Van Tours of Captivating Cumberland, America’s Wilderness Island

Riding Bikes on Empty Beach, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
Riding Bikes on Empty Beach, Cumberland Island National Seashore
If you have a “bucket list,” jot down Cumberland Island, Georgia.  Perhaps you can’t make it there anytime soon, but it’s worth putting on life’s agenda.

Lands and Legacies Van Tour

Always a natural place of wonderment, there’s more intrigue with the addition of van tours to see historic sites located in remote northern areas that were previously difficult for the public to reach on Cumberland Island.

Highlights of the “Land and Legacies Tour” are Plum Orchard, a Carnegie mansion, and the remains of Robert Stafford’s plantation that once grew sea-island cotton. Plus, “The Settlement,” along with a tiny church that became world famous as the location of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette’s wedding.

A main attraction of the “Lands and Legacies Tour” is visiting the gorgeous Plum Orchard, a former Carnegie mansion. Circa 1898, built by Lucy Carnegie, the home is a magnificent “Classical Revival” mansion of 22,000 square feet. Step through the grand entry into another era of southern comfort. The beautiful Plum Orchard mansion underwent a multi-million dollar repair by the National Park Service to be able to open it for public viewing.

UPDATE: Price per person in 2017 for Lands and Legacies tour is $45 plus $28 ferry ticket roundtrip from St. Marys departure dock and $7 National Park entry fee (i.e., total $80 plus tax per adult for this unique Southern island tour).

Also read feature article about touring Plum Orchard with photos.

Cumberland’s Lands and Legacies van tour provides access to “the Settlement” area in High Point, dating back to the late 1880s, a small village enclave of former slaves and their heirs.  This is also the location of an historic 1890s First African Baptist church, the tiny timber chapel that became famous worldwide as the location where John F. Kennedy Jr. wed Carolyn Bessette in September 1996. It’s said JFK Jr. loved visiting Cumberland Island, a secluded place he escaped to many times since he was a teenager.  The couple’s wedding reception was held at the island’s only lodging establishment, the lovely Greyfield Inn, run by Carnegie heirs.

Bumpy Ride

The Cumberland Island park service forewarns potential passengers to expect a “long and arduous” van tour.  It’s around 30 miles round trip, to the northend of Cumberland Island, accessing a remote area of this amazing island. The park service indicates the tour will take five to six hours.  The Lands and Legacies tour traverses the main island corridor through maritime forest — Grand Avenue — an unpaved road with rough surface in spots, so be prepared for a jarring ride along the way. This tour will not be easy for all, and not suitable for young children or people with some health issues. Restroom stops will be limited.

Also realize that there are no concessions or restaurants on Cumberland Island. You must bring food and water for the day, be sure to pack sunscreen and bug repellent, and you will be required to carry all trash back to the mainland. Passengers on the van tours may only bring a small backpack or bag (no hard coolers or camera tripods), due to limited space.

Read a detailed Amelia Island eMagazine article covering Cumberland Island highlights, “Is Tranquility the Tonic You Seek? Cumberland Island, a Feast for Eyes and Soul.”

Ferry To Cumberland Island

NOTE: In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma (Sept. 2017), Cumberland Island National Seashore remains closed through Nov. 1, 2017, with extensions possible).

The Cumberland public access ferry departure is located in St. Marys, Georgia (about a 45-minute drive north from Amelia Island). The 2017 ferry tickets cost $28 per person, reserve seats in advance online, plus a $7 park entry fee. You can transport your bicycle on ferry (but limited space) for $10 fee, or rent a bike for $16 from ferry company (first come, first serve). DIRECTIONS TO FERRY DOCK: For driving to St. Marys, put the Cumberland Island’s visitor center address in your GPS, located near ferry dock, 113 St. Marys Street, St Marys, GA 31558.

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