The Secluded Georgia Island Locals Want to Keep a Secret — With Near-empty Beaches, Wild Horses, and Hidden Gems

A nature lover's paradise in the Peach State.

For many travelers, a secluded island getaway spurs images of the Caribbean or more far-flung destinations like Fiji and Bora Bora. But jetting off to an idyllic isle doesn’t have to mean a long-haul flight. Off the southeast coast of Georgia sits a barrier island with untamed scenery and a laid-back pace that feels like a world away from the mainland. Cumberland Island has all the ingredients of an off-the-grid escape: near-empty beaches, wildlife (most famously, feral horses), and plenty of hidden gems. It’s a place that many people in the Peach State want to keep a secret. And, really, can you blame them? 

Keen to experience what makes Cumberland Island so special? Follow our guide to plan a visit that’s relaxing and respectful to the landscape and its inhabitants. 

Cumberland Island marsh area

Ralph Daniel/Explore Georgia

Getting to Cumberland Island, Georgia

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry. Most people take the short, beautiful, 45-minute ride from downtown St. Marys, which operates throughout the year.

Best Things to Do on Cumberland Island, Georgia

Wild horses with foal graze in sand dunes at Cumberland Island National Seashore

Frank Staub/Getty Images

Much of the appeal of postcard-perfect Cumberland Island is that it’s largely uninhabited. That means the unbridled beauty of nature at every turn. Loggerhead turtles lay eggs on the protected beaches of Cumberland Island National Seashore. Wild horses gallop through the rolling sand dunes and graze at Stafford Field. Oak trees sway in the breeze. Entire ecosystems call the marshes and maritime forest home. Fish spawn in the many rivers, creeks, and freshwater lakes. As such, Cumberland Island brims with opportunities for fishing. With everything from peregrine falcons to warblers, it’s a beloved spot for bird-watchers. The best way to soak in all the natural splendor? Stroll along the 18-mile stretch of shoreline, hit the hiking trails, go for a bike ride, or do a kayaking excursion. 

"Young healthy man running on white sand beach of Cumberland Island, GA."

epicurean/Getty Images

One of the other interesting aspects of Cumberland Island is its rich history. The grand mansions once owned by steel tycoons stand as a reminder of the past. Among the most interesting, the ruins of Dungeness are what’s left of the estate built by Thomas Carnegie and his wife, Lucy, in 1884. Today, the land and wildlife have reclaimed it. However, you can still see the abandoned expensive cars and other reminders of the couple’s luxury lifestyle. It’s also worth checking out the Georgian Revival-style Plum Orchard and First African Baptist Church.

The National Park Service offers a variety of ranger-led tours for both day-trippers and overnight visitors that explore the eco side and heritage of Cumberland Island. 

Best Places to Stay on Cumberland Island, Georgia

A red classic car driving in front of the Greyfield Inn

Peter Frank Edwards/Greyfield Inn

Many high-profile guests looking to unwind in peace and privacy, as well as serenity-seeking vacationers without the name (and face) recognition, have holed up at the historic Greyfield Inn over the years. The expression if walls could talk definitely applies here. In fact, it’s where John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy tied the knot. No doubt the pair were drawn to the moss-draped trees, rooms with four-poster beds, and farm-to-table culinary program.

The other, vastly different, option is to sleep under the stars surrounded by woods and sand dunes at Sea Camp Campground. Far from glamping, it’s very much a traditional campsite with tents, and travelers need to bring all their own gear and secure a permit.

Best Places to Eat and Drink on Cumberland Island, Georgia 

There are no restaurants on Cumberland Island, save for the dining options at Greyfield Inn, which are exclusively for guests. With that in mind, it’s important to plan accordingly.

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