and things you may find on the beaches certainly vary from season to season, but exploring the beach, and collecting a few shells if you’d like, is one of the best things to do while visiting Cumberland Island.

A walking path with a sign to the left directs visitors to Sea Camp sites and the beach, where you may collect a few shells.
Head over to the beach where you can search for seashells and other unique finds.

Want to Extend Your Trip and Stay Overnight?

Visiting Cumberland Island for one day is an incredible experience, but if you really want to get the most out of your trip, you may want to consider staying overnight. While it’s certainly not a requirement, an overnight stay offers a much deeper and more immersive experience than a day trip.

There are two options for an overnight stay at Cumberland Island. You can either enjoy primitive camping or stay at the luxurious Greyfield Inn.

If you’re looking for something special, the inn is definitely worth considering. The price tag can be quite steep, but if you can splurge, everything including meals, tours, rentals, and ferry transportation is all covered. Greyfield also has a private beach that you share only with other guests of the inn.

On the other hand, if camping is more your style then there are plenty of great spots on the island to set up camp and enjoy some stargazing under the clear night sky.

No matter which option you choose for your Cumberland Island overnight stay, make sure to plan ahead and research everything beforehand so that your trip will run smoothly. With just a bit of preparation, this unforgettable experience can become yours!

A few dirt roads travel through Cumberland Island for visitors on guided tours, park employees, and private residents.
Even though there are roads, you won’t be able to bring your car to explore Cumberland Island.

Cumberland Island is a hidden gem that should be on everyone’s bucket list! With its stunning beaches, rich history, and diverse wildlife, it’s the perfect destination for a day trip or even a longer stay.

By following these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to make the most out of your visit and create memories that will last a lifetime. Now it’s time to start planning that Cumberland Island day trip!