Cumberland Island National Seashore | LANDS AND LEGACIES TOUR

Lands and Legacies Tour of Cumberland Island National Seashore

Lands and Legacies Tour of Cumberland Island National Seashore

The Lands and Legacies Tour is an all-day, history-oriented tour that covers Cumberland Island National Seashore from the Sea Camp area to the northern end of the park at The Settlement, home to the First African Baptist Church made famous by the wedding of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette in 1996. The tour stops at the church, as well as the Plumb Orchard mansion. If time allows, it also stops at the Dungeness mansion ruins at the southern end of the island.

The departure time is 10 AM each day that the ferry operates, giving guests arriving on the 9 AM ferry about fifteen minutes to assemble by the Ranger Station at Sea Camp. The tour guide is easily identifiable. The tour does not leave until the ferry arrives, so don’t panic if the ferry is running late. Those camping will not be allowed to take the tour on the day of their arrival due to the logistics of setting up camp. The tour ends around 4 PM, giving day trippers a half hour to explore the Sea Camp area before heading back on the 4:45 PM ferry.

The Lands and Legacies Tour is conducted by the park’s authorized concessionaire, Lang’s Seafood, the company that also runs the ferry and rents bikes on the island. Transportation is by van, which is air conditioned. There is not a lot of room in the van, so you can only bring what you can hold in your lap or stuff under the seat. You will need to bring a lunch and drinks, but you cannot bring any type of hard-sided cooler or large backcountry backpack (a standard, day-hike backpack is fine). A lunch break is taken at the Plumb Orchard mansion after a house tour. There are picnic tables on the grounds.

Picnicking at Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Picnicking at Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Reservations are highly recommended, as the tour fills up most days during the busy tourist season (see the Cumberland Island Ferry web page for reservation information). I was able to get a tour in mid-March by calling a few weeks ahead. I returned the following year with my family for Spring Break in early April and was able to get seats for three people on a Saturday, of all days, by calling two weeks in advance. The tours on Thursday and Friday were full, so I found it odd that spots were open for the weekend. If the tour is sold out on the day you visit, if you arrive on the early ferry, let the tour guide know you want to attend if somebody doesn’t show up. There were no-shows on both of the tours I attended, and walk-ups were able to get on board. You can pay with a credit card on the ferry, or better yet, just bring cash.

It is a 25-mile round trip to The Settlement, making the Lands and Legacies Tour the only way for day trippers without a bike to see the northern end of the island. Even with a bike, unless you are a seasoned cyclist, 25 miles is much too long of a ride for most people.

Though you most likely will see wild horses and other animals on the Lands and Legacies Tour, it is mainly a history tour and will not appeal to young children. The concessionaire does not recommend anyone three years old or younger to attend and cautions attendance by older children due to the possibility of boredom on a 6-hour tour, much of which takes place in a van. My 10-year-old daughter in 4th grade attended and liked the stop at Plum Orchard mansion, but other than that she would rather have been some place else. I recommend that kids be in high school and interested in history before signing up for the tour. Even if you are an adult, there are those who want to go to the beach and those who want to learn something. If you fall into the first category, you may find the tour tedious as well.

According to the National Park Service’s website, and the concessionaire’s website, children under eight years old or under 4′ 9″ must have a car seat. Not wanting to argue that Georgia’s car seat laws only apply to those eight and younger, and that those nine and up do not require a car seat regardless of height, I brought one along for my 4′ 7″ daughter. However, the seat was not needed, for it appears that the rule is not enforced—the driver wasn’t even aware of it, probably because very few kids go on the tour. Nobody wears a seat belt in the van anyway, and the only reason you need a car seat is to boost a kid to a height where seat belts are safe to wear. Unless you just want your kid to sit higher up so he or she can see out the window, there is no need for a car seat. In truth, the van goes so slowly that if the driver fell asleep and the van veered off the road and hit a tree, I doubt anyone would be hurt. Now, with that said, I want to make it perfectly clear that if somebody tries to enforce the law, saying “But Steve from National Park Planner said we didn’t need it” isn’t going to get your kid on the van. You make the decision.

The concessionaire has two vans, each holding about ten guests, so up to two tours are given each day if there is demand. One is equipped to hold two wheel chairs. If you need this van, you must inform the ticket agent when making a reservation because this is not the van that is normally used if only one tour is given. Keep in mind that most of the historical structures are not handicap accessible.

The tour does involve getting out of the van at various locations, but not much walking is required. The longest stop is at the Plum Orchard mansion, the home built for George and Margaret Carnegie in 1898 as a wedding gift (George is the son of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie). All of the Carnegie children were given homes on the island when they married, if they wanted one. However, don’t think that Lucy was giving away 22,000-square-foot mansions for presents (Thomas died when the children were young). The original home was much smaller—though still a mansion in most peoples’ book—and what you see today is the result of subsequent expansion paid for by Margaret, who came from a wealthy family as well. Plum Orchard remained in the Carnegie family until being donated to the National Park Service in the early 1970s. An extensive tour that covers nearly the entire mansion is given for Lands and Legacies Tour participants. The mansion is open for tours to everyone visiting the island, but if you are not on the van tour you must somehow make the 15-mile round trip from Sea Camp on your own, making a visit only feasible for day trippers with bikes. See the Plum Orchard Mansion web page for more information.

Plum Orchard Mansion at Cumberland Island National Seashore

Plum Orchard Mansion at Cumberland Island National Seashore

After Plum Orchard the tour continues north on a road that gets much rougher, for it is not maintained beyond the mansion. There is a brief stop at a bluff that overlooks the ruins of the Cumberland Island Wharf used by the steamboats that brought tourists to the island in the early part of the 1900s. The pilings of the dock are still visible. Trolley tracks ran from the dock to the hotels for the purpose of transporting newly arrived guests and their luggage; the trolley was pulled by mules. A short walk up a hill is required to reach the site. If you have difficulty walking, in truth, you aren’t missing much by staying behind on this one.

Pilings of the old Cumberland Island Wharf are visible from a bluff on the north end of the island

Pilings of the old Cumberland Island Wharf are visible from a bluff on the north end of the island

Cumberland Wharf around 1965

Cumberland Wharf around 1965

Not far from the old dock site is the last stop on the tour, The Settlement, a black community established in 1893. The site includes the second First African Baptist Church, which was built in 1937. It replaced the original 1893 log church. There is one other original house remaining and one that is private property owned by Carol Ruckeschel, and environmental activist who is not happy about two van loads of tourists coming to The Settlement every day. See The Settlement web page for more information.

First African Baptist Church at the Settlement on Cumberland Island

First African Baptist Church at the Settlement on Cumberland Island

If time allows (it usually does), the tour will stop at the Dungeness Mansion ruins at the very southern end of Cumberland Island. During my tour we were able to get out and walk around for about fifteen minutes. For day trippers, if your tour does not get down to Dungeness, you will need to make a second trip to Cumberland Island to see it. There is not enough time after the Lands and Legacies Tour ends for you to make it to Dungeness from the Sea Camp dock. See the Dungeness Area Tour web page for complete information on touring this area on your own.

Dungeness Mansion ruins at grounds at the south end of Cumberland Island

Dungeness Mansion ruins at grounds at the south end of Cumberland Island

The tour returns to the Sea Camp dock around 4 PM. If you are leaving on the 4:45 PM ferry, there isn’t a lot of time to do much else other than walk around the Sea Camp area. There is a lecture given by a park Ranger every day at 4 PM in the Ranger Station.

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