horses grazing on Cumberland Island

Is a Day Trip to Cumberland Island Worth It?

Morgan and Alan have lived in Georgia for the vast majority of their lives and Morgan grew up visiting Cumberland Island during her annual family reunions to Amelia Island. Over the years, Morgan has experienced this island paradise during the spring, summer, and fall with her family, best friend, and husband.

The Perfect Plan for a Cumberland Island Day Trip

We recommend spending an entire day (or more) at Cumberland Island. There will be a lot of walking or biking if you plan to see everything so come prepared for some exercise.

Getting to Cumberland Island

The Island is only accessible by water. You can come by personal boat, private charter, or via the ferry out of St Mary’s.

Personal Boat / Charter Boats

Docking is available during daylight hours (sunrise to sunset) and is first-come, first-serve. There is no overnight parking or beaching motorized boats.

There are three docks that private boats can utilize – Sea Camp dock, Dungeness dock, and Plum Orchard dock.

Ferry: St Mary’s to Cumberland Island

If you are arriving by ferry, you will depart St Mary’s and plan for a 45 minute ride to Cumberland Island. Ticket reservations in advance are encouraged and you must check in for the ferry at least 30 minutes in advance of your departure.

There are a limited number of trips per day so make sure you know the ferry schedule (varies by season). You don’t want to miss your return trip!

Check out their website (link above) for the current schedule and pricing.

Cumberland Island Basics

Cumberland Island is the southernmost barrier island for Georgia.

This area was inhabited by the Timucuan Indians but their tribe was eventually wiped out by diseases brought to the island by Spanish and English visitors.

The Carnegie family purchased a large portion of the island and are a significant part of the history based on the buildings and ruins that remain today.

horses grazing in front of a building on Cumberland Island

On the north end of the island, there is an area called The Settlement which was constructed by former slaves. It includes the First African Baptist Church which is best known for being the location of JFK Jr’s secret wedding.

Cumberland Island is now mostly owned by the National Park Service but there are still a few residents who own property on the island. The vast majority of the remaining private land-holders have agreed to turn their land over to the National Park Service when they pass away.

Things to Do on Cumberland Island

1. Take a Guided Tour

You have several options for tours on Cumberland Island but here are a few. You can get more details about the tours that are available on the National Park Services website.

  • Lands and Legacies Tour ($65 per person) – this tour is via a passenger van and includes the Plum Orchard Mansion as well as other sites along the main road
  • Audio Tours – these self guided tours include stations throughout the island where you can scan a code to hear about the history
  • Ranger Led Tours – this includes the Footsteps Tour, Under the Oaks Talk, Plum Orchard Tour, Beach Program, and Dockside Program. Each of these are free and vary in length from 30-45 minutes. The Plum Orchard Tour is the most difficult as it is 14 miles round trip from the Sea Camp dock; the tour itself is 45 minutes from when you arrive at Plum Orchard.

2. Explore the Dungeness Ruins

The Dungeness Mansion was originally constructed in the late 1800s for the Carnegie family to use as a winter home. This was the largest building on Cumberland Island after several additions were completed.

sunlight streaming through the trees in front of the Dungeness Mansion ruins
Dungeness Ruins on Cumberland Island

Unfortunately, the building caught fire in 1959 and was not salvageable. Visitors to the island are still able to appreciate the sheer size and magnitude of what was the Dungeness Mansion.

3. Visit Plum Orchard Mansion

The Plum Orchard Mansion was constructed in the late 1800s as a wedding gift for one of the Carnegie children. The mansion is over 20,000 square feet and you can walk through for free.

The Plum Orchard Mansion is located approximately 7 miles north of the Sea Camp dock so visiting this location may not be feasible for most day trips unless you participate in the Lands & Legacies tour or bring a bike. If you have a bicycle, we recommend planning for approximately 3-5 hours to make the trip.

4. Go for a Hike! Take The Southend Loop Trail

There are numerous trails on Cumberland Island totaling over 50 miles. If you are planning for a day trip to the island, especially if you are taking the ferry, choose wisely to ensure you have enough time to make it back for your return trip.

  • Southend Loop – this trail is approximately 4.3 miles and will take you from the docks to the Dungeness Ruins, past the salt marshes, across boardwalks, along the beach, and back through the trees to your starting point. This hike is great for day trips and offers multiple water fountains and restrooms along the way.
  • Sea Camp Beach – this easy trail leads directly to Sea Camp Beach. Just make sure to use the boardwalks and do not walk on the sand dunes. There are not lifeguards on duty – swim at your own risk.
  • River Trail – this trail is approximately 0.8 miles long and connects the Sea Camp dock to the Dungeness dock. If you like birdwatching, this is a great trail for you!
  • Nightingale Trail – this trail is 0.8 miles and consists solely of the local forest
  • Northend Trail & Wilderness Trails – these trails are lengthy and are not recommended for a day trip to Cumberland Island. Plan a longer stay if you want to explore this portion of the island.

5. Play on the Pristine Beaches

This one really speaks for itself. Cumberland Island is still mostly natural, non-commercialized beachfront where you might even see wild horses while sunbathing.

6. Go Hunting

There are multiple managed hunts for deer and hogs between October and January. Check out the National Park Services website for more information about the costs, dates, and what weapons are allowed.

Plum Orchard Mansion and dock are closed during managed hunts.

Things to Bring With You to Cumberland Island

  • Comfortable Walking Shoes
  • Sunscreen & Bug Spray
  • Food and Drinks (snacks or lunch)
  • Reusable Water Bottle
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Bathing Suit & Beach Towel
  • Bicycle – If you are coming by ferry, there is a $10 fee to bring a bike. You can ride your bicycle on the roads but not on the hiking trails.
  • A Trash Bag! There are no trash cans available on the island so be prepared. Remember – if you pack it in, pack it out. Help keep the island clean.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cumberland Island

wild horses grazing on Cumberland Island

How do you get to Cumberland Island?

Visitors must arrive by boat. You can bring your own boat or take the ferry from St Mary’s.

What does it cost to go to Cumberland Island?

Cumberland Island is cashless but you can purchase your passes in advance online.

  • A Standard Entrance Pass is $15 per person and is valid for 7 days
  • An Annual Pass is $45; it is valid for the pass-holder and 3 additional adults ages 16 or older
  • You can use your America the Beautiful Pass (interagency pass that provides access to numerous federal parks and locations in the US)
  • Children under 16 years of age are free
  • There are several free entry days to the US National Parks including MLK Day, the first day of National Park Week, Juneteenth, the National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.

Can you stay on Cumberland Island overnight?

Yes! If you want to spend more than one day on the island, there are a few options for you – tent camping or staying at the Greyfield Inn.

  • Tent Camping is available in designated campgrounds throughout the island and you must have a reservation. To find out all the information about camping, visit the National Park Service website.
  • The Greyfield Inn, a bed and breakfast owned by descendants of the Carnegies, has rooms available for guests to spend a few nights on Cumberland Island. All room rates include meals. But beware of the price as it may shock you, especially with a two-night minimum.

How do you get around Cumberland Island?

You can walk or ride a bike on the island. There are a limited number of motor vehicles on Cumberland Island but they are reserved for the use of the residents and Park Rangers.

Can I bring my pet(s) to Cumberland Island?

You may bring your pet to Cumberland Island on a personal boat or private charter for a day trip. Unfortunately, pets are not allowed on the ferry to Cumberland Island. Service animals are allowed based on the ADA regulations.

They must remain on a leash throughout their visit and are not allowed in the campgrounds (no overnight visits).

Make sure you clean up after your pets!

Conclusion: Plan Your Cumberland Island Day Trip Now!

Grab your traveling companions and head to the southernmost barrier island of Georgia for a day (or two) of fun.