Wild horses certainly couldn't drag us away. Not even the 100 or so feral ones trotting around untamed Cumberland Island. Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island is a nature lover's playland, but also comes complete with fascinating elements of American history and even some first-class luxury lodging. No paved roads and no stores enhance the backcountry, wilderness vibe.
Cumberland Island offers a wealth of outdoor activities. You can swim and beach comb along its sweeping beaches, hike through Spanish-moss-covered oak tree maritime forests on over 50 miles of trails, and fish in its saltwater marshes and freshwater lakes. Bird watchers have over 335 species to espy, and it's not uncommon to see wild turkeys, endangered sea turtles, dolphins and those feral horses--all in one day. Low cost bike rentals are also available.
For a small, little-developed island, Cumberland Island has a rich history, at once truly American and quintessentially Southern. The island was originally home to Timucuan Indians, and later a Spanish missionary; French and Spanish pirates, however, forced the missionaries to flee and the island was abandoned. The English arrived in 1773, and the ensuing Battle of Bloody Marsh left the island is British hands; Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene erected the tabby mansion Dungeness, whose ruins still stand. The island later become home to a large cotton plantations before Thomas Carnegie bought up land and built a vacation mansion fit for a king (the current-day home of the venerable Greyfield Inn
). Around the same time, The Settlement was established, where the island's black workers lived; you can still visit the bare-bones First African Baptist Church
, the first black church in the US, today. In the 1950s, environmentalists took a shining to the island, eventually passing bills that declared it a national park.
The only way to reach Cumberland Island is via ferry from St. Mary's. Only 300 visitors are allowed on the island at a time, and no cars or bikes are allowed on the ferry (bike rentals are available once on the island). Be sure to bring in all your own picnic and food supplies, as there are no stores on the island either. Book plenty in advance for campgrounds.