Cumberland Island Chronicles
When Chris and I thought of Georgia we never thought of beaches. I believe I saw a post on Instagram about the wild horses that live on this island. After some research we decided to try out backcountry camping with the kids over Spring Break. We had most camping gear already but got a Jetboil set from REI for cooking and camping pads for the hard ground.
Cumberland Island has several campgrounds:
Sea Camp: people who like showers and bathrooms and sharing the beach with people who are just there for the day; 18 tent sites
Stafford: This is where we wanted to stay. They have cold showers & bathrooms plus right on the beach. 10 tent sites & 3.5 miles from ferry dock
Hickory Hill: wilderness camping, no amenities, must hike for water and all water must be treated; 4 sites & 5.5 miles from ferry dock
Yankee Paradise: This is where we stayed: wilderness camping, no amenities, must hike for water and all water must be treated; 4 sites & 7.5 miles from ferry dock
Brick hill Bluff: Go here if you love bugs. It is right on the marsh. wilderness camping, no amenities, water is on site and all water must be treated; 4 sites & 10.5 miles from ferry dock
We booked our ferry tickets several weeks in advance since we were going during Spring Break. There was roadwork happening right near the dock in St. Mary’s so we opted to park them find our way around. First you have to check in with the National seashore to get your ferry tickets. Then park in overnight parking then walk down to the ferry dock. It was a 45 minute ride to the island. They basically drop you off and you explore, camp, and make it on the next scheduled ferry back to St. Mary’s, GA. Ryan and I took Dramamine beforehand because we tend to get motion sickness. The ride was pretty through the marsh lands.
On the way there we realized we needed bug spray so we opted to buy a small travel size bottle from the ferry man for $6. It was worth it as we used every bit. Chris was worried our 9 year old bug cream from 2010 wouldn’t work. You will definitely need some bug spray.
Once we arrived at the island we checked in with a ranger who handed us a map and sent us on our way. We used the toilet for the last time and filled up our bladders to the brim with potable water.
Chris is our packer. He thrives on repacking to perfection. He’s also in charge of finding restaurants. I’m the planner, scheduler, kids’ clothes getter, hotel finder, “things to do” researcher and in charge of food. Chris makes sure we have all of our things packed precisely and according to what each person could hold.
Most people can carry 20% of their body weight but we met a skinny kid of no more than 160 lbs and he was carrying 80 lbs. Chris carries more so the rest of us don’t have to (so nice!)
Chris: 46 pound pack: shovel, food, cooking supplies, 2 pair clothes, sleeping bag & pad, lights, water filtration first aid kit, system, collapsable 5 gal water jug, various other camping supplies, Chacos
Janet: 25-30 pound pack: 2 pair of clothes, coffee, lots of food, medicine, book, pillow, light, hammock, sleeping pad, rain jackets, toiletries, battery powered fan, Tevas
Ryan: 37 pound pack: pillow, 5 person tent & stakes, food, batteries, clothes, sleeping pad, hammock, blanket, Chacos
Haley: 14-16 pound pack: pillow, sleeping bag and mat, hammock, games, silverware, food, 2 days of clothes, Chacos, Norwex rags/towels
Carter: 10 pounds: sleeping bag, clothes, lights, Swiss Army knife, food, hammock, Tevas
Side note: Fox Outfitters is where we got our hammocks. If you buy one you get two free!!
Chris & Ryan ended up carrying Carter’s pack 90% of the time. Haley and I took turns carrying a tarp because it was supposed to be stormy the first night then we used it to sit on. We also had bio wipes, toilet paper, and body wipes. If you go camping and do not have access to a shower I highly recommend getting some Norwex rags and towels. We heated water and used the body cloths each night. No no soap needed. (My friend Jenna sells them. I promise it works. I haven’t used soap in months except when I want to use my girly smelling stuff and when we finally got off the island.) We also ordered a couple of microfiber quick dry towels from Amazon. The dirt we wiped off of our feet before getting in the tent and sand from the beach shook right off of them.
We hiked 7.5 miles to our campsite at Yankee Paradise in 4 hours. It was in the low 80s and mid-day so we had to rest a bit and slow down for Carter. Carter found 12 shark teeth on the Main Road and we saw our first feral horses that live on the island.
The last mile was a killer and we were all hungry. We got to our site just as a large group was leaving. A couple had a tent across the way from us but there was complete silence! We set up our tent & hammocks, ate summer sausage & crackers, and then hiked about a mile to the beach.
‘The beach was total seclusion for miles and miles and our first time to get in the Atlantic Ocean. The dunes are protected but you can carry out shells. As a family we all stepped into the Atlantic Ocean at the same time per Ryan and Haley’s request. At first we were so excited because the waves were huge and we were finding whole sand dollars, and whelk shells. Then we realized they were everywhere and stopped being hoarders about them. Towards the end of the trip we were shrugging our shoulders at them. (You have to realize we are used to the Gulf of Mexico where pieces of sand dollars are fun to find.) The kids swam in the freezing water, Chris walked looking for shells, and I laid on the beach watching them.
We made it back to camp at dusk. I cooked some Tai Pad noodles we found on clearance at Wal-Mart (you just pour boiling water in a bag and let it sit) while Chris and Ryan walked 1/4 mile to the non-potable water and filled up our 5 gallon jug. As soon as they got back the thunder and lightning hit. We scurried to put up the tarp In the dark. We ate in a downpour under the tarp then did our best to help Chris rig up the tarp over the tent. We used body wipes the first night and fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting the tarp.
Chris awoke first and got in a hammock for about 2 hours until the rest of us got up at 9:30 to the sound of a woodpecker. He had my coffee made and we all ate oatmeal except Haley who doesn’t like oatmeal. She ate a Cliff bar instead. We put all of our bladders in a day pack and headed to Plum Orchard (about 1.5 away) for a look around and to fill up with potable water. Plum Orchard was really pretty. We walked around the mansion and filled up our bladders and watched the horses hanging around. The live oak trees with Spanish moss are everywhere. In researching we read about an alligator that lives behind the Plum Orchard mansion and tried to see it but did not have any luck. We used a flushable toilet there and got to wash our hands. It was amazing. Then we headed back to camp for lunch. We had a marvelous meal of Raman, and packed peanut butter tortillas for an afternoon beach snack. Back to the beach we went. We saw a pod of dolphins, pelicans, horseshoe crab, armadillos, squirrel, mosquitos, and deer tracks. The whole time we were there Haley and I wanted to see a horse on the beach. The tide was going out and the storm from the previous night had brought in a lot of shells. The kids played until they ate all the food and we left back for camp. For supper we ate chicken flavored rice & Raman and a clearance raspberry crumb dessert in a bag. We got done before dark this night. Haley and I waited until dark and had our Norwex bath but could do nothing about our salty unwashed hair.
Side note: everything you pack in must be packed out. There are no garbage cans on the island. We brought an XXL ziplock bag for trash, Coleman camping poop bags, and hung it up in a tree. We also had unpacked all of our food and put in an XXL Ziplock bag. No items are for sale on the island so you have to bring everything you may need with you including a “poop” bag, tampons, toilet paper and shovel to bury poop. Fun times.
We had bought a yellow collapsable “thing” we used for washing dishes after each meal. We took turns washing, drying, and rinsing. (Norwex scrubbing sponge!) We played Uno and Spot It and Ryan decided he was going to sleep in his hammock. That last 10 minutes. This night was the worst sleep we all had. I think almost everyone took Tylenol or Ibuprofen: me for my hip, Chris for his neck/head, and Ryan for a jellyfish sting.
We awoke sore and tired. Chris had been up laying in the hammock. Ryan had gotten up at sunrise and went back to sleep in his hammock (below). The couple across the way left and a single backpacker came up and set up his hammock/mosquito net. Chris watched him and decided we should get mosquito nets and forgo the tent next time. We ate breakfast and while Chris was pouring boiling water he spilled it all over his hand. It immediately started swelling and we put aloe Vera and burn cream on our list for next time. He poured cold water on it and we applied pain relieving cream. Ryan asked us trivia questions and we laid around in hammocks. we had an aloe wipe and laid that on his hand too. Chris & Ryan got water again in our jug. We ate lunch and headed to the beach for the last time.
As we headed over the dunes to get to the pass I saw everyone walking back laughing. Chris said there was a naked man on the beach all alone. We stood there for a second then Chris headed over. Naked man began apologizing and put his clothes on. Ryan got a pic of them right after seeing the man:
We walked about a mile or so down the beach hoping to see horses on our last day but never saw a beach horse. We watched the kids play in the ocean waves then walked along the beach looking for more shells and trying to find a beach horse.
We didn’t see anyone except the naked man and two people riding on bikes along the beach. (You can bring your own bike or rent one on the island.) It was relaxing and quiet and miles of beach and ocean all to yourself. Back at camp a single woman had set up and an older couple, both with hammocks, had come up as well.
We got back and ate the last of our food save oatmeal and a Cliff bar (Haley) for the last morning. Chris began packing for the trip out and I fixed 19 PB tortillas for lunch. We actually got in the tent before dark and played Uno. We woke up in the middle of the night to a raccoon trying to get into our things.
The next morning Carter loved tracking the coon’s prints on our stuff. We got ready for the 7.5 mile hike out. The whole way out Ryan kept naming all the food he wanted to eat at Cracker Barrel. We conserved water on the way out because our bladders were almost empty. This time we took what’s called the Parallel Trail instead of the Main Road and made it back to the ferry dock in 3.5 hours. We set our stuff at the ranger station and ate peanut butter tortillas and trail mix for lunch. Plus we drank all the water we wanted and used the toilet!
Haley and I really wanted to see Dungeness Ruins so we left our things at the dock and walked about a 1.5 to the ruins. The backstory to the island is chronicled at the Ice House Museum. A revolutionary war hero’s widow built a 4 story mansion in 1803. The house was abandoned and burned after the Civil War. The Carnegie family bought it and rebuilt the mansion and eventually built several other mansions for family on the island. Now Dungeness is in ruins as are several other buildings but some are still in tact. There were lots of horses there. Plum Orchard, where we filled up our bladders, was one of the houses. There’s also Greyfield which is now an inn For those of you who wouldn’t like tent camping. Freed slaves bought the northern most part of the island where their church remains. One of the Kennedy’s was married there. I really wanted to see it but it was beyond our hiking abilities. You can go on a paid Land and Legacies tour that includes riding in a vehicle and no hiking.
Once we finished touring the ruins and watching horses we boarded the ferry to return to St. Mary’s. The water was a lot choppier and everyone was starving. We ate every single bit of food we brought. We ended up getting a hotel in Kingsland again which happened to be across the street from a Cracker Barrel and we all took HOT showers. The kids went back to the front desk and asked for more shampoo and each used a whole bottle. At Cracker Barrel, the kids all order their own sunrise sampler and devoured it. Ryan was asking for everyone else’s food. There wasn’t a stitch of food left on anyone’s plate. Ryan said it was the best day of his life.
All in all here’s our totals:
$39 hotel in Kingsland using Expedia points I have been saving
$25 gas because we used points from Mobil/Exxon gas for the rest
$27 for 3 nights of camping ($9/night)
$136 ferry boat ride for 5 people
$50 Cracker Barrel meal
Food: Raman noodles, trail mix, Cliff bars, rice, chicken noodle soup, oatmeal, granola bars, gummies, Crystal Light lemonade singles, coffee, tea
When we get the big camera loaded I’ll post some of Ryan’s masterpieces. He’s the camera man! Ryan said he’s having Raman noodle flashbacks,