The Georgia coast is home to a series of 15 barrier islands protecting the second largest area of saltwater marsh in the United States. Over a third of all the coastal wetlands on the east coast of the U.S. are found in Georgia. Rivers emptying into the coastal plain mingle with unusually large tides creating a dynamic nursery for coastal wildlife of all kinds and a perfect destination for kayak touring.
An ideal spot to take in the full variety of the Georgia Coast is Cumberland Island. On Cumberland you’ll find the longest undeveloped stretch of beach in coastal Georgia, large areas of salt marsh, mature maritime live oak forests, herds of wild horses and historic estates with ruins dating from the Gilded Age.
Paddling access to Cumberland is best made from nearby Crooked River State Park and permits are available from park headquarters in St. Marys
A regular ferry service for hikers connects the mainland to the island but doesn’t transport kayaks, so paddlers need to make the trip under their own power.
If you have a half day:
Launch from the boat ramp at Crooked River State Park and explore the wetlands surrounding Grover Island north of the park. Plan your day around a high tide so you can explore deep into the marsh, but head back to the main channel before the receding waters leave you high and dry.
If you have a day:
Explore the historic Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland. From the Crooked River State Park boat launch paddle east down Fancy Bluff Creek, cross the main channel of the Cumberland Sound and into the Brickhill River. Paddle upstream on the Brickhill River to the public dock. Free guided tours available daily.
If you have a weekend:
Basecamp at the Sea Camp campground and explore the island on foot and by kayak. Cross the Cumberland Sound from Fancy Bluff Creek and land at the Sea Camp dock. Check in at the park office and ask permission to cache your kayaks nearby. Sea Camp offers secluded campsites in a mature maritime coastal forest of live oaks and saw palmetto. It’s a perfect jumping off spot to explore the beach or the nearby Dungeness ruins. Permits are required.
If you have a week:
Experienced kayakers can link a stay at Sea Camp with a stop at the Brickhill Bluff backcountry site. After a night at Sea Camp load your kayaks for a trip up the Brickhill River. Make sure to bring equipment to hang your food to protect it from the local raccoons. From Brickhill you can hike to the historic First African Baptist Church and explore the north end of the island. Paddlers looking to circumnavigate Cumberland can continue on.
Singleton’s Seafood Shack in Mayport, Florida is well worth the drive. Singleton’s serves up freshly caught fish and cold beer, with fish camp vibes and friendly neighborhood cats.
Kayak equipment and coastal touring advice are available at Savannah Canoe and Kayak (www.savannahcanoeandkayak.com) and Sea Kayak Georgia (www.seakayakgeorgia.com).
More than 150 feral horses are descendants of animals kept on the island by the Carnegie family. Best viewed from a distance, they have been known to kick and bite visitors who get too close.
The Georgia coast is a dynamic tidal environment and sees the second highest tides on the East Coast. Proper tidal planning is essential to avoid paddling against strong currents or wading through a sea of mud.
Did You Know
Cumberland Island’s 18-mile stretch of undeveloped beach is an important nesting site for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle and responsible for a quarter of all turtles hatched in Georgia.