Trip Ideas

Budget-Friendly Guide to Cumberland Island

There is a place along the Georgia coast to truly get away from it all without spending a fortune.

  • Cumberland Island Camping

    Roast marshmallows and sleep under the stars atĀ Georgia's scenicĀ campgrounds.

Cumberland Island, situated on the Georgia coast, is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands along the Atlantic Ocean. Almost 10,000 acres of the island are protected by the National Park Service, which means lots of unspoiled beach and miles of trails through maritime forest to explore. Spend time planning a trip to this unique island, famous for its wild horses, and you can have an incredible vacation experience for very little money.

How to Experience Cumberland Island

There are two ways to experience Cumberland Island inexpensively: visit for the day or camp overnight. Day visitors and campers reach the island via the Cumberland Island Ferry from the Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitor's Center in St. Marys and are brought to the Sea Camp Dock. Ferry times are limited and vary depending on the time of year, so be sure to check times before you go so you don’t miss the last boat back to the mainland. Collect free trading cards from the Sea Camp Ranger Station as an inexpensive keepsake and to learn about the history of the island.

If you would like a guided tour, reserve your seat on the Lands and Legacies Tour, which is a five- to six-hour, small-group tour led by a park ranger. Guests ride in a passenger van to historic locations, including Plum Orchard Mansion, and learn about the ecology, history and residents of the unique island.

For self-guided tours, bikes are available for rent at the Sea Camp Dock on a first-come, first-served basis. Bikes are limited, so, as an alternative, be prepared tor plenty of walking on trails that are not stroller-friendly. Head to the Dungeness Ruins, the remains of Lucy Carnegie’s island mansion. Lucy, whose husband Thomas was the brother and business partner of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, once owned 90 percent of Cumberland Island and built grand homes for her children, including Greyfield, which is now the Greyfield Inn. The main home at Dungeness was burned in a fire, and the island’s wild horses still like to munch the grass on the front lawn. Spend the rest of your visit exploring the island's trails, relaxing on the beach and spotting wildlife that make the amazing island their home.

Know Before You Go

A visit to Cumberland Island takes some preparation as visitors are limited and there are no concessions on the island. Start planning and make reservations through the Cumberland Island National Seashore website. The site offers lots of tips for a great visit and information on seasonal tours and activities, so spend some time exploring online before heading out. 

Sue Rodman is Georgia's official Smart Travel Explorer. Find more of her budget-friendly tips and trip ideas on ExploreGeorgia.org.

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