Since we didn’t kill each other on our section hike of the Appalachian Trail in Spring 2018, Jenni and I headed out on another hiking adventure!
I’d heard about Cumberland Island since I first moved to the area over fifteen years ago. It’s famous for its beaches of wild horses and history with the Carnegie family. Ever since Jenni and I completed our section hike of the Appalachian Trail, we kept saying we should do a hike on Cumberland Island.
Congress designated the Cumberland Island Wilderness in 1982 and it now has a total of 9,906 acres.
My boyfriend also has a bit of an adventurous streak, so he joined Jenni, Jenni’s husband, John, and me for our next adventure.
We woke up super early on Saturday and drove up to Cumberland Island from Jacksonville. It wasn’t a bad drive taking just a little over an hour. It was fun to look around the area as we drove in since it’s right on the coast. That is one additional hurdle for camping at Cumberland Island. Unless you choose to arrive on your own boat or via kayak, the only way on or off the island is on their ferry. While we had already reserved our campsite online, you couldn’t purchase your ferry pass until you arrived on-site the day of your trip. We got in line for our passes which also went quickly. Within 20 minutes, we were again waiting to board the ferry.
#PROTIP – there were No-See-Um everywherrrrrre waiting for the ferry. Have no-see-um spray ready right when you park and stick a dryer sheet or two in your hat.
They had these cute directional signs to help people find their way.
Finally, before we boarded the ferry, they gathered everyone around for a brief instruction on ‘how to behave on a ferry’.
After the instruction, everyone was permitted to board the ferry. Everyone piled their huge bags mostly in the front. Due to it being a small ferry, there isn’t a lot of space, so you can’t keep your bag with you, but the ride is short.
And we’re finally off!
The weather was absolutely perfect for our ride over.
The ferry ride was fairly brief taking maybe 20-30 minutes. By this time I was definitely feeling the ‘hurry up and wait’ aspect of traveling and anxious to get on our way.
Once we exited the ferry, we took a minute to gather our thoughts and determine our direction. There was a cute building right at the front. All campers were asked to check-in with a staff member. This made me feel a little nostalgic like I was at camp.
#PROTIP: Along the right side of the building, there are real bathrooms. REAL BATHROOMS!
After we checked in, we headed out in the direction of Sea Camp. Sea Camp is like ‘camping lite’. We won’t have most of these amenities where we’re going…
“Sea Camp Campground is located a half-mile from the Sea Camp dock. All sites are walk-to, tent sites and campers are responsible for transporting all gear. Carts can be used. There are flush toilets, drinking water, cold showers, and a dishwashing sink. Each site has a fire ring with a grill, picnic table, and food storage.”Source: Cumberland Island website
We eventually came to a crossroads when we passed the Parallel Trail and decided to go north on that route towards Stafford Beach. It cut through the brush and blocked the sun which was needed as it was quite hot out.
The other option would have been to keep walking straight through the Sea Camp Campground to the Sea Camp Beach and then head north on the beach the rest of the way. It was a pretty warm day for ‘winter’, so we were concerned it might be too hot to walk in full sun along the beach.
For several hours, this was my view on the way to Stafford Beach.
Even though we took the inland trail, it did wind back and forth coming close to the beach area a few times. At Little Greyfield Beach, we took a break to walk out to the beach and check it out.
How often in life do you have the opportunity to visit a totally uninhabited beach? Pretty sure this was my first time.
There was not another person on this beach that we could see other than the 4 of us. Kinda eerie honestly!
We started this direction around 10:30 am and around 12:30 pm, we finally walked up upon Stafford Beach. I was surprised to see full restroom facilities and showers plus an outside sink. This campground area also has designated campsites, campfire rings, and non-potable water. We knew early on we wanted to primitive hike, so I hadn’t researched these campgrounds at all.
This was a little out of our way, but a good stop to refuel with water and stop for a snack. After about a 30-minute break, we refilled our water containers. My water filter wasn’t working that great. I tested it at home before we left, but really haven’t done much with it since our Appalachian Trails Section Hike. Oops. Thankfully Jenni had also brought hers and allowed me to borrow hers!
#Protip: always bring two water filtration options. “Utah! Get me two!”
After our break, we headed out again towards Hickory Hills continuing further on the Parallel Trail. This part of the trip took the longest as I started feeling the strain of the hiking distance and weight of my pack. It was at this point I started questioning every extra item I put in my pack.
While walking, we can across this strange moss on the ground.
Jenni and I had a laugh remembering back to our Appalachian hike. We would come across something ‘nature-y’ and say out loud “It’s too bad Elena or Brea aren’t on the trip with us to explain whatever this is. Pretty sure it’s something important…”
After what felt like hours, Jenni, John & I were starting to drag behind with Joe leading the pack. The 3 of us stopped to stretch and complain, suddenly Joe came back around the trees and exclaimed “What are you guys doing? We’re here!” as if we were goofing around. It was quite hilarious in the moment. 🙂
Honestly this picture is a more accurate representation of how I felt. Overall, I think my distance calculation was off adding 1.5 – 2 miles onto what we expected the distance to be for our walk from the dock to the campsite. We walked into the campsite and I was quite surprised, it seemed like every campsite area was already claimed. I was kinda disappointed because I thought we would be the only ones there. It ended up working out fine though.
Finally we settled on a spot at the very north end. Everyone got to work quickly assembling tents and bedding. As soon as our tent was complete, I crashed for a long overdue nap. Everyone else had the same idea.
When everyone woke up, Jenni and John headed out to explore the path to the beach while Joe and I were on a mission to find more water. We took off and found an incredible plank bridge that must have been at least a half a mile long. We also explored a side trail but returned to camp with some bug bites, sore feet and NO water. Womp Womp.
Jenni and John returned a bit later after what sounded like an enjoyable trip but didn’t reach the beach due to the path being under water. We relaxed for a bit before starting dinner. We made Knorr Chicken noodles with a pouch of chicken, sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Surprisingly good. We topped off the meal with a giant macadamia nut cookie from European Street Cafe. Soo good.
After dinner, Jenni and I headed to visit the other campers. We saw them carrying a large plastic bladder of water, and I was curious to get directions to the water source. They were super generous and filled my water for me and offered more in the morning as well.
Later as it started to get darker, we relaxed with some bourbon and stoli-o and enjoyed the stars and the moon. We retired to our tent not long later.
We woke fairly early the next morning as soon as it got light out and warmed up. We made coffee and I tossed in some hot chocolate. The hike to stafford was incredibly quick compared to the day before. It was almost hilarious how quickly it went.
At Stafford, we headed to explore the beach where the seabreeze greeted us. It was surreal to explore the beach in full hiking gear. We looked at seashells and for sharks teeth as we wandered south.
If you squint, you can see Jacksonville in the distance.
After some time on the beach, we cut across to Greyfield Inn, the sole commercial establishment, an all inclusive inn, on Cumberland Island.
While it would have been lovely to stay there after hiking, it wasn’t in the budget.
We pressed on this time hiking down the main road to the dock. I should add my feet were KILLING me. Ever step was murder. I need to practice hike before hiking. Seriously dumb. Silly me.
Finally we made it back to the dock to wait for the ferry back to Cumberland Island.
Overall it was a great first hike on Cumberland. I definitely plan to make it back to stay at Stafford Beach and also at Sea Camp sometime.
It was awesome to head out on another journey with Jenni and to check off my first hike with Joe. It was a blast. I hope to do many more hikes in the near future!