Cumberland Island, Georgia's wild horses


Cumberland Island is a magical place, of which there are very few left in the world. Even fewer which are accessible without a private plane and priviledged pocketbook. Just off the coast of St. Mary's, Cumberland Island is an untamed paradise out of a children's book where horses roam free without so much as a second glance at the strange two-legged creatures sharing the pathway, where the only footprints in the sand are yours and maybe those of a racoon and where the graveyard of the Carnigie plantation rivals the beauty of even the most elegant modern mansion.

Reservations

The website suggests making reservations for the ferry, which departs twice in the morning from the historic district in St. Mary's. However, be aware reservations can only be made Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We made the decision to go the night before, so we weren't able to make reservations. It's suggested you arrive 30 minutes early if you have reservations, so we got there an hour before the 11:45 a.m. departure time, prepared to beg for a spot. They were very nice about it and we were able to get tickets, but the ferry was packed so I definitely recommend making reservations if you can. The ferry is $20 per person for a round trip.

What to Wear
waiting for us at the ferry dock

The beach is pretty much a straight shot across from Sea Camp but unless you're planning on going straight there and parking (which would be a shame), wear tennis shoes. There is a LOT of walking involved if you want to get around and you are in the woods. There are snakes (saw two), poison ivy and such, and bugs (I found a tick on my foot when we left). If you don't want to take your sneakers to the beach you have two options: 1) bring flip flops in your bag or 2) carry a small hand towel in your bag. I take one on any adventure. When we went to the beach I took my shoes off and then just used the towel to dust off the sand before I put them back on. Most of the trails are shaded but if you burn easily you might want to consider wearing a loose-fitting long-sleeve shirt. It will also help with the bugs. Same goes for pants. I wore a tank and shorts and left with more than a few bug bites.

The Ferry

The ferry ride out took about 45 minutes. We sat on the top deck, which was lovely but we definitely paid for it with sunburn later.

sharing the bike path
Bicycles

We rented bikes for getting around ($14 each for the day). These are available at the second ferry stop, Sea Camp. The bikes are one-speeders with foot brakes, which took a little getting used to since I haven't had foot brakes on a bike since I was a kid. Mostly my stopping consisted of stopping by putting my heels on the ground or crashing into trees (or, once, a lady. Soooooooo sorry about that...). They also couldn't be adjusted, so for someone with bad knees like me, using a bike that was too small for several hours made for sore knees that night. With that said, they do their job making getting around faster and easier, and I would actually recommend them. A few of them had baskets on them as well, which was helpful. Just take them for a spin before you get too far away to make sure the chains aren't loose.

The Horses

outside the Ice House Museum
Since the island is nearly 14 miles long and we were only going to be exploring the southern portion, I was concerned we weren't going to see any of the feral horses or that we'd see one or two from far away. Boy was I wrong. They were EVERYWHERE! When we pulled up, a mother and foal were grazing on the beach right in front of the ferry dock. I took a million pictures thinking they'd be the only ones we saw. After we got our bikes and left Sea Camp, we headed down to the Dungeness ruins and there were more there, along the paths, at the Ice House... everywhere we went! It was pretty incredible. You are warned before you leave not to bother them, feed them or try to pet them. I got closer probably than encouraged to take pictures of them, but they didn't seem to mind. If you got too close, they simply walked away. They are wild though, so especially with kids who are anything like I was when I was younger (i.e. think they are the horse whisperer and want to go pet their new best friend), it's probably a good idea to maintain a safe distance.


Lunch

There is NO food on the island. Or water, unless you're okay with a faucet outside (the water is treated from Sea Camp southward but I'm not quite THAT adventurous). So anything you want to eat or drink you have to bring yourself. We packed sandwiches in a little cooler and stopped at a CVS a few miles back from the ferry port in St. Mary's to stock up on bottled water and trail mix. Especially on a hot day, all that walking/biking will make you crazy thirsty, so if nothing else, at least bring a few bottles of water. (Another reason to grab a bike with a basket... so you don't have to carry everything around.)

Safety

While I am not going to say there is no crime on the island because I don't know for sure, I will say I'm pretty confident there's not much. Only a handful of people live on the island and most of them are park rangers or folks who run Greyfield Inn. The only people who can visit the island must take the ferry from St. Mary's, another ferry which leaves from Fernandina Beach and only transports Greyfield Inn guests or a private boat. We weren't carrying much of value, mainly just a camera, sunscreen, bug spray and lunch (although I would have been pretty upset if someone had taken my lunch!) but we left our stuff with our bikes several times and had no problems with anyone messing with anything. I certainly wouldn't advise leaving your wallet hanging around, but I think for the little stuff you're fine.

Things to bring

Bottled Water
Lunch/snacks
Sunscreen
Bugspray
A towel
A camera!
A little money for bike rentals
Sunglasses and/or a hat
Anything else you think you might need because there are no stores

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