Cumberland Island National Seashore | PARK AT A GLANCE

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

PARK OVERVIEW

Cumberland Island is the southernmost island off the coast of Georgia—it is only a mile from the Georgia-Florida border. The resort islands of Jekyll and Amelia lie to the north and south, making Cumberland the only undeveloped island in the area. After flirting with being logged, strip mined, becoming another resort, and even the site for NASA’s east coast space program (Cape Canaveral was chosen instead), the U. S. government purchased nearly 90 percent of the land from the heirs of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie, who had moved to Cumberland Island in the late 1800s. The rest of the island is still owned by the Candler family of Coca-Cola fame, some of the Carnegie descendants, and a few other private individuals.

A park concessionaire runs a ferry service to the island twice a day, though the schedule varies depending on the season. The boat holds 150 people and has room for ten bikes (fee required, reservations accepted). No canoes or kayaks are allowed. The concessionaire also rents bikes on the island, but there are not enough for everyone. Day-trippers on foot are limited to exploring only a small portion of the island, though even on a bike it is still not possible to see everything in one day. If you really want to cover the entire island, you must stay for multiple days or take the Lands and Legacies Tour, an all-day, history-focused van tour.

Cumberland Island Ferry docks at Sea Camp

Cumberland Island Ferry docks at Sea Camp

As for outdoor activities, there are plenty of hiking trails in the park, tough again, most are too far away to be reached by day-trippers. Spending time on the beach is, however, a viable option for all guests, with the closest beach being a half-mile walk from the Sea Camp ferry dock. There are two developed campgrounds with modern restrooms and cold showers, plus three backcountry campgrounds with no facilities. For those with a fat wallet, lodging is available at the private and extremely expensive Greyfield Inn. Fishing is also allowed on the island, as well has hunting during various times of the year.

For all of its natural beauty, Cumberland Island offers an equal amount of human history. When the property was acquired by the National Park Service in the early 1970s it came with the mansions and service buildings from the heyday of the Carnegie era (late 1800s to the early 1900s). Carnegie children and grandchildren still owned the property at the time, but the burden of upkeep on the buildings was just too great financially, so they sought a buyer who would preserve the island as it was and not turn it into another resort, which is how the National Park Service came into the picture. A few of the mansions are still occupied by Carnegie family descendants under a retained rights agreement, which means that they can live out their lives on Cumberland Island and the property will revert to the National Park Service upon their deaths. Some of the buildings are now open to the public, including Plum Orchard Mansion and a few in the Dungeness historic district.

At the northern end of the island is the remains of an early community populated by former slaves called The Settlement. This area was made world-famous in 1996 when John Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette at the small African Baptist Church. Today, all that remains of the community is the church and one house, both of which are open during the day time. However, at 18 miles from the closest ferry dock, reaching The Settlement is not possible for the large majority of visitors, most who come to the island for the day and get around on foot.


OPERATING HOURS

Cumberland Island National Seashore is open 24 hours a day, year round. A ferry brings guests to the island and operates daily, though the schedule varies depending on the season. Those with their own boats are also welcome to visit.

The Visitor Center at St. Marys is open daily from 8 AM to 4 PM. This is where you pay your park entrance fee and check in for camping and the ferry ride to the island. The ferry leaves from the dock just outside.

The Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum is located a few blocks from the Visitor Center. It is open daily from 1 PM to 4 PM.

Park Rangers staff the Sea Camp Ranger Station from 10 AM to 4:30 PM each day. You can still find Rangers on the island at other times, though you may have to hunt around for one.

Operating hours can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to visit the National Park Service’s Operating Hours and Seasons web page for Cumberland Island National Seashore.


FEES

There is a fee for all visitors stepping foot on Cumberland Island. This fee is not included in the ferry ticket price. You can pay your fee at the Visitor Center or get a weekly pass in advance online at Pay.gov (if you purchase a pass online, you must still check in at the Visitor Center if you are taking the ferry). Those arriving to the island in their own boat can opt for the online pass or pay the fee at one of the self-service pay stations at the dock.

There is also a fee for the ferry ride, camping, the Lands and Legacies Tour, bike rentals, and equipment cart rental for those staying at Sea Camp Campground. Cash or credit is accepted.

Visit the official Cumberland Island National Seashore Fees and Passes web page for the latest prices.

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on April 13, 2022
Share this article