Heading to “the beach” is a traditional family vacation. Cumberland Island National Seashore, however, is anything but a typical beach. The largest of Georgia’s barrier islands, it has been home to Native Americans, enslaved African Americans and wealthy industrialist Thomas Carnegie. Designated as a National Seashore in 1972, the National Park Service has managed and protected the wild beauty found here. Our Inquisitive TravelingMom knew this was a must stop on a recent family road trip to the Georgia coast.
7 Reasons Kids Will Love Cumberland Island National Seashore
I’ve been close to Cumberland Island in Georgia on many a family vacation and had wanted to visit the island. One thing or another, however, had kept me from fulfilling that day trip dream. On our recent school break, I laid out plans for an epic road trip. I made sure that this time Cumberland Island was a non-negotiable part of our plans. I just knew that my nature-loving, adventure-seeking kids would love the untamed beauty of the island and its natural inhabitants. After our trip, we came up with seven reasons why your kids will love Cumberland Island National Seashore as much as we did.
1. The Ferry to Cumberland Island
Don’t wait until the day of your visit to purchase ferry tickets. Only a certain amount of visitors are allowed on the island at one time so ferry tickets get sold out in advance. The ferry schedule varies by season, so be sure to verify your correct schedule when making your purchase. Once you are over there, you could be spending anywhere from five to seven hours on the island. No concessions are sold on the island, so be sure to pack everything you will need for the day. It’s pack in, pack out.
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After a brief talk about the island by a ranger, you are ready to board the ferry. There are seats on top out in the open air and seats around the perimeter of the bottom level. Inside the cabin are booths with tables to use however you like on the 45 minute ride to the island. My kids loved moving all over the ferry, taking in the different vantage points. Dolphins and birds were spotted during the ride, delighting the kids.
2. The Beach on Cumberland Island
What surprised us most about this beach is the vast expanse of it. Accustomed to overly developed, constantly peopled beaches, I was shocked by how tall the dunes were. Past the dunes, another surprise. The beach itself seemed endless. Never have we seen such a wide coverage of sand and it seemed to stretch on forever. We walked over a mile on the beach and garnered an impressive shell collection. TravelingMom Tip: The best shells weren’t found down by the water, but up much closer to the dunes. You’re allowed to keep any uninhabited shells that you find.
3. The Lack of Distraction
Okay, this is a reason that I love Cumberland Island, but I think kids appreciate it, too. In many tourist destinations, kids are inundated with too many choices of activities as well as gift shops and other things that assault their senses. On Cumberland Island, kids are treated to the peace of nature. Yes, I never had a problem with getting service for my cell phone. But even my teens pulled their phones out only to take pictures. There will be no meltdowns over not stopping at the snack bar, ice cream shop or gift shop. They just aren’t there.
4. The Passage of Time
Cumberland Island has played host to several famous Americans. First inhabitated by Georgia colony founder James Oglethorpe, Dungeness was his hunting lodge. Next acquired by Revolutionary War hero Gen. Nathaniel Greene, who revised and updated Dungeness in 1803. The island was abandoned during the Civil War and Greene’s version of Dungeness burned down. Industrialist Thomas Carnegie commissioned a rebuilt Dungeness as a 59 room mansion.
A mansion that size cost a pretty penny to keep up and the property was abandoned during the Great Depression. Thirty years passed and another fire left the ruins in their current condition. For safety reasons, visitors can’t step inside the ruins, but you may view them up close from the grounds. Even in its present state, Dungeness is impressive. My kids were fascinated to see the skeleton of what was once such a grand estate.
5. The Kid-Friendly Activity
Kids like to move. This is no secret. There are plenty of opportunities for that on Cumberland Island. Hiking, biking and swimming are time-tested kid favorites. There are miles and miles of trails on the island. A limited amount of adult-sized bikes are available for rental on the island but you can also load your own on the ferry (if space allows) for $10 per bike. Depending on the time of year you visit and the ages of your kids, be prepared for them to get hot and tired. There are plenty of benches scattered about and many picnic tables in common areas. Be prepared to take regular rest and snack breaks to keep your crew fueled up.
6. The Cumberland Island Wildlife
Cumberland Island is most well-known for its population of wild horses. Once free-range livestock of property owners, but by the time the Park Service took over, the horses on the island had become feral. Which reminds me to warn you to watch where you step, all over the island. They roam free and do not appear startled by the island visitors, although it is not advisable to approach too closely.
A population of ghost crabs greeted us as we exited the dock. We spotted vultures and sea gulls. One surprise find was a number of armadillos! They also didn’t seem too wary of us and allowed us to get relatively close to get pictures. We didn’t spot any deer this time, but did see their prints in the mud.
7. The Junior Ranger Program
This is the main priority of National Park visits for my 8 year old. Most national parks offer a booklet full of activities specific to that park. A child fills out the booklet and brings it back to a park volunteer or ranger when completed. The ranger will then talk to the child about what he learned that day, swear him in as an official Junior Ranger and give him a badge. This program is free at most National Park Service locations; a few parks charge a nominal fee for their booklet. My youngest loves to work through these books and collect the badges. National Parks TMOM Catherine has more information on the program in general.
Treat your family to a destination that’s unlike any other beach vacation you’ve ever taken. Whether they are running, swimming, hiking or exploring, kids love Cumberland Island National Seashore!