The sun hangs low on the horizon, rising slowly, casting a golden glow over the wide, sandy shoreline. Shorebirds take flight by the hundreds, soaring through the warm seaside winds. On this vast Georgia barrier island with exceptionally few guests, we’re the lone two who ventured out on a pre-dawn, two-mile bike ride to the beach. And we’ve got seven miles of remarkably beautiful, broad beach to ourselves – shared with the millions of birds, amphibians, shelled creatures, and deer that call this isle home.
We’re on Little St Simons Island. It’s our first morning here, and we’re in wondrous awe.
Unlike so many others on the Atlantic coast, Little St Simons is largely undeveloped, save for a small 20-acre cluster of historic buildings reserved for guests, and scattered historical remains of buildings, a wrecked tugboat, and few other structures. The island is privately owned, and has been since 1760.
Today, the island is an all-inclusive eco-resort, under a permanent conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy. It’s a remote escape for a select few that book an adventurous stay at the Lodge at Little St Simons Island.
The perks of a stay here are plentiful: an open pass to explore, with unlimited use of the lodge’s collection of bikes, kayaks, skiff boats, hiking trails, and fishing gear. Comfortable and generously spacious private rooms in a lodge-style setting. Fantastic meals, three a day, with seafood sourced from the day’s catch, produce from the island’s duo of organic gardens, and other locally-sourced food. The chance to explore, side by side, with an extraordinarily smart and highly personable staff of naturalists, to learn from their vast knowledge and to soak up their copious enthusiasm for the conservation of this wonderfully wild, wonderfully beautiful place.
The stay feels entirely unlike a resort or hotel; rather, like we’re exclusive guests at a friend’s rustic, remote coastal retreat. Likewise, excursions with the naturalists feel entirely unlike a tour, as we are sharing in their own adventure of discovery and study of the island’s ecology. It’s truly a wonderful experience, like no other.
Little St Simons Island: the journey
Departing from the northern stretches of St Simons Island, a small, private boat navigates the broad Hampton River and the narrow Mosquito Creek. Our fellow passengers are several of the few guests (a maximum of 32) that will share the isle during our stay.
Reaching dock, we set foot on the island and head to the historic hunting lodge for check-in and orientation.
Exploring a coastal Georgia wonderland
Coastal beauty is in abundance surrounding the island and throughout its sandy stretches. The island’s 11,000 acres of maritime wilderness lie at the delta of the Altahama River, the longest, free-flowing river on the East Coast. It’s home to an enormous diversity of birds and wildlife: nearly 300 species of birds call this place home, earning it a renowned status with bird watching enthusiasts. Gnarly-branched live oak trees dominate the maritime forest, draped in flowing tendrils of Spanish moss. Grassy salt marshes are home to a staggering variety of creatures, an ever-changing environment that ebbs and flows with the ever-changing tides. Fish, amphibians, and reptiles inhabit the channels, rivers, and ocean. Land, sea, air, and tree canopy are all teeming with life.
During each day’s breakfast, the island’s team of naturalists meets with guests, chalkboarding the day’s planned activities and outings based on guest interest and the island’s ever-changing wildlife activity, weather, and tidal schedules.
Our excursions were plentiful, pleasant and oh-so-memorable. Early morning, pre-dawn bike rides to the beach for sunrise. Kayaking with our fellow guests and a team of naturalists. Taking a skiff boat class, and venturing out solo by skiff down Mosquito Creek. A safari-like outing by truck to the island’s north end, spotting flocks of rare seafaring birds by the thousands, a recently-hatched swarm of baby alligators, and gorgeous views from the island’s shell-ridden northern beach.
And the adventures continued: long walks on the broad, remote beaches, finding dozens of intact sand dollars, beautiful tumbled shells and enormous, domed shells of horseshoe crabs. Spotting dolphin in the tidal creeks. An in-depth lesson on the remarkably diverse population of native snakes. Spotting loggerhead sea turtle nests on the beach. An after-dinner, naturalist-led outing in search of owls in the island’s tree canopy. And getting to know the exceptionally intelligent, super-friendly staff of naturalists during our stay: Stacia, Bayard, Andrew, and Eric.
Meal times were one of the unexpected highlights of our trip. The kitchen’s craft is just superb; daily menus change with the seasons, the day’s catch, and the availability of local produce. Led by the ultra-talented Executive Chef Ulfet Ralph, the kitchen delivered meal after meal of expertly crafted fare, served family style to three oversized wooden tables in the island’s wood-clad historic hunting lodge. The kitchen was quite accommodating of our pescatarian and vegetarian menu requests. One night’s dinner selection, a shrimp dish with garlic and herbs, was one of the best seafood dishes we’ve had the pleasure of eating, ever.
Aside from the food itself, the other, unexpected highlight of meal times was the interaction with our fellow guests. Their ages and life experiences were as diverse as the island’s ecology: Georgia locals, newlyweds from California, native New Yorkers, a couple from South Carolina. What we all shared, though, was a sense of adventure, a growing wonderment and love of the island that we temporarily called home, and stories of our daily experiences. We forged new friendships, shared stories, laughed heartily, relayed recent travels and books we loved, and passed the large family-style serving dishes of absolutely marvelous food over and over.
Little St Simons Island Lodging
Our lodging included a double room in the River Lodge, one of the two newest (and most spacious) lodging options on the island. The lodge featured a large, beautifully decorated common area, four guest rooms, a cozy screened porch, and a large deck with sweeping views of Mosquito Creek through the moss-draped forest.
An in-lodge refrigerator and washer and dryer offered convenience. Thankful for the chance to unplug, we enjoyed the absence of TV, phones, and internet (though mobile phone reception was reliable). Our beds were oh-so-comfortable, and we slept well, thanks to the remote silence that descends over the island at night – and our excitement-filled day of adventure, salt, and sunshine.
Mosquito Creek lived up to its name…
Mosquito populations were thriving during our stay. The hurricane that had just passed through several weeks before offloaded large quantities of standing water on LSSI and the surrounding islands. Sunscreen and insect repellents (including natural choices and DEET) were available nearly everywhere, from guest rooms to the main lodge to outposts at the beach. But so were mosquitos, in abundance. We quickly learned the keys to survival: loose-fitting, tight weave clothing, island-provided ThermaCell devices, and a saturation of repellants. And in some cases, simply being in the right location at the right time, thanks to the wise advice of the naturalists.
The mosquitos were absent at the blissfully beautiful beach, and over the water while kayaking and boating. We also discovered that the swarms couldn’t quite keep pace with us during our outings by bike. Reportedly, the populations were at recent record numbers during our stay, due to the hurricane. With luck, our future trips to the island will be better timed to avoid these hungry pests!
… and we’re longing to return
Our experience was downright fantastic: adventurous, relaxing, educational and enjoyable. Birding, boating, biking, dining, mingling, learning: throughout our stay, the island’s naturalists, chefs, boat captains and hospitality team made our adventure nothing short of incredible. There’s something special about this island and its crew, for certain – and we certainly can’t wait to return.
Tips for a great Little St Simons Island adventure:
- Beer and wine are included, as are all meals and all excursions. The wonderfully scenic boat trip to and from the island is included, as is in-room daily housekeeping. Delicious, chilled artisan well water, lemonade, soft drinks and sweet tea are available throughout the day. And a warning: the kitchen’s fresh-baked cookies are addicting, especially after a full, adventurous day.
- The island’s dress code is casual, even during cocktail hour and dinner. Pack long-sleeve, lightweight, tight-knit activewear, light hiking boots, and beachwear.
- In addition to the River Lodge, other lodging options include rooms in the hunting lodge, several small historic cottages, and a 1929 tabby house.
- While the day’s three meals are served on a set schedule, a brown bag lunch can be picked up in the mornings to accommodate on-the-go picnic lunches. While we’d planned on taking lunches with us, we found ourselves such fans of the group meals that we always made time to return to the lodge for every meal.
- Cocktails (from an honor bar), island-friendly apparel, and books are available for purchase in the hunting lodge.
- There’s a large saltwater pool, too, if you find yourself with nothing else to do during the day. We never saw a single soul in the pool, though: perhaps the island just holds too many adventures.
- We took this journey thanks to an enthusiastic recommendation from our friends at 365 Atlanta Family; check out their LSSI feature for more tips for a great stay.
Learn more, check availability and make reservations for your stay:
While we received a complimentary stay at LSSI, all opinions above are our own and are based on personal experiences. Thanks to the island’s incredible staff for hosting our adventure.