Cumberland Island, Georgia: A Paddler’s Paradise

Horses grazing in the sand dunes? There’s something surreal about that. Yet, along with Dolphins “buzzing” your kayak, Manatees rolling in the marsh grass and 8-foot-wide Rays skimming across the rolling swells in the Cumberland Sound, a constant backdrop of Wild Horses grazing on Cumberland Island is just one of the rewards promised by this paddler’s paradise. Everything about this place, from the abundant wildlife and island architecture to the pristine beaches and maritime forest, is simply magical. And the experience is even more thrilling when you have it in a kayak.
Throughout the year, hundreds of kayakers make the pilgrimage to St. Marys, Georgia for what many consider to be the ultimate coastal kayaking experience. Riding the ebb tide out of the Crooked River and through Cumberland Sound to your destination, you’ll find the view from the cockpit of a sea kayak, especially here, can be addictive. Whether eye-to-eye with Great Egrets fishing along the edge of the marsh, surfing a boat wake with a Dolphin or watching Osprey plunge into the river and emerge with fish clutched in their talons, you see nature up close — from its perspective and on its terms. The waters around Cumberland Island offer striking vistas you’ll never forget — including marshes and tree-lined bluffs on the Inter Coastal side of the island and sugar-sand beaches, rolling dunes and Live Oaks twisted and tangled from facing the wind and waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Padding out to Cumberland Island in a sea kayak sounds like a great adventure– because it is. Putting-in at Crooked River State Park, paddlers are faced with 6-to-12-miles of whatever nature has in store for that day. Novice kayakers should definitely take a guide; but for a fit, experienced paddler, wise enough to seek and heed weather and tide advice from local experts, and able to read a map or nautical chart, the trip is very “do-able.” Navigation can be tricky; but with a map and the aid of some rather interesting, man-made scenery (Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and distinctive structures, markers and landmarks on Cumberland Island and in the Inter Coastal Waterway), most competent paddlers have no problems finding or reaching their destination.
If you plan on camping on Cumberland Island, you’ll need reservations from the National Park Service. Reservations are handled by calling Lang’s Marina (877)-860-6787, or by visiting Lang’s on the waterfront a short walk from NPS Headquarters. Reservations can be made as early as 6-months in advance, so don’t be surprised if you show up without making prior arrangements and the campsites are all full. There’s also a $4.00 fee for landing on Cumberland Island and an additional fee for each night you’re camping ($2.00 per night for backcountry campsites and $4.00 per night for staying at Sea Camp). If you’re camping, you can pay at the time you pick-up your reservation; if you’re just visiting for the day, you can pay the day-use fee at one of the honor boxes located on the island.
With reservations in hand, paddlers drive 15-minutes from Cumberland Island Park Headquarters in downtown St. Marys to the put-in at Crooked River State Park — passing Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on the way to the Crooked River boat ramp. The trip to the Sea Camp dock on Cumberland Island can be made from St. Marys; navigation is simpler, but that route has a very limited window of opportunity due to the tidal currents. Whether going to Plum Orchard (6-miles), Sea Camp (8-miles) or Brickhill Bluff (12-miles), putting-in on the Crooked River gives you the best time-window, most favorable tidal currents and is by far the safest and easiest way to reach Plum Orchard or Brickhill Bluff by kayak. A visit to Cumberland is guaranteed to be filled with memories you’ll cherish forever. And, regardless of your destination or route, paddling to Cumberland Island is an adventure you’ll never forget.

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