National Seashore Ferry Remains Suspended
The ferry service from St. Marys, GA to Cumberland Island remains suspended as of May 30, 2020. ( * UPDATE * — still no ferry operation as of June 16, 2020.) The beaches and trails at Cumberland Island National Seashore reopened to the public May 2, 2020. But you can only get to the island if you own a private boat (no charters allowed).
In reaction to the pandemic, the ferry service from St. Marys, GA stopped running back on March 18, 2020, with the closure of the mainland Visitors Center and museum. “With public health in mind,” the park service also shuttered all activities, tours and programs at the National Seashore. This includes the island’s campgrounds, Sea Camp ranger station, the Ice House Museum near Dungeness dock, and the Plum Orchard mansion.
According to the ferry service website (as of June 16, 2020), its “reservation office is currently closed and will not be answering the phone.” For those who held a previously-booked ferry reservation, the ferry service indicated refunds were returned to those who had made a ferry reservation “between March 18th, 2020 and May 30th.”
Some are waiting to visit the National Seashore, wondering when the park will fully reopen and ferry service resume. Cumberland Island National Seashore has indicated they are “working to finalize phase two reopening plan soon,” according to a May 28th post on the park’s Facebook page. (UPDATE — As of June 16, 2020, no other news about resuming ferry operations has been announced by the National Park Service.)
Where Can Private Boats Dock?
Until the St. Marys ferry starts to operate, those who can transport themselves to the island via private boats can utilize three docks located on Cumberland Island. The docks are at Dungeness, Sea Camp and Plum Orchard (first come, first serve). Park rangers are on duty at the National Seashore.
Are Park Restrooms Open?
According to the NPS, the restrooms in the southern area of Cumberland Island National Seashore are open.
Dungeness Ruins & Southern Loop Trail
The most popular trail loop on Cumberland Island is located on its south end. It’s easy to take a self-guided tour, with informational signs and an audio tour visitors can listen to near the Dungeness ruins (see the audio sign near entry gate pictured above).
The feral horses, popular with visitors, often can be seen grazing around the Dungeness estate grounds and along nearby trails on the south end of Cumberland Island. Taking the Southend Loop allows visitors to see the Dungeness ruins, walk along boardwalk near salt marsh area, cross the island to Atlantic Ocean beachfront, walk along the seashore and then to Sea Camp through some of the island’s magnificent maritime forest.
Georgia’s Largest Barrier Island
An island about the size of New York’s Manhattan Island, Cumberland is Georgia’s largest barrier island, around 18 miles long. There are very few full time Cumberland Island residents (homesteads that go back many generations). The majority of Cumberland Island’s acreage is in federal hands, under the control of the National Park Service. On normal days (non-pandemic times), visitation is capped at 300 daily visitors. Some of Cumberland Island’s acreage — over 9,800 acres — is congressionally-designated wilderness. Plus another 10,500 acres are classified as “potential wilderness” by the NPS. It is considered one of the largest wilderness areas in a National Seashore on America’s east coast.
Considering the size of Cumberland Island, it’s an amazing place to escape and enjoy coastal nature. Most marvel at the huge oak trees, so lovely draped in Spanish moss. Experience the peace of extensive stretches of empty Atlantic coast beachfront. Plus learn about the island’s fascinating history.
No Charters Allowed
According to Cumberland Island National Seashore, “private charters are not authorized to bring visitors to Cumberland Island National Seashore. Those doing so will be in violation of 36 CFR 5.3. Violators are subject to up to a $5000 fine and/or 6-months in jail.”
National Seashore Entry Fee
The park fee is $10 per adult (aged 16 and older). Kids 15 and under are free. While the fee had been temporarily waived for private boaters, starting May 26, 2020, entrance fees are to be paid on the island at the deposit safes near the docks, or pay online via Pay.Gov . Have your receipt (or your phone payment confirmation) when in the park.
Note that there is no direct public ferry for day trippers from Amelia Island to Cumberland Island National Seashore (even though these barrier islands are in very close proximity). There is a private ferry for guests of the Greyfield Inn (the Lucy R. Ferguson transports passengers from the Fernandina Harbor Marina).
Mariners throw anchor and wade ashore to Cumberland Island’s beaches. This was the case Memorial Day Weekend 2020 (pictured above). Photographed from Fernandina’s Fort Clinch shoreline, one can see the boats along the southern coast of Cumberland Island, across the Sound from Amelia Island’s northern tip.
St. Marys Awaits Return of Tourists
The Cumberland Island ferry service concessionaire operates solely from St. Marys, Georgia. The riverfront city business district in the vicinity of the ferry dock and Cumberland Island Visitor’s Center and Museum, relies heavily on tourists. They travel to the riverfront city specifically to hop the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore. For overnight lodging providers, especially, times are tough when the National Park shuts down and the ferry stops running.
The National Park Service (NPS) has indicated they are “working service-wide with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis.”
It appears an announcement from the National Seashore, about the “Phase 2” reopening plan, is coming in the near future.
- “Cumberland Island National Seashore Ferry Service Suspended” March 18, 2020
- “Cumberland Island Ferry Spring & Summer 2020 Schedule”
- “Cumberland Island, Delightful Day Trip”
- Cumberland Island ferry concessionaire website