Two National Parks Within Easy Reach of Amelia Island, Florida

Visit Kingsley Plantation within the Timucuan Ecological Historic Preserve and Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Time Outdoors Around The Florida-Georgia Border

Whether a first-time visitor to this area of the coastal South, or one of the many new residents who’ve moved to Nassau County, Florida in recent years, put these National Parks on “to do” lists.

Two Outstanding National Parks To Visit In Southeast Georgia & Northeast Florida

Southeast Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore and northeast Florida’s Timucuan Ecological Historic Preserve are two of America’s wonderful National Parks, both within easy reach of Amelia Island. Below are some highlights of Cumberland Island plus significant historical sites within the Timucuan Preserve, including Kingsley Plantation and American Beach.

Empty seashore, Cumberland National Seashore, Georgia barrier island. Photo by Amelia Island Living magazine.
Cumberland Island National Seashore (Photo by
Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Amelia Island’s northern neighbor just across the St. Marys River is southeast Georgia’s Cumberland Island. A visit to Cumberland Island may turn out to be one of the most unique, natural locations you’ve ever experienced, so don’t miss taking a day trip over to this Georgia gem.

Dungeness ruins entry gate, Cumberland Island, Georgia. Photo by Amelia Island Living magazine.
Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island. (Carnegie mansion burned down in 1959.)

Cumberland Island will have considerable appeal for those interested in both a natural setting and unique history. Picture in your mind for a moment, no stores, no street lights, no paved roads and restricted public access. To put this into perspective, only 300 people a day are allowed to visit this 17-mile-long Georgia island (that’s bigger than New York’s Manhattan Island, and bigger than Amelia Island, too).

Understory of palmettos, walking beneath tree canopy on Cumberland Island. Maritime forest along sandy road. Photo
Understory of palmettos, walking through Cumberland’s forest along sandy road. (Photo by

There’s so much to learn and places to explore on this captivating barrier island at the Georgia-Florida border. A ferry ride is required to visit Cumberland Island. The National Seashore’s ferry service is located in St. Marys, GA, about a 45-minute drive from Amelia Island. Learn more at Amelia Island Living’s Cumberland Island section.)

“One Of Last Unspoiled Coastal Wetlands On U.S. Atlantic Coast”

Much of the Timucuan Preserve is located a bit south of Amelia Island within two neighboring counties — Duval and Saint Johns, Florida. Comprised of hardwood hammocks, salt marshes and coastal dunes, the Timucuan Preserve is described by the National Park Service as “one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast.”

Kingsley Plantation, Timucuan Preserve

One of the historic sites within the Timucuan Preserve is located just a 20-minute drive south of Amelia Island along Heckscher Drive, Kingsley Plantation. This historic site provides a glimpse of plantation life at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This National Park is free daily admission.

Located riverfront, Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island is worth a visit any day of the year. It’s a scenic route from Amelia Island along Heckscher Drive through Big and Little Talbot Islands then onto Fort George Island.

Kingsley Plantation House Florida Circa 1798 on Fort George Island. Photo by
Kingsley Plantation House, Circa 1798, Fort George Island. Photo by

The entry road to Kingsley takes visitors through about two miles of maritime forest to reach the plantation house located waterfront along the Fort George River. An easy ride from Amelia Island, Kingsley is well worth visiting for a few hours to explore this historic site nearby.

The Kingsley Plantation house, constructed in 1798, “is the oldest planter’s residence still standing in Florida,” according to the National Park Service. Tour the main house itself overlooking the Fort George River plus the adjacent kitchen house and a large barn. Walk around the waterfront setting and step through the ruins of 25 tabby slave cabins.

“The slave cabins are registered on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the most intact examples of the plantation system in Florida. . . perhaps the most graphic evidence of slave living quarters and daily life experiences in the state.” 

National Park Service
Self-Guided Tours

The Kingsley Plantation offers plenty of exhibit signs explaining its history, allowing visitors to take self-guided tours at their own pace around this sprawling riverfront property with its own dock on the Fort George River. Brochures and audio program are also available. Ranger tours are usually offered on weekends (but check schedule for times in advance of visiting by calling Kingsley at 904-251-3537).

Key crops during the plantation era were sea island cotton, indigo (for making blue dye), and sugar cane. There’s an interpretive history garden on the property where cotton and indigo are planted and harvested each year.

Who Were The Kingsleys?

The plantation bears the name of a planter and slave trader, Zephaniah Kingsley, who married one of his slaves and set her free. Anna Kingsley was an African woman who became a plantation manager and business woman. She was an intriguing individual of the plantation era. 

Watch Park Ranger Tour of Kingsley Plantation

Video Credit: The National Center for Preservation Technology & Training

Visiting Hours at Kingsley Plantation

Kingsley Plantation is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Phone: 904-251-3537. Located at 11676 Palmetto Avenue, Jacksonville, FL 32226

Learn more by visiting the National Park Service Timucuan Ecological Historic Preserve website.

American Beach & Florida’s Tallest Dune
NaNa dune, tallest in Florida. American Beach. Photo by Amelia Island Living magazine.
Florida’s Tallest Dune System, “NaNa” at American Beach. Photo:

Right here on Amelia Island is a special site that was annexed into the Timucuan Ecological Historic Preserve, thanks to the efforts of “The Beach Lady,” MaVynee Betsch, the most vocal advocate for the area’s preservation. Pictured above is the tallest dune system in the state of Florida, about 8.5 acres, dubbed “NaNa.” Located within the historic American Beach community on Amelia Island’s southend, “NaNa” became the most northern site within the Timucuan Ecological Historic Preserve, a vast National Park of 46,000 acres.

The American Beach Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing the beach enclave for its African American cultural heritage.

Renamed A. L. Lewis Museum, new sign at American Beach, FL. Photo by

American Beach was a vacation spot for African Americans back when beaches in America were segregated. During the 1930s to 1950s, famous musicians such as Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, James Brown and Billie Daniels performed at American Beach.

Learn much more about Amelia Island’s historic American Beach community by visiting the A. L. Lewis Museum located at 1600 Julia Street (phone 904-510-7036). The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (See related article, “Grand Reopening of A.L. Lewis Museum in Historic American Beach Community.”