Visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore requires some advance planning because you must reserve a site at Sea Camp, Stafford Beach, or one of the backcountry sites AND you must reserve a spot on the ferry from St. Marys that aligns with your camping reservation. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance and usually need to be made 5 - 6 months in advance for a site at Sea Camp.
I stayed on Cumberland Island in August and April. Months to avoid include July, August, and September because it is hot, humid, and later on in the summer - hurricane season! I did stay on Cumberland Island in August and the temperatures were record-setting hot almost everyday!!! The next time I visited I made sure to book the trip in April.
Sea Camp is a great way to ease into backpacking/camping/outdoor activities as it requires a short hike with gear to reach the campground but it is an established campground with (cold) showers and toilets and there are wagons available to help you haul your gear. In terms of packing, bring what you would bring for car camping but remember you are there to enjoy the beach and not to spend all day hauling gear from the dock to camp. After two trips, I've found that a backpack, cooler, camping supplies box, and chair are really all I need. Some campers bring showering systems to obtain hot water showers - I love the cold water showers especially after a hot day at the beach.
Once at Sea Camp, be sure to properly store your food inside the provided food cage AND make sure your food is properly wrapped and stored - ants can be problematic. If you have a cooler, you can buy more ice from the Ferry each morning at the Sea Camp Dock and you should plan to buy ice each day if you are staying for the hottest months.
I recommend a minimum of two nights but if you can stay for a week I highly recommend it. Staying multiple nights guarantees isolation and peace and quiet at night as the day visitors leave AND Cumberland Island is amazing for star gazing and staying multiple nights gives you a better chance of seeing shooting stars.
In terms of what to do - be sure to take a sunrise walk at least one morning - I took a sunrise walk and found SO MANY treasures washed ashore over a small area - I left them for others to enjoy but not until I lined them all up for a photo (see below). Also be sure to hike to and explore the Dungeness Ruins and make it a roundtrip hike by returning via the beach.
Finally, if you are only there a few days I would stay on the southern end of the island but if you are there for a more than a few days I suggest renting a bike (from the Ferry operators) and biking up to some of the other historical areas on the island.
In preparation for your trip, I highly recommend reading Untamed as it tells the history of Cumberland Island and the stories of some of its most famous residents.
Finally, be sure to hike some around sunset to see armadillos and wild horses.
You take a ferry to the island and have to bring everything on and off the island with in. Strict time on ferry and nibs island with rangers on it. bring a wagon with a cooler
We went with a group and chose the group camp site instead of individual sites. There was plenty of room for three large tents, room for bikes, and even a sun shade! The site had a huge fire pit and two food boxes to keep it safely away from the animals. We went in June and there were tons of ticks. Despite the storms, we had a blast! The beach was very close to our site, as were the bathrooms. The island is home to lots of wildlife- horses, deer, raccoons, manatees, armadillo, many species of birds…and that was just what we saw in 2 days. The island itself is gorgeous and easy to explore. We had four young kids with us (4-6 years old) and they enjoyed it just as much as the adults. The island is pack in, pack out. So be mindful when deciding what to bring. Sea Camp is a good mile or so from the ferry dock, and it’s the closest of the sites. There are a few stations to refill water bottles around this area. We’re looking forward to visiting again in December.
Nice secluded campground where each site is set back and nestled into a saw palm clearing and equipped with a picnic table, fire ring/grill and food cache box (an elevated roofed chicken wire cage). This campground is super easy to get to from the ferry, less than a mile walk (about ½ mile). You are responsible for carrying all of your own gear to the campgrounds so you’re want to pack it all in a backpack, bring your own wagon or hope to try and borrow one of the wagons they have at the ranger station (they do have a lot, but they get taken pretty quickly). Once you’re in the campgrounds there is a nice short trail directly onto the ocean side beach, which is wonderful for catching the sunrise. Another nice feature about this (compared to the other north primitive sites on the island) is that they are the closest and a relatively short walk/hike to the Dungeness Ruins. If you stay for a while or have the time head up to the northern end and visit the Plum Orchard Mansion (14 mile round trip) as most people don't and you'll likely get an almost private tour (we thought we would right up until the very last moment when another small group showed up). If you want to explore more of the island in a short period of time I’d suggest biking. You can bring your own ($10 fee) or rent bikes from the ferry personal ($16 day, $20 overnight). If you are renting, I’d suggest renting them the day before (overnight) so you can then explore a lot more of the island first thing in the morning before the day trippers arrive on the ferry.
This campground is the only campground on the island where you’ll have access to potable water, restrooms and cold showers so if you want to stay here definitely make reservations. The 16 smaller & 2 group sites are all located off some main paths situated in little clearings of the saw palmettos giving them a little bit of privacy. The northern half of the loop is more separated than the southern but all the sites are located under the trees so you'll get a decent amount of shade/wind cover no matter where you.
You don’t reserve a specific site when you make your reservation but get to pick your site from the remaining open sites after a nice long introduction/video from the camp host once you arrive. So you don’t fully know what you’ll be able to select until you’re there.
· These are tent only primitive campsites with the standard uncovered picnic table and fire ring with a grate and/or a grill and your chicken wire cache box to keep they racoons out of your food.
· Camp fires are only permitted at Sea Camp & Stafford Beach campgrounds. You must use designated fire rings. You may gather dead and down wood or purchase bundles of firewood on the ferry.
· Flush restrooms and potable water.
· Dish/food washing sink area
· There are actually some electrical plugs hidden about that I say someone charging there phone in at one point.
· No Pets: Only service animals are permitted in campgrounds.
What an amazing spot to spend a few days! You can get here by personal boat or on the NPS concessioners' ferry. We paddled in a canoe from Crooked River State Park to Cumberland Island, so that certainly added an element of remoteness.
When you arrive, be prepared to load your items into a cart in order to get them from the dock area to your campsite. The campsites are probably a 10 minute jaunt from the park office on the island (near where you dock) and doesn't take too long if you're able to load everything in one trip.
The wildlife is abundant so be sure to proactively store your food. The raccoons are active all hours of the day and night so be sure to lock things up (including securing the lids to your coolers) if you stray away from your site. The beach is a short walk from the camping area and is a great place to spot more incredible wildlife and a magnificent sunrise.
While we were there we saw wild hogs, armadillos, raccoons and many other small mammals. This campground is situated in the perfect location to explore the island. I would recommend getting an early start to the day so to have the island to yourselves before the first ferry of the day arrives. There's something special about being one of only a handful of people there overnight.
There are cold water showers and access to fresh water at Sea Camp as well.
Incredible place to camp, be sure to make reservations for the ferry as well as the campground. Great campground with nice level sandy tent pitches and cold showers available. Campsites have the standard fire pits and picnic tables. Be sure to hike in the northern reaches of the island where the tourists don't go. Campgrounds are a short hike from the ferry and the beaches.