If you’re lucky enough to have friends with a boat, you’re lucky enough, especially if they invite you to go on a sunset cruise to Cumberland Island! Recently Doug and Jane Bailey invited me and my husband, Troy, to take a late-day trip to one of most beautiful undeveloped islands on the East Coast, and it’s just a stone’s throw away from our own island paradise.
Cumberland Island is rich in history, architecture, and natural areas. Where the eastern edge of Cumberland is bounded by the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the north, west, and south are bounded by rivers, sounds, and marshes. Visitors to Cumberland Island can enjoy hiking, biking, birding, camping, swimming, and wildlife viewing, and Greyfield Inn, Cumberland’s only commercial establishment, which offers comfortable rooms, cottages, and dining.
There are two public dock accesses at Cumberland: one at Sea Camp, and the other at Plum Orchard. Docking is on a first-come, first-served basis, so visiting late in the day is a great time to get a spot at the dock. We arrived at the Sea Camp dock around 5:30 p.m., and we were the only ones there! Our plan was to take a hike to the Dungeness ruins, the former mansion owned by the Carnegie family from the 1880s until 1925. In 1959, Dungeness was destroyed by fire, and today the ruins are preserved by the National Park Service as part of Cumberland Island National Seashore.
It’s a one-and-a-half mile walk to Dungeness from the dock along a rustic trail, which leads to a dirt road lined with 300-year-old live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. As we hiked, our shadows grew long in the evening’s radiance. When we arrived at the main house, we were greeted by scores of Cumberland’s famous wild horses. Family units in groups scattered across the compound, which includes servant’s quarters, utility buildings, laundries, cisterns, and a variety of other structures. The light is beautiful that time of the day, and we paused to take photos and drink in the beauty of this magical place. We spotted more wildlife as we toured the grounds – deer, turkey, osprey, and even a pair of bobcats!
We took a different route back to the dock, along a dirt road that leads to the ranger station, which was closed at that hour. The sun was beginning to set, so we dug into our picnic basket for shrimp ceviche, crab cakes, and iced tea, before getting on the boat and heading back to the Amelia Island Marina.
Speaking of the Marina, if you can’t find any friends with a boat, Amelia Boat Club rents boats and waverunners so you, too, can experience the beauty of Cumberland Island. Alternatively, you can take a ferry from St. Marys, Georgia, and spend the day on the island, or if you’re planning to book a room at Greyfield Inn, a ferry runs from Fernandina’s downtown marina. Amelia River Cruises and Amelia Adventures also offer trips to Cumberland Island. Backcountry camping is allowed on the island, and all reservations for campsites and ferry trips must be made in advance. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/cuis  or www.cumberlandisland.com .