St. Marys, GA
|Summary of activities:
Ferry boat ride
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I am so glad we got to visit this National Seashore because just one week ago the government shutdown meant no National Park ferry was operating to give transportation over to the island. With possibly just a three week window to visit the island during the temporary reopening of the parks we made sure to get over there for a visit.
The island is nearly 20 miles long from tip to tip and the four most interesting sites are located, one at each of the north and south ends, with two more in the middle. They rent bicycles on the island, but the only road on the island is very potholed and is comprised of dirt and gravel. You can't ride very fast under these conditions.
If you really hustled you could possibly ride a bicycle from the Dungeness Ruins on the south end of the island (2.5 miles south of the ferry dock) and visit the Stafford and Plum Orchard Estates in the middle of the island (7 miles north of the ferry dock) in a one day visit. That's 19 miles of bicycle riding on a bumpy road, something not everyone is cut out for. You would still miss a visit to the north end of the island where the The Settlement and First African Baptist Church are located by visiting this way.
In my opinion there are only two viable ways to visit this National Seashore if you wish to see ALL the historic sites there are to see. The ferry boat's earliest morning trip arrives on the island at 9:45am and the latest afternoon trip back to the mainland leaves at 4:45pm, that only gives you 7 hours to visit.
OPTION #1 - CAMP OVERNIGHT - You could bring camping gear and stay for three of more days, then hike or bicycle to all the sites, but that still means a 17 mile trip from Sea Camp (located .5 mile from the ferry dock) to visit the north end sites and don't forget the 17 miles back to the camp.
If you like to backpack there are camps located 3.5, 5.5, 7.5 and 10.5 miles north of the ferry dock. That means you have to break camp every morning and move 2-3 miles to the next location or go straight to the 7.5 or 10.5 mile camp on the first day. There is no camping allowed at the 17 mile location of The Settlement and Church.
OPTION #2 - A VAN TOUR - The one we did by the way! Take the 6-7 hour Lands and Legacies Tour for $45.00 per person and travel in an A/C'd 15-passenger van to see all the sites. You'll get just enough time to visit each site and make sure to pack a lunch, you'll be eating at picnic tables out on the front lawn of Plum Orchard, probably my favorite site on the tour.
It's your choice to determine how you want to visit the island. On the day we went most folks just visited the southern end of the island and walked a 4.3 mile loop. They missed out on so many of the historic sites by doing this!
CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE
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