One of the popular places to visit near Saint Marys is Cumberland Island National Seashore. The only way to access the island is via ferry, and they only run twice per day, so space is limited. Be sure to reserve your ferry tickets in advance if you want to guarantee your spot. We took the 9am ferry and wouldn’t be returning until 4:45pm, so we had a full day to explore. NOTE: Bring bug spray, sunscreen, water vessels, food, and anything else you might need, because they don’t have anything on the island aside from potable water and bathrooms.
When we arrived, we headed south toward the grand Dungeness mansion ruins. We had to tread carefully, because wild horses roam the island and are known to kick, so steer clear! We saw several horses on our way to the ruins and a few were getting rambunctious, which made us nervous, but we made it unscathed. 😬 There are informational signs around the ruins explaining the history of what used to be a really grand property, and the views are quite stunning.
As we checked out a trail that spurs south from the mansion, we saw thousands of tiny fiddler crabs, which I tried fervently to avoid crushing. There wasn’t much to see on the trail, so we started to head back, and Matt suggested we take a shortcut along the shoreline to get back to the docks instead of using the trail we came in on. Well, that shortcut turned into a whole other adventure!
As we tread lightly along the precarious shoreline, I learned too late that what appeared to be solid ground was really a loose mud bog, and soon I was literally up to my knees in mud. 😫 Matt worried he might get stuck as well, so I was on my own to get myself and my shoes out of it. I was really stuck, but managed to scramble out of it, and then I looked down…I was covered in stinky, shiny, thick, black mud, and was completely horrified. I looked like a swamp monster! 😱
It was only 10:30am, so how was I going to continue for another 6 hours like this?!? I was stunned and in disbelief of what just happened and stomped furiously toward the docks. 🤬 Matt had to find his own way back. I flagged down a man in a truck, and he pointed out a water spigot that was thankfully right behind me, so I got to work scraping off the thick layer of mud from my shoes, socks and pant legs. I went into the bathroom to wring black water out my pant legs into the toilet and roll them up. Yuck!
By this time, Matt had arrived and also cleaned his socks and shoes, so we decided to leave them in the sun on a picnic bench and wander in our flip-flops while they dried. We headed north on a pedestrian path called the River Trail, then cut across the island through the Sea Camp Campground toward the eastern beach. We took a boardwalk to the shoreline and headed south, enjoying the sea breeze and firm sand, and then circled back to the docks via another boardwalk over the marshland, and a road that takes you through the cemetery and more historical housing.
Thankfully, by this time our shoes and socks were dry. Hurrah! We were pretty tired from walking in flip-flops for 5 miles, so were relieved to have our cushy shoes again. I was also surprised at how clean my dry fit pants and shoes looked after being caked in mud. From here, we opted to do one more small exploration along the Nightingale Trail, where we saw several armadillos digging for food. These little guys are nearly deaf and blind, so they bumble along and are pretty hilarious to watch. When we got to the main north/south road, we walked up toward the Sea Camp one more time and then trudged toward the northern docks. We were exhausted!
After waiting over an hour on a picnic bench in the shade, everyone loaded onto the boat for the journey back to Saint Marys. Next to us on the boat was a lovely woman named Tamara, with whom we shared both our ridiculous folly in the mud bog and our current travels around the country. Having moved frequently with her husband in the military, she was a wealth of knowledge about many of the places we are planning to explore in our upcoming adventures. Thank you, Tamara! 🙏
Finally, we were back in Saint Marys, but tired and hungry. We dropped our packs back at the truck and wandered over to the 401 West Restaurant for a sunset dinner. It’s first come, first serve seating, and they have stages on one side of the building for what we assume are live outside performances. They make bread daily, and the food was delicious! Yes, we were hungry, but it really was some of the best food we have had in quite a while.
After a long shower and solid night’s sleep, we decided we never need to visit Cumberland Island again. 😂 However, don’t let our experience dissuade you. There are guided tours, you can bike around the island, and there are several camps and trails all over the island. The camps in the northern parts of the island are remote and meant for backpacking, so choose your own adventure and come see its unique history and wilderness.