Among the island’s most popular pathways, this series of
trails totaling 4.3 miles will optimize time and allow hikers to see the
maximum number of sights in the southern portion of the preserve. While there
are limited NPS and residential vehicles on the island, it is best for walkers
to avoid the dust and traffic along the sandy Main Road. We suggest following
this trail loop for the best cross section of the island.
After the boat docks at Sea Camp, you’ll head south along
the River Trail which runs parallel to the Intracoastal Waterway. Hikers will
experience the intersection of an intracoastal and maritime forest habitat,
which includes many species of bird in the canopy and along the water’s edge.
The trail also provides several viewing points of Cumberland’s western-facing
shore, along with intermittent benches where you can stop and rest.
River Trail’s southern terminus is in the Dungeness dock
area, which features the Ice House Museum, the Captain’s House, and possibly
some feral horse sightings. Once you reach Dungeness Dock, head southeast for
0.3 miles before bearing right on the Main Road for the final 0.2 miles as you
come into view of the Dungeness Ruins.
As you approach, it may feel as if you are transported to
another time. Those with an active imagination can almost picture lavish
parties on the lawn and women with parasols roaming the grounds. Now, there’s
only brick and tabby ruins; however, they are quite breathtaking and can make
even a novice photographer look like a pro. Be sure to check out the west side
of the property to see some excellent marsh and intracoastal views from the
Dungeness is the most popular area for the feral horses that
roam the island. The current herd has descended from horses left on the island
by residents long ago. They are not fed or cared for by the park service and
are not trained to interact with humans in any way. Feeding and petting is
strictly prohibited by the park service. However, that is not an issue because
the horses steer clear of human visitors to the island. Other animals on the
island include armadillo, deer, and of course several avian species that can be
seen and heard all over the island.
Once you’ve had your fill, you’ll head east along Dungeness
Trail, making sure to fill up your water bottle and utilize the restrooms
before advancing further. Follow the signs for the Green-Miller Cemetery, which
begins a 0.6-mile pathway to the beach.
Past the cemetery you’ll take the boardwalk through the
marsh to a scenic overlook where you’ll be able to see the southern tip of
Cumberland Island and the northern end of Amelia Island in the distance. You’ll
continue east where the boardwalk meets back up with the sandy Dungeness Trail
before breaking off once again. The boardwalk descends toward the beach as the
dunes open to showcase the Atlantic Ocean.
The wide, clean and quiet beaches only enhance the sights,
sounds, and smells of nature. Swimming is permitted, although no lifeguards are
on duty. Most hikers choose to rest near the tide line and dip their feet in
before moving on.
If long walks on the beach tug at your heart strings, then
this 1.5-mile section of the loop is for you. While the sand is compact near
the tideline, making walking relatively easy, windy days can be a challenge if
you’re walking against the breeze.
After your jaunt on the beach, you’ll kick off the sand and
head west toward Sea Camp Campground. Here you’ll find drinking fountains and
restrooms as well as showers for nearby campsites. Many of these sites are so
secluded that you can barely see them through the underbrush of palmettos. Staying
overnight one or two days gives campers the chance to truly experience the
quiet and solitude of this sparsely populated isle.
Passing through the campground, you’ll cross Main Road one
final time before returning to Sea Camp. Additional information and tidbits can
be gleaned from the helpful park rangers, who give regular talks on the habitat
and history of the island. The ferry leaves the dock on schedule, so it’s best
to arrive a little early than the set departure time to ensure you don’t become
an unplanned and unprepared overnight guest.