Cumberland Island Hiking Guide
Explore Cumberland Island, hiking to Carnegie mansion ruins and wide, powdery beaches on Georgia's southern coastline.
Cumberland Island National Seashore’s wind-swept, sandy coastline, Carnegie mansion ruins and serene, powdery beaches draw hikers, campers, backpackers and visitors on day trips to its shores. Cumberland Island’s long, expansive shoreline offers over 50 miles of level, sandy hiking trails. These Cumberland Island hiking destinations are our top picks for a day trip to the island’s southern half, or a day hike during a Cumberland Island camping or backpacking adventure.
Cumberland Island Beaches
Waves gently lap Cumberland Island’s wide, powdery beaches, rolling conch shells and sand dollars onto the shore. Large, intact shells, including skeletons of horseshoe crabs, are scattered everywhere, as are fragments of colorful sea glass. And whole, sand-pitted antique bottles are a common find on shore.
Giant wooden beams and rusted metal spot the sandy shores, perhaps fragments of a sailing vessel lost at sea. Horses frequent the dunes lining the shore, some solitary, some in small herds. And shorebirds fish in the shallow waters hugging Cumberland Island’s vast, sandy shores. Otherwise, most of the island’s beaches are deserted and serene, except for the easiest-access beaches at the Sea Camp campground and near the Dungeness mansion ruins.
Dungeness Mansion Ruins
Cumberland Island’s southern end, surrounding the shell of the once-stately Dungeness mansion, is touristy by day. If you’re camping or backpacking the island, check the ferry schedule and plan accordingly. The best times to day hike the southern end of the island are before the first ferry of the day and after the last, when the limited number of campers and backpackers are the few occupants of the island (other than the island’s few remaining residents and guests of the upscale Greyfield Inn.)
Explore the Dungeness ruins at daybreak to catch a beautiful sunrise over the surrounding marsh, and early morning light on the mansion’s grounds. The structural skeleton of Dungeness stands as a testament to the wealth and excess during America’s age of steel. Here, wild horses – descendants of the original Carnegie herd – graze on the vast, open, grassy lawns surrounding the mansion and trot freely past the grand stables where their noble ancestors once slept. There’s a graveyard near the ruins, where family and friends are interred under gravestones weathered by rain, wind, and sand.
Dungeness was built in the late 1890s and abandoned after Lucy Carnegie’s death in 1925. It stood, unoccupied, for decades – until fire destroyed it in 1959.
The ruins, the graveyard, the constant hum of insects, and the curtains of Spanish moss blowing gently in the breeze create a surreal atmosphere – like the makings of a Hollywood set. There’s a sense of timelessness and serenity at Dungeness that’s flavored with a bit of eerie.
Surrounding the Dungeness ruins, the recreation hall, stables, marsh dock, servant’s quarters and accountant’s mansion stand as fragmented examples of the opulent life that once existed on Cumberland Island. Lining a sandy road often traveled by wild horses, a line of rusted vehicles from the early 20th century sit in the place where they were abandoned decades ago.
Cumberland Island Hiking – What to Pack?
Whether you’re visiting Cumberland Island on a day trip or overnight, take a lightweight day bag for daytime exploration on the island. And don’t forget beach essentials, such as a beach towel, beachwear, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Cumberland Island has no stores, public restaurants or amenities. Bring ample fresh water, food, and hiking, backpacking, camping and beach gear. (There’s drinkable water available at Sea Camp, though it’s got a slight sulfur flavor and smell. We recommend packing in whatever fresh water you can.) Bring trash bags as well, since you’ll need to pack everything back off the island that you bring with you. Insect repellant is a must: ticks and biting insects are active nearly year-round. And pack your standard day hike gear, including first aid and hiking essentials – check out our hiking gear list for our trail-tested, favorite gear.
Southern Cumberland Island Hiking Trails Map, Directions & Details
Free parking is available in St Marys at the Cumberland Island Ferry dock. See the official Cumberland Island NPS website for ferry fee, camping fee and entrance fee information.
30.720477, -81.550551 // W30 43.229 W81 33.033
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