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The Delights Of Paddling To Cumberland Island, Georgia

The Delights of Paddling to Cumberland Island, Georgia

Cumberland Island, one of Georgia’s outer islands, is a great destination for a day. It’s home to gorgeous white sand beaches, seashells galore, mossy covered trees and even wild horses. While most people take the ferry over, half the adventure of going to Cumberland Island is getting there. We chose to paddle over and back. Note that there is one four star resort on the island – Greyfield Inn – that offers private ferry services.

"Calm waters at the Crooked River launch"

Calm waters at the Crooked River launch

The paddle to Cumberland Island isn’t always this calm.

If you’re an experienced paddler you can rent kayaks for the day, load up on local knowledge, courtesy of Jennifer and Pete Koerner of Up the Creek Expeditions and take off. (They do guided trips too.) The local knowledge part is actually very important especially with regards to tides. The lovely calm looking water you see in the photo above and below is quite capable of changing personalities. We’re told by Pete that currents can run through here at seven knots and Olympic paddlers have been caught and had to wait for the tide to change.

All smiles first thing in the morning

All smiles first thing in the morning

In fact we were told to leave Cumberland Island no later than 3 PM to give ourselves a window of safety on our return. More about that later.

A tree full of cormorants is one of our landmarks on the way back

A tree full of cormorants is one of our landmarks on the way back

How many miles is it to Cumberland Island?

It’s normally a two hour paddle to Plum Orchard, six miles away from the put in at Crooked River State Park. Other options – though you have to time the tides correctly – are an eight mile paddle to Sea Camp or a 12 mile paddle to Brickhill Bluff.  There are some navigation issues but if you can read a map you should be fine. Plus there are a couple of man-made markers that are hard to miss – the King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base and the markers on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The King's Bay Naval Submarine Base off in the distance - rather a blight on the landscape

The King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base off in the distance – rather a blight on the landscape

On the way over to Cumberland Island

On the way over to Cumberland Island

Loads of wildlife on the way over to Cumberland Island

The paddle over to Cumberland Island was sheer delight. It was easy for one – a lovely change from what the waters I often paddle. And there were magnificent manta rays – giant six foot plus manta rays – jumping at regular intervals – unpredictably of course, so no chance I can prove that statement with a photo.

What we didn’t see were the manatees or dolphins that frequent these waters. But we did get close to great white egrets, spied ospreys riding the thermals and watched the blue herons grab fish with practiced ease. And at the end of the day we met up with one fisherman who proudly displayed his thirty pound drum fish.

Calm waters in the morning on the way to Cumberland Island

Calm waters in the morning on the way to Cumberland Island

Despite the fact we had to cross the Intracoastal Waterway, there was close to zero boat traffic. In total we may have seen a half dozen boats, and most of these were small pleasure craft.

Getting launched off the mud on Cumberland Island - a far cry from the pristine white beaches on the other side

Getting in and out of the kayaks on the muddy side of Cumberland Island – a far cry from the pristine white beaches on the other side

Power boaters stop by the island too

Power boaters stop by the island too

Loved the massive trees that greeted us when we got Cumberland Island

Loved the massive trees that greeted us when we got Cumberland Island

Walking across Cumberland Island

Landing on Cumberland Island was easy, though muddy. After getting our kayaks up on the embankment, we left to explore with no fear of theft. Our plan was to walk across Cumberland Island – a good one hour hike each way – and start paddling back at about 3 PM.

However, it is so beautiful on the other side of Cumberland iIsland – with miles of uninhabited, clean, white sand beach, wild horses and though we didn’t know it at the time – Thank GOD!! – water moccasins in the woods (I’be been told in the comments that they aren’t actually water moccasins – read through for more information.) We spent a little more time than we should have on the beach so by the time we pushed off from shore it was closer to 4 PM.

You have to walk across Cumberland Island from the kayaking landing place to get to the nice white sand beaches

You have to walk across Cumberland Island from the kayaking landing place to get to the nice white sand beaches

Deserted beaches of Cumberland Island

Deserted beaches of Cumberland Island

Wild horses of Cumberland Island

Wild horses of Cumberland Island

The return paddle to the mainland

Right from the start we were dealing with headwinds and they never let up. Those calm waters we had paddled over on were a distant memory – but at least the water was warm. It wasn’t the wind worrying me going back, but the darkening skies and the threat of a thunderstorm. None of us fancied getting caught out on the water with nowhere to hide.

We paddled hard and steadily for 2.5 hours – with the dark skies producing nothing but adrenaline on my part. A 7 pm deadline was also looming in my mind for that’s when the tides would turn and we’d be fighting a losing battle against the current.

Menacing skies on the way back

Menacing skies on the way back from Cumberland Island

It was with a terrific sense of accomplishment and relief that we pulled up our kayaks and called it a day at 6:30 PM with thirty minutes to spare. This is one kayaking trip I would recommend to anyone interested in an adventure. For me it was the highlight of our eight days in the south.

Useful information when it comes to kayaking to Cumberland Island

  • It costs $4 per person to land on Cumberland Island. Bring cash and stick it in the honour box.
  • Kayak rentals for the whole day, with PFD’s and safety equipment included, are $50 per person.
  • Bring a picnic lunch and lots to drink as there is nothing to buy on the island.
  • Include a sun hat. In early April temperatures were already in the eighties.
  • You can camp at Cumberland Island but make reservations beforehand at 1-877-860-6787.
  • Check yourself for ticks after walking across the island. My friend Jo found several on her.
Other posts from this trip you might enjoy:

Kayaking trip to Cumberland Island, Georgia

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. What a great day. Sort of a shame, I’ve lived in Central Florida most of my life, and haven’t really explored the Georgia coast, except for one trip to Savannah a couple years back. Might have to change that…

    1. @D.J. Considering Florida is driving distance away I think you might be pleasantly surprised at just how lovely the outer islands are.I highly recommend getting there. And you’ve got Amelia Island to explore.

  2. Your return was quite suspenseful. I could just imagine being out there in those darkening skies and a deadline to beat the tides. The whole trip sounds like a wonderful adventure in a beautiful area (except for the naval base, perhaps).

  3. That sounds like a great trip, Leigh! Since I’ve only ever kayaked once (and that was really kind of just letting the current take us down the river), I’d be scared that I wouldn’t be up to 2.5 hours full paddeling against wind and current. For experienced kayakers it sounds like a blast though.

  4. @Sabrina Coming back definitely required some digging in and beginners might not have enjoyed that. Usually I paddle in freezing cold water so I figured worst case scenario if I flipped I at least wouldn’t be hypothermic, at least right away. And best if I don’t know what’s swimming in the murky brown water.

  5. What an adventure this was! The water moccasins would keep me on the beach. Yikes. I do enjoy kayaking but am much more of a leisure kayaker. Two hours is quite a trek! Love the pictures of the darkening sky.

    1. @Debbie I don’t know if the snakes are in the water – probably but don’t need to know that answer. The two hour paddle to the island was a lazy paddle but the 2 1/2 hour paddle was anything but. I always like a challenge!

  6. I would say you don’t have to be a really experienced kayaker to do this day trip AS LONG as you are with experienced folks like Leigh! (I am the one in the picture above who forgot her hat and used a pink shirt all day for a hat). I do agree with Leigh that it is a highlight of our Georgia adventure. I really wasn’t expecting the lack of others around (right on!). The blight of the submarine buildings reminded us of how close we were to civilization but an easy paddle get away.
    Now the other little bit of news is that there are deer ticks in Georgia which took a shining to me. None of the travel stuff I read in advance of the trip mentioned the little bugs as a problem so finding them enjoying me later that night was a tad bit of a surprise! Do a tick check when done walking any trail!

  7. Thanks for reminding me JO. I keep forgetting about the ticks because I didn’t have any land on me – but everyone else pulled of one to five ticks!! No seeums were a problem elsewhere in Georgia but not while kayaking or on Cumberland Island.

  8. I haven’t heard of Cumberland before but this looks like a great place to kayak. What a treat to see manta rays and just the possibility of seeing manatees would make me want to kayak here even for just a short time. Glad you made it back safe and sound.

  9. I would never think of kayaking in Georgia… somehow I associate that with colder climates. You’re a tough one, Leigh. 2,5 hours paddling while having to think of the tide… sounds a little scary. And exciting.

  10. @Sophie I think I’ve done so many marathon days in a kayak that really 2 1/2 hours doesn’t feel like much. Yes I feel a bit used but that’s a good feeling. The scariest part was thinking we might get got out in a thunderstorm. Yikes.

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