If your beach fantasy is high volumes of sun, sand and sea but low-volume crowds, it’s hard to beat Georgia’s Cumberland Island. With almost 18 miles of undeveloped dunes and beach, you won’t have a hard time finding a quiet spot to catch some rays. When you’re done with the sun, take time to enjoy the island’s history, nature and wildlife.
From Charlotte, it is a 5 1/2- to six-hour drive, roughly 360 miles, to St. Mary’s, Ga., your departure point for Cumberland Island.
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Step onto a beach, look around, and you won’t see any structures. Step even further into your fantasy and imagine that in one day, you’ll be hard pressed to count 300 people.
Cumberland’s solitude is guaranteed by the fact you must come by boat or ferry. Your first views upon docking are of a vast maritime forest, one of the largest in the country. The large live oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, evoke the image of an enchanted forest.
The island’s rich history is a storied one. The Thomas Carnegie family developed significant sections of the island in the late 1800s; in the early 1970s, heirs donated these holdings to the National Park Service.
Rangers offer a wide variety of interpretive programs. In past years, some remote sections of the island were all but impossible for most people to see. These days, a van tour is offered.
Nature rules here. With three distinct habitats (beach, maritime forest and saltwater marsh), you will be hard pressed to see all that there is to see in a single visit. Animal life is abundant; keep your eyes peeled for wild horses, deer and a wide array of other critters, including the island’s largest predator, the alligator.
Cumberland is a birders haven; its diverse habitats cater to well over three hundred species, from raptors to shore birds to neo-tropical songbirds, many of them year round residents and scores more seasonal visitors.
While off the beaten path, it is not so remote that day visitors can’t enjoy it. The ferry service runs twice a day in season, allowing enough time to explore the ruins of Dungeness, the former Carnegie estate, take in the beach for swimming, relaxing or even hunting shells and shark teeth, taking in a ranger program, going for a hike or having a picnic.
There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails; you can also rent cruiser bikes you can ride on the main road.
For those who want to stay longer, there is a rustic campground with secluded sites.