Lake McIntosh @ Line Creek Nature Area, Peachtree City, GA


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"Preserved and protected for future generations, Cumberland Island National Seashore   
includes a designated Wilderness area, undeveloped beaches, historic sites, cultural ruins,
critical habitat and nesting areas, as well as numerous plant and animal communities."
~ National Park Service website for Cumberland Island NS

Each time we've spent all or part of the winter at Kings Bay Sub Base I've hiked at Cumberland Island National Seashore, a long, narrow, picturesque island just off the coastline near the Georgia-Florida border.

I love the sugary white sand dunes, the long expanse of Atlantic coastline, the plethora of sea birds and other wildlife, including about 100 feral horses and lots of armadillos, the interesting seashells and other things washed up on the shore, the canopy of tall, twisted live oak trees shading fan-shaped palmettos, the long boardwalks spanning dunes and wetlands, the historical buildings, ruins, and other structures, and the general history of the island.

Feral horse on the beach

Palmettos under live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss on the River Trail

The last time I posted photos and hike descriptions from the island in this journal was a three-page entry in March of 2015.

This winter I spent two full days hiking at Cumberland Island, once in January and again in March. I'll include lots of current photos from these hikes on this and a second page, especially since I explored some different trails this year.

When we bought our house this spring the light blue master bedroom just begged for a coastal theme. One of the canvas paintings I found online reminded me so much of Cumberland Island that I bought it and hung it over a tufted storage bench on one wall:

Every time I look at that picture and the other calming coastal art work and pillows in the bedroom I think of good times on Cumberland Island and other white sandy beaches we've visited over the years.


And not just because of the refreshing sea breezes!

Although I'm a bigger fan of mountains and canyons than I am of coastal areas and islands, I've always had a special fondness for Cumberland Island because it is rather remote but easy to reach by ferry. The National Park Service does a good job limiting the number of visitors to the island each day so it has never felt crowded when I've visited -- especially on most of the trails anywhere more than a mile or two from the docks.

You can find a full map and description of everything the island offers at the official NPS website. I've just copied the southern portion of the map here and marked the two hiking routes I took this winter on more detailed maps later in this entry.

Note the location of the town of St. Mary's and Kings Bay Sub Base;
I marked the approx. location of Eagle Hammock RV Park with an orange dot.

The whole island is about 20 miles long and only two to three miles wide.

There is no bridge to Cumberland Island; the only way to get there is by boat -- either your own or the ferry run by a concessionaire for the National Park Service (NPS). The park website has the ferry schedule, which varies by time of year, and all the information you need to know to make a reservation.

The Ice House dock remains closed after damage from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 but the Ice House Museum is open. So is the Sea Camp dock about half a mile up the river.

Ice House dock, shelter, and museum as seen from the river;
the museum is open but the dock remains closed.

The Cumberland Queen II, after arrival at Sea Camp on my January hiking trip

It's about a 45-minute trip by ferry to go a little under eight miles in each direction and the cost is reasonable.

There is a small senior discount of $2 off the regular adult roundtrip ferry ride of $28 and no additional fee for park entry if you have a Park Service pass. Folks who don't have any of the various kinds of NPS passes pay $7 for a week's worth of time on the island.

There are additional fees for camping, a historical tour on a van, and taking your own bicycle with you on the ferry.

Campsite at one of the remote campgrounds (Stafford) on the island

Bikes to rent at Sea Camp

Be forewarned that once you are on the island, there is no transportation other than your own feet or a bike, or the very space-limited van tour -- requiring advance reservation -- that I enjoyed two years ago to the northern end of the island.

Being able to take your own bike over to the island is a nice new feature since I was there last in 2015.

Previously, visitors who wanted to cycle on the island had to rent a rusty one-speed bike at Sea Camp. It's much better to have your own newer, multi-speed bike to ride. Space is a little limited on the ferry for bikes but as you can see from this photo from March, they can line up a bunch of them along the rails:

There is a $10 space-available fee to take your bike on the ferry, probably for the hassle factor for the crew (there is no fee for backpacks and other camping gear).

Visitors can ride their own bike or the rental bikes on the beach, public roads, and the wide path to Sea Camp Campground. None of these surfaces are paved and the sand is deep enough in many places to completely bog down most mountain bikes so we haven't taken ours over there yet.

We'd rather just hike than hike-a-bike.


Whatever was I thinking when I decided to explore a different part of the southern tip of the island when the tide was low -- by myself, with no one else anywhere nearby?

Getting mired in mud wasn't part of my plan. I wanted to do part of a hike I enjoyed two years ago on some remote trails in the South End where I've never run into any other hikers but I had trouble following the paths this time because of major storm damage from last year's Hurricane Matthew.

Ironically, it wasn't in places like this that I got stuck; this mud was relatively firm,
as you can tell by the horse's lower legs -- they aren't muddy!

I knew where I wanted to end up -- when I lost the trail I just decided to skirt closer to the southern tip of the island like I did on my loop two years ago, when I had no problem with mud, and get there off-trail over "ground" that suddenly gave way beneath my feet.

It was scary when I was halfway through a narrow, shallow channel of water and found myself literally knee-deep in shoe-sucking muck. Thank goodness I had two trekking poles, a lot of determination, and some very good luck or I would have had to call for help before the tide came back in.

This is the innocent-looking little stream where I got stuck in the mud;
the red arrow marks my destination by Cumberland Sound on the west side of the island.

Fortunately, I had a good Verizon cell phone signal. More fortunately, I didn't have to use it to get rescued.

It reminded me of the dangerous mud flats in Alaska where some people and animals have died before being rescued, only there aren't any signs warning people on Cumberland Island like the ones I saw in Anchorage and along Turnagain Arm.

Where I wanted to end up by the Sound

Don't get me wrong; I'm not assigning any blame. It was totally my own fault for taking an unknown risk and getting stuck (temporarily) in the mud.

In my late 60s, I still love an adventure and exploring new places but as I get older I don't take nearly as many risks as I did even ten years ago. I think that's a natural instinct as people get closer to their deaths than their births. I'm nowhere near ready to die yet if I can help it! I just had no idea that I was no longer on terra firma -- until suddenly I wasn't.

Here's my route that January day, highlighted in yellow, a total of 13 miles with some of the trails duplicated during the hike:

I had great weather for that hike with lots of sun, no wind, and temperatures from the low 50s F. to the upper 70s. In fact, it was warm enough that I was wishing for some cooling wind when I wasn't on the beach.  

I went over on the 9AM ferry and got back to town at 5:30 PM.

After checking in at the NPS headquarters in the morning, I had time to take some photos of the nearby park in St. Mary's and the harbor area:

I took the next two pictures as we left the harbor on the ferry:

Fishing boats and a "tall ship"

Yipes -- stripes!

After arriving at the Sea Camp dock I hiked south on the River Trail to the Ice House museum, then took a left turn to the southeast and walked out toward the ocean past the Dungeness ruins:


I've shown lots of photos of these ruins in previous journals so I didn't take very many pictures of it on this hike.


Beyond the Dungeness ruins and some other buildings visitors can continue walking on a wide sandy path to the ocean or hang a right and go down to the wetlands on boardwalks. I always choose the boardwalks for the views.

High tide the day of this hike was about 8 AM and low tide about 2:30 PM.  I took pictures to show the differences in water levels -- much higher outbound in the morning and lower in the afternoon when I returned, exposing mud and clamshells:



Just about the same view, on the return:


The path continues up through some sand dunes with eerie-looking tree stumps and branches, made more spooky this day with a dozen turkey vultures watching down on me from four of the trees:


When I got to the beach on the Atlantic side of the island I walked south 1 miles along the water to the trail that goes past the South End Ponds, which are shown on the map above.

It was very cool when I saw a handsome reddish-brown horse walking toward me on the beach (next photo). I showed another photo of it at the top of this entry. It passed very close to me but I didn't try to pet it; that's discouraged, since the horses on the island are feral. I saw at least a dozen more horses scattered around the South End that day.




Beginning of trail to South End Ponds and western side of the island


I followed the South End Trail just fine outbound to the western shore of the island next to Cumberland Sound two years ago but lost it this time because the sandy path was difficult to follow, apparently obliterated by Hurricane Matthew last year. I wasn't able to follow it from the other side back to the ocean, either.

Since I'd come back off-trail successfully last time I figured I could just hike cross-country again this time. Unfortunately, this time I got into deep muck as I followed a horse trail across the trickling (at low tide) stream shown near the top of this entry.

Even though it was difficult to hike through the grasses, sand, and wet spots the scenery and wildlife were interesting through this area:

The trail I couldn't find on this day used to go about where that horse is standing.

This armadillo let me get quite close to him.

Area where I got stuck

Half way across the muddy area when I became firmly mired in knee-deep muck the only way to extricate my legs was to come out of my Merrill trail running shoes. It's a good thing I had both trekking poles with me because I might not have been able to get out of the mud without them.

It was even harder to get my shoes out of the mud; I had to dig down about 18" to retrieve them. I knew I needed them to get several miles back to the ferry without shredding my feet.

So not only were my legs covered in mud up to my knees, now my arms were also covered in mud. And my shoes had too much mud in them to put them back on! I kept going over to the Sound, tried to follow the trail back from that side, but soon lost it there, too.

I walked about a mile through sand with some small burrs and stickers in it -- in sock feet -- before I was able to find clear enough water surrounded by firm enough ground to wash off at least part of the mud and put my shoes back on. My hands were too dirty to take any photos for a while.


Although I was unable to find very much of the trail in the storm-damaged area on the way back to the Atlantic side of the island I did manage to steer clear of the place where I got stuck. I did sort of a figure-8, avoiding areas with thick brush and sticking even closer to the southern shoreline on the way back.




I came out below the long rock jetty (shown above) and rinsed more of the mud from my hands, arms, legs, shoes, and socks in the ocean water.

Then I walked two miles north along the beach to the Dungeness Trail. Since the tide was still low the slightly-sloped beach was very wide:

Ripples in the sand

Looking back toward the dunes, with clouds reflected in a pool of water on the beach

After detouring over to the boardwalks to take low-tide photos (a couple are shown farther above in this entry) I went past the Dungeness ruins again and north on the main road to the intersection with the Sea Camp trails.

I went east through the camping area . . .

. . . and out to the dunes, then turned back and went west to the Sea Camp dock. All that was about 13 miles total, plus another mile or two that day in St. Mary's and on base. 

I saw more horses near the boardwalks and Dungeness, for a total of about two dozen that day.


I also saw more armadillos up close than I've ever seen there or anywhere else in one day. There were numerous birds everywhere. And on the ferry passengers were entertained by several dolphins in the river between the mainland and Cumberland Island both in the morning and afternoon. I've seen them in the river before but haven't been able to get a picture fast enough.

It was near sunset when we got back to St. Mary's about 5:30 PM so the lighting was soft and beautiful for harbor photos:


I was one tired puppy when I got back to the RV park, not so much from walking 14+ miles that day but more from the stress of cross-country hiking and getting stuck so deep in the mud. That was scary.

I'm glad I've never had any nightmares about it -- and I definitely wanted to go back to the island!

Next pagemy second long hike on Cumberland Island

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup

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2017 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil