Cumberland Island ~ Discover the Mysteries

Welcome to Georgia’s largest barrier island and one of the most spectacular natural habitats in the Northern Hemisphere. The greatest and most lasting value of the Island is its ability to change us. It is a place of transformation. It is this intangible feature that seems to be the most important benefit which Cumberland Island has for its guests. This spiritual quality is what, year after year, its visitors, residents, and Park Service employees seem to believe is its most important contribution to our people.


Cumberland Island is approximately 18 miles long and between one-half and 3 miles wide—or about 40 square miles.

Various Parts of the Island

Although many believe that Cumberland Island has the most beautiful undeveloped beaches on the East Coast, a visit to Cumberland is not just a “trip to the beach.” The Island is rich in history, architecture, and natural areas. Where the eastern edge of Cumberland is bounded by the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the north, west, and south are bounded by rivers, sounds, and marshes. Sunset across the western marsh of Cumberland Island is an unforgettable view. The sight of the beautiful red sun setting over the marshes of Cumberland is one which draws visitors continually back to the Island. If possible, spend a night on Cumberland in order to see it. The marshes are very fertile areas of the ecosystem where much of the food chain begins. Georgia, and especially Cumberland, is blessed with thousands of acres of marshland teeming with wildlife, from tiny organisms to shrimp and fish, and even alligators.


Cumberland Island did not just become a National Seashore overnight. The Island was, and remains, the home of many people. Many of them are the people who worked to make Cumberland Island available as the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Cumberland Island has today over three dozen habitable dwellings which are used by owners and guests. The owners of Cumberland generally build their homes in clusters, or compounds, so that large amounts of land are left undisturbed. The various family owners have their compounds mostly facing the marsh area. Many are the descendants of the original Carnegie and Candler owners of the Island.


Loggerhead Sea Turtles

The struggle for survival continues for one of Georgia’s most fragile and endangered species: the loggerhead sea turtle. The female loggerhead comes ashore to nest May through September. Nests are marked and often protected with screens to help reduce predation of the eggs. Hatchlings occur 60 days later and the young turtles scramble to sea. Adult female loggerheads normally nest every second or third year.Cumberland Island, Georgia’s southernmost barrier Island, tends to document the most loggerhead nests each year. Each nest has about 100 eggs. Out of the one hundred eggs, only a handful ever reaches maturity. The turtle is a type of creature which produces many babies and leaves them to fend for themselves, as opposed to other creatures, like horses, who have a small number of babies and protect them until maturity. This method obviously serves loggerhead turtles well, because they have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. However, in the presence of an active threat such as Cumberland’s wild hogs, the low survival rate of turtle hatchlings places the species at risk. A loggerhead’s typical life span may be 50-60 years.

Cumberland Island, GA, USA


Campers and hikers visiting the inland part of the Island can have delightful bird-watching experiences throughout the year. There is a large population of wild turkeys and dove, and great horned owls ply the forest before dawn.During the day, pileated (crested) woodpeckers and redheaded woodpeckers are easy to spot as they swoop from tree to tree and hop along the tree trunks in search of insects. Warblers and other songbirds also enjoy Cumberland Island’s protected forests. Peregrine and other falcons can be spotted migrating in late October and November. Other birds of prey that can be seen on Cumberland are the magnificent ospreys and an occasional bald eagle. Both species have nested on the Island. In the marshes and along the creeks, snowy egrets, great egrets, great blue and little blue herons and small (and not so common) green herons can be easily watched as they feed on aquatic life.The dramatic wood storks are also a joy to observe with a wingspan of approximately five and one-half feet. White pelicans can occasionally be seen on the spoil banks along the St. Mary’s River coming to the Island. Formerly an endangered species, the brown pelicans along the Atlantic coastline have made a dramatic recovery. They can be seen primarily on the beach, although they also feed in the rivers on the western edge of the Island. White pelicans feed by scooping fish when swimming, while the brown pelicans make dramatic plunges from the air for meals.Out on the beach, the bird life is very lively. Year-round residents such as the oyster-catchers and ring-billed gulls share the surf with semi-palmated plovers, royal terns, laughing and black-backed gulls—and lots of sandpipers. In winter, rare purple sandpipers can be seen singly or in pairs on rock habitats and around pilings. On calm, clear days, rafts of scoters, small, dark-colored diving ducks, can be observed floating contentedly on the water near the shore.

Cumberland Island, GA, USA


The horses which roam freely on Cumberland are feral, meaning that their ancestors were once domesticated. Legend has it that they were originally brought to the Island by the Spanish. However these particular horses’ ancestors arrived, they make a very pleasing vista for the visitors of Cumberland. They are one of the most sought-after sights by visitors coming to Cumberland.


Scurrying around the underbrush can be seen an occasional armadillo. The armadillos arrived on Cumberland within the last thirty years as a part of their migration from the American West. They make small holes in the ground with their noses as they are feeding.


Feral hogs also may be seen on Cumberland. They are much more destructive than the armadillos on the undergrowth of the Island, and compete with the deer and other large animals for foliage. For a number of years, the National Park Service has had a hog eradication program underway in an effort to control the hog population.

Cumberland Island Conservancy

Our Mission

The Mission of The Cumberland Island Conservancy, Inc. is:TO SUPPORT educational and scientific research on Cumberland Island, Georgia.TO PROVIDE monetary and physical support for the preservation of Cumberland Island, and to work with the National Park Service as co-stewards in preserving this great natural, cultural, and historical resource.TO AID in the dissemination of educational and scientific information regarding Cumberland Island to the National Park Service, the public at large, and the residents of Cumberland Island.

An integral part of the mission of the Conservancy is to serve as a co-steward of the natural, cultural, and historical resources of Cumberland Island with the National Park Service to provide a rich and rewarding experience for the visitors to the Seashore. We are not a political organization and we do not support groups who claim to “save” Cumberland Island.Cumberland Island has already been saved. It was saved from commercial development by the Congressional legislation of 1972 establishing the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Our mission is to work with the National Park Service, to support it and its activities, and to advise it on issues where the Conservancy feels that it will be helpful. The Conservancy is an active co-steward, not an activist group.The Conservancy does not want Cumberland Island to be just another tourist destination. At the same time, human activity has been part of the Island’s heritage and is one element that makes Cumberland Island so special. The Conservancy is continually striving to find a balance between allowing the public full access to their National Park and preserving the fragile ecosystem for generations to come.

Our Members

Cumberland Island Residents

The Cumberland Island Conservancy, Inc. is a nonprofit entity organized by individuals on the Island and others interested in its preservation. Its current board members include the Right Reverend Samuel G. Candler, Franklin W. “Whit” Foster, Thornton W. Morris, Glenn D. Warren and Per G. Lofberg.The millennium photo above includes Conservancy members and many of the residents of the Island. We stand on the front steps of the ruined nineteenth century Dungeness mansion, located on the south end of the Island.

Our Projects

Some of the projects the Conservancy has worked on with the National Park Service include:

  1. The Conservancy was instrumental in negotiating the access across private property to provide the Alternative Trail traversing the middle of the Island. This continual privilege of the public to use private property is intended to allow the visitors to hike up and down the Island from the Sea Camp area to Stafford without experiencing automobile traffic. The Conservancy is instrumental in continuing to provide this access for visitors.

  2. The Conservancy provided a grant to the National Park Service for the purchase of high tech equipment with which to provide state-of-the-art video of the highlights of Cumberland Island. It is shown at the Sea Camp station for guests leaving Cumberland.

  3. The Conservancy, in conjunction with the National Park Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, is active in ongoing shore bird research. This has included the research surrounding the nesting habits of terns, as well as a much-needed research project for the oyster catcher.

  4. The Conservancy has been active in the research surrounding the nesting of the large sea turtles for Cumberland.

  5. The Conservancy has sponsored retreats to the Island for artists and writers. Many of these visitors carried home with them the glimpses of transformation that help us as individuals go from one place to another spiritually.

  6. The Conservancy has supported a creative symposium emphasizing dance and the natural environment as a medium for the expression of love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness. A part of the symposium was an impromptu dance at Plum Orchard.

  7. Our experience has been that whether it be a superintendent, a ranger, or a volunteer tour guide, the vast majority of the individuals comprising the National Park Service team are dedicated individuals who strive to carry out the mandates of Congress. Above all, these mandates provide for conservation of the natural, historical, and cultural resources of Cumberland Island.

Visitor Info

The Conservancy hopes that you will be able to visit Cumberland Island. We believe that it is a place that helps transform people. Only by visiting the island can one be affected by its charm and grace.
We hope you are able to come.

Cumberland Island, GA, USA

If you intend to camp on the island, or simply be a daytripper, you should contact the National Park Service for access. For information including ferry schedules and camping reservations visit the National Park Service’s Cumberland Island website at here.Getting to and from the Island:The National Park Service operates its ferry service from St. Mary’s, GA, stopping at both the Dungeness dock and the Sea Camp Dock. Cumberland can also be accessed through Fernandina Beach, FL, via the vessel operated by The Greyfield Inn.LodgingThere are two ways to stay on the island: at Greyfield Inn or at one of the National Park Service campsites. Most visitors to Cumberland Island gain their access through the National Park Service. They camp at one of the various sites on the island. The delightful Greyfield Inn is a more expensive way to stay on the Island. Greyfield is a converted Carnegie mansion still owned and managed by members of the Carnegie family. For more information, visit the Greyfield Inn website here.ActivitiesThe National Park Service provides ranger-guided tours of the Island. Details and schedule can be found here. There are also many outdoor activities including:

  • Hiking

  • Star Gazing

  • Wildlife Viewing

  • Camping

  • Photography

  • Swimming

  • Hunting

  • Bird Watching

  • Private Boating

  • Fishing

  • Beach Combing

  • Biking


To learn more about Cumberland Island or how to support the Cumberland Island Conservancy, take a moment to fill out the our online inquiry form. We are always glad to hear from old friends of Cumberland and those who hope to visit our beautiful island in the future. We look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you at Cumberland soon.


The history of people on Cumberland Island is rich, varied and linked to the Island’s complex natural habitat. No one really knows how long human beings have used its resources for survival, or been inspired to create art, or simply taken solace in its awesome beauty. We know aboriginal people populated the coastal region of what we call Georgia as early as 2000 B.C. and that they enjoyed its diverse and delectable food sources, including oysters, crabs, fish, deer, and bear.History that has a more specific record starts with the early Spanish missions in the 16th century. In the 1730s, James Edward Oglethorpe laid out two forts, one on each end of the Island. In the 1750s, aspiring planters came to the Island once slavery was allowed on its shores. After the American Revolution, prestigious families, such as that of Nathaniel Greene, became interested in Cumberland’s natural resources; the first mansion was built on the site we now know as Dungeness.The British were present at Cumberland early in the nineteenth century, and there are detailed descriptions of Robert Stafford’s plantation as it existed between 1815 and 1870. The Civil War had a profound effect on the Island’s human history, and Reconstruction saw both speculators and freed slaves trying to wrest a living out of the chaotic devastation the war had caused.In the early 1880s, Thomas Morrison Carnegie and his wife, Lucy Coleman Carnegie, came to the Island and established the family’s presence, which exists to the present day. In the 1960s the human population began to diversify somewhat as the land started to leave the exclusive holdings of individual families, and the evolution of the National Seashore began.Pictured: Lucy Carnegie Ferguson

Support Cumberland Island Conservancy

Cumberland Island - A Place Apart

Cumberland Island ~ A Place Apart is a 160-page book containing more than a hundred photographs and a series of colorful stories about the characters living in this most unusual place. From Carnegie heirs to airline porters, Congressional politicians and construction workers, Thornton Morris weaves a series of colorful stories to reflect the spiritual and emotional benefits to be taught and gained by connecting with this island. He vividly describes how a series of landowners, Congressmen, philanthropists, and interested citizens have preserved this jewel in its natural beauty for the American public.You can support the Conservancy and help preserve the Island. Purchase a copy of Cumberland Island – A Place Apart for only $24.95. All proceeds from the sale of the book go directly to the Cumberland Island Conservancy, Inc. and its effort to preserve this beautiful habitat.