Backpacking Cumberland Island National Seashore

This was it man! This was the whole reason we came all this way; backpacking Cumberland Island National Seashore. It was months of planning, preparing, and a lot of anticipating, but the weekend was finally upon us. My back pain gone (again) and all the gear ready to go we boarded the dogs (Moose’s first time) and took off early Saturday morning to make the two hour drive from Savannah to the ferry out to the island. We had enough time to stop along the way for a hearty breakfast at the Wafflehouse with lunch planned just before we started the long hike on the island.

The ferry was full, of course, but we had booked our seats a few months in advance. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the weekend we chose to do this trip happened to fall on Easter Weekend. Things were a bit more crowded then normal, but we fit on nicely along with the half dozen other backpackers and many dozens of day-trippers out to the island. The 45 minute ride really helped clear my attitude a bit, after a rough final two days of preparations. We used the time to further discuss our 7.5 mile hike out to our campsite, and just how hot and miserable it will be. It did not dampen our excitement in the slightest.

Our first task once exiting the ferry was to check in at the Ranger station for a brief lecture about camping on the island and to get our permit. The room was air conditioned to a chill, I believe just to rub salt in the wound of just how hot the rest of our day would be. Finally we strapped the packs on our backs and began the nearly four hour hike, along with a few others also backpacking into the wilderness. We hiked only a couple miles in the heat and humidity before stopping for a small break. Our packs were heavy with the extra water we needed to make the hike in along with the first night and following morning before we could hike off to our nearest water source a mile and a half further down the trail from our campsite. The weight of the packs were talking their toll on us, but we were happy to have level ground at the least. Although a rest helped the sore muscles, the only breeze to speak of was caused from our movement. Sitting or standing still, even for a moment, brought on the heavy sweating and heat soak, as well as the bugs. It was quickly decided to just keep moving, although that too wold be overridden a few times, mainly for pee breaks along the way thanks to all the water I was drinking.

We made it to camp with hours to spare before sunset, but neither of us wanted to do much more than a quick tour of our immediate area, setup camp, eat our first meal since the visit to Wafflehouse (we forgot to eat lunch) and call it a night just as the sun was setting. It was then that we noticed the fireflies all around us, which caused a healthy serving of glee to overcome Kerri. My affliction of no-sleep-in-tent syndrome was cured with a sleeping pill combined with the complete exhaustion from the hike. For once I got a great night of sleep.

The following morning we woke late – late enough that almost everyone else had already packed up and left the campground – and slowly started our day with coffee and a dehydrated breakfast. Our only company was a pair of wild horses who came by for a visit. We then took on the extra miles with a backpack full of now-empty water bladders to the Plum Orchard estate. Here we were able to tour the mansion, fill up the containers we had, and simply enjoy some of the day. I laid under a live oak tree covered in spanish moss, staring off into the waters to the West while Kerri ventured down the banks to try to do a little oyster hunting, unsuccessfully thanks to the high tide. The hike back, with 40 lbs of water on our backs, we discussed the second part of our day. Initially it was to head straight to the East side of the island, to the beach, and enjoy our first visit to the Atlantic Ocean together. Instead, thanks to the fireflies from the prior night, we changed the plan a tick.

The afternoon was spent back at camp; hammocking (not really a word), reading, and relaxing. A few hours before the sun was schedule to set, we packed up our day-packs with supplies for the beach, including our stove, food, towel, cocktails Kerri made ahead of time, and our headlamps. We were to spend the evening at the beach, have a hot meal and a cocktail (or four as it where) as the sun was setting, then make the return trip in the dark surrounded by fireflies. It was the most enjoyable hours of the entire trip, with miles upon miles of beach all to ourselves, some great conversation, laughing, and snuggles, followed by an amazing firefly-lit walk back to camp where the snuggles continued until we fell asleep to the stars and the rising moon.

We started our final day a little earlier. Once again coffee and a dehydrated breakfast, then to the slow but steady packing up of our camp. Just before 10am we were loaded up and started our hike back to the ferry docks, expecting to get there around 2 PM which gave us ample time to visit the showers at the main campground before having to board the 4:45 PM ferry back to the mainland. However, the lighter load in our packs, from consuming the foods and only having to carry minimal water, quickened our pace significantly. Half way through and we were looking to arrive at the docks after only slightly more than two hours of hiking. Cold showers was first on the menu, and though I am no fan of a cold shower, it sure hit the spot. Just washing away the two days of heavy sweat and dirt made the temperature tolerable. After, I talked to the nearest volunteer to ask about the possibilities of taking the earlier ferry out which turned out to be no problem at all. The 2:45 ferry brought us back to the truck, with it’s most glorious air conditioning. Two more hours of driving finally ended our weekend trip on Cumberland Island. Unfortunately, we were to arrive back to an Airstream trailer with a broken air conditioner which we are now suffering through in the Georgia heat.

A post shared by Tim McArthur (@van_tramp) on

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1 Response

  1. Humidity: why I left the South.

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