As mentioned in my last post, I had a hard time leaving Edisto Beach in South Carolina. Spending time along that shoreline lifted my spirits tremendously after several weeks of cold and dreary weather surrounded by a rather bland landscape. (No leaves on the trees and no snow on the ground equals bland to this Northwest girl!)
I was heading to Orlando to meet up with my Virginia friends, Bonnie and Scott, while they were in town visiting family, but had one special stop to make along the way: Saint Marys, Georgia. I camped in Saint Marys while on my way north out of Florida in the spring, with plans of taking the ferry out to Cumberland Island. Unfortunately the off-season ferry schedule prevented me from doing so during my brief visit. This time around I allowed myself a few more days in the area so I’d have plenty of time to visit this beautiful barrier island.
Cumberland Island, designated as a National Seashore, is 17 miles long. Unless you have a boat, the only way to reach this island is by passenger ferry (no cars, no bikes, no pets). Once there, unless you’ve pre-arranged a tour, the only way to get around is to walk or rent a bike. Since the trails are mostly soft sand I chose to hoof it. This limited me to exploring only the southern end of the island, but there was no shortage of history and beauty there.
The big attraction on this end of the island is the Dungeness Ruins, what remains of a 59 room Queen Anne Style Mansion built in the mid 1880s by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie. Thomas died before it’s completion, but Lucy raised their nine children on these grounds. She eventually acquired 90% of the island, and built four more mansions for her children including the famous Plum Orchard. (Much farther up the island, so I didn’t see it.)
For those who know me, or have been following my journey for awhile, it should come as no surprise that what inspired me most to visit Cumberland Island was the wild horses I’d read about who roam freely on the island. While exploring the grounds of Dungeness I was drawn to the sound of excited whinnying and followed it to find this stallion (at right), mare and their beautiful ghost white colt.
The trails lead past many historic ruins and a small cemetery, past salt marshes, and eventually across the dunes and onto a long wilderness sea shore where I gathered as many beautiful sea shells as I could carry. A mile or so up the beach a boardwalk takes you back across the dunes and into the most surreal live oak forest I’ve ever seen.
There are two rustic campgrounds on this island, one right here in this beautiful forest, but since I couldn’t bring the dogs along I was unable to stay for the night. From here it was a short hike back across the island to catch the afternoon ferry back to Saint Marys. I’d love to come back one day by boat to explore more of this enchanting island.
Speaking of camping… when I first arrived in Saint Marys I went back to A Big Wheel RV Campground where I camped briefly in the spring. It’s quiet, spacious and the owners are very friendly and helpful. Unfortunately they were experiencing WiFi difficulties and I had a lot of work to catch up on, so at the recommendation of a fellow RV traveler I met on the island I relocated to Walk-About RV Park a few miles up the highway. This is a fairly simple and quiet campground recently acquired by a delightful young couple from Australia, Troy and Suze, two of the hardest working and friendliest campground owners I’ve met during my travels. With four children to raise and lots of renovations taking place there was little idle time for these two, but that didn’t stop them from looking up from every task with a smile and a wave, or engaging in long conversation with their visitors.
One thing I enjoyed about this location was the open space surrounding the campground, where I could let Jazzy and Sadie run freely off-leash. One trail leads to a boardwalk across the marshes to Crooked River. We strolled here several times a day, once finding dolphin feeding along the banks of the river. It was a fairly handy place to launch my kayak as well.
While there I did a day trip out to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. On the short drive out to the Homestead hiking trail I spotted two alligator AND, for the first time in the wild, a Water Moccasin. You can bet I kept a safe distance from these creatures while photographing them! With predators like these lurking about you can’t blame the tiny little tree frog for hiding himself high amongst the leaves.
I’ve really enjoyed this laid-back corner of south east Georgia both times I’ve visited, with plenty of wilderness to explore and all the amenities you could need right there in Saint Marys. I’ll keep this marked as one of those places I would come back to!
The next several stops will be in different parts of Florida, so stay tuned for sunsets, sandy beaches, lots of birds, and my long awaited visit with the Manatees!!!
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