Waves crashing to shore. Seashells hidden under the sand.
Tide changing as the lazy Tuesday passes on. This quintessential day spent on a private beach on Cumberland Island surrounded by an intimate group of friends seems like a spring break fantasy. However, for a group of 11 Wake Forest students united under their love for kayaking and camping, it was a breathtaking reality.
Outdoor Pursuits arranged a week-long trip to the island off the coast of Georgia, where students kayaked 13 miles in a day and spent the week camping, hiking and exploring the island’s rich atmosphere and history.
For travelers less inclined to a long kayak, there’s a ferry that departs daily from the mainland in St. Mary’s, GA; this is the more common form of transportation to and from the island. The ferry drops guests by Plum Orchard, a 20,000 square foot mansion historically owned by the Carnegie family.
Free tours of the mansion run every hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays and offer visitors an expansive tour of each room of the home, including the ever-fascinating servants quarters and preserved items of clothing from the family’s individual wardrobes.
While there is an option to learn about the history of the island and the few buildings that populate it, chances are visitors to Cumberland Island came to experience its natural beauty. There are a total of 50 miles of hiking trails around the island, which offer all from tight, shadowy, tree-covered trails to open beach side ones.
One of the most memorable parts that accompany the hiking and camping on the island is the array of wildlife that populates the relatively small expanse of land. I will personally never forget witnessing a manatee cheerfully squealing at us as our group kayaked past.
The morning we woke up after arriving, three wild horses graced our campsite, calmly eating the Spanish moss falling from the trees. Although majestic and beautiful, we later learned that the horses on the island live, on average, 30 years less because of the spread of parasitic diseases within the species. While hiking, we also saw armadillos jumping around, possums swarming any fallen food at night, various birds of prey and raccoons.
A short hike east from various points on the island would bring visitors to a wide-open beach opening up to the Atlantic Ocean. It is likely that the group would be the only visitors to the beach that day, so miles of open sand and water become private for the day. Whether sitting and relaxing, exploring the hiking trails along the water or beachcombing for sand dollars the beachfront is inevitably quiet and peaceful.
Travelers who choose to spend only the day on the island would most likely miss out on all that the land has to offer. There is simply no way to take in the vast expanse of beach, the hiking trails, the wildlife, the mansion or the beautiful sunsets that end each day. As Cumberland Island is surrounded by water on all sides, the sunrises and sunsets are unmatched on a clear day, greeting or ending each day with flurries of pink, yellow and orange filling the horizon.