Are you getting ready to go camping at Cumberland Island National Seashore and have no idea what to expect? Well, you’ve landed in the right place!
In this camping at Cumberland Island guide, you will find tips to make your camping trip unforgettable, including how to book your camping site, the essentials you must pack, and what to expect when you arrive.
I spent weeks researching and planning this camping adventure, hoping we wouldn’t forget something. You cannot take your vehicle or RV to Cumberland Island, so you can imagine the enormous sigh of relief I had once we arrived, made camp, and reassured myself that I did not forget anything. And now that I’ve experienced the natural beauty of Cumberland Island, I can’t wait to go back!
Also, don’t forget to view my complete day trip to Cumberland Island travel guide, which includes a brief history of the island, how to book ferry reservations and things you must see and do, including visiting Plum Orchard mansion, Dungeness Ruins, and more!
So, Where Is the Best Place to Camp on Cumberland Island?
There are five campgrounds on Cumberland Island: Sea Camp Campground, Stafford Beach, and three wilderness backcountry campground sites. Sea Camp Campground is the most popular choice for camping at Cumberland Island due to its close location to the ferry dock. And while Sea Camp might seem further when transporting your camping gear, it is approximately a half-mile walk from the pier to the campground. The other campground location, Stafford Beach, is three and a half miles north of Sea Camp.
You can find a map of the Sea Camp campsite loop here.
The three wilderness campsites, Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise, and Brickhill Bluff, are even further north from the Sea Camp dock: 5.5 miles, 7.5 miles, and 10.5 miles, respectively.
If you camp at Stafford Beach or one of the three wilderness locations, prepare to carry all your travel bags and camping equipment! No wagons or carts are allowed north of Sea Camp.
However, if your camping reservation is at Sea Camp Campground, they permit wagons to carry your gear. You can bring your wagon via the ferry or use a wagon available at the ranger station. We were informed that renting a camping wagon would cost $5, but we weren’t charged upon arrival. Regardless, you might want to bring some money to cover a rental, just in case.
Sea Camp Campground and Stafford Beach Campground also have the following amenities:
- Cold water showers
- Flush toilets
- Designated fire rings with grills
- Water spigots with safe drinking water
- Food storage locker
You won’t have the luxuries listed above if you camp at the wilderness campsites. Treat your water before you drink it at Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise, and Brickhill Bluff. Also, no showers or bathroom facilities are available, and fires are not allowed. I can say that I love camping, but I am unsure if I am brave enough to camp at one of these three backcountry sites!
Cumberland Island Camping Reservations: Booking a Site
Overall, we found the booking process relatively easy. Since there are only 18 campsites at Sea Camp Campground and 10 at Stafford Beach Campground, you might want to book your camping adventure well in advance since they tend to sell out quickly. This can be done six months in advance at this website here.
Also, you must have a camping permit to camp on Cumberland Island, and within ten days of your trip, you will want to print the permit as the National Park Service rangers will ask for it at check-in. When you arrive at your campsite, you must display the permit on the provided clip at your entrance.
While booking a camping reservation is not expensive on Cumberland Island, you’ll want to remember that your camping fees do not include the park entrance fees or the ferry ticket(s). Those are separate fees.
Camping reservations are $9 to $40 a night, depending on where you camp and your group size (larger group sites have different rates than individual campsites). Individual campsites accommodate up to 6 people, while the group campground maximum is 20.
The most important thing to remember when booking a camping site is that the ferry does not operate on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from December 1 through February 28.
This means don’t plan to arrive or leave Cumberland Island during this timeframe. I almost forgot this important detail several times when trying to book our campsite, but thankfully I remembered at the last second.
Additional check-out times, rules and restrictions, and general camping information are available here. Also, watch this helpful video on camping at Cumberland Island. It gives a good idea of what to expect and how the campsites look.
Essentials You Must Pack Before Camping at Cumberland Island
Chances are high that you will encounter many mosquitoes and possibly ticks when you visit. We spoke to another camper when we were there; they had over fifty mosquito bites by the time they left! It is a terrible way to end a vacation.
With this said, the number one item you must not forget is bug spray or insect repellant.
In fact, you will probably want to use that bug spray before you step onto the ferry for Cumberland Island. The mosquitoes gather especially around standing water, including the sink and shower area at Sea Camp Campground. Some of these mosquitoes are not your average size mosquito either. Instead, some are quite large!
Below, I’ve listed other items you don’t want to forget while camping at Cumberland Island. This short list doesn’t include the obvious things such as food, beverages, your camping tent, or additional camping gear. Still, these are the items I found specifically useful for camping on Cumberland Island:
Cell Phone Charger:
It’s always a good feeling knowing you won’t be completely detached from the world while camping. There is electricity and outlets at the Sea Camp Campground and the ranger station near the dock.
Tip: charge your phone at the Sea Camp Ranger Station while enjoying a lovely sunset at the dock.
There are no trash bins on Cumberland Island. You must leave no trace behind, so don’t forget your garbage bags!
Prepare to carry these trash bags back onto the ferry when you go. I wasn’t too thrilled with the possibility that I would have to put my trash in the backseat of my car, but thankfully they have garbage cans near the ferry dock in St. Marys where you can dump your trash before you leave in your vehicle.
If you plan on cooking your food over a campground fire, you’ll need firewood and anything else that might help you start the fire. You can bring your firewood or buy some logs when available from the ferry staff. You are also permitted to use dead branches already on the ground near your campsite to start your fire.
We didn’t want to carry the firewood, so we bought some while on the ferry. The firewood only costs a few dollars, but it wasn’t the best because of the moisture trapped in the logs. Due to this, it took a few long hours for the fire to burn well to cook breakfast and dinner. Either plan extra time to cook food or bring your fire starter to help get the fire going.
And since the ferry arrives daily, you can always return for more firewood if you run out. However, you might want to go earlier in the day just in case they sell out!
Poncho and Rain Gear:
Georgia weather is always fickle and has a mind of its own. It can go from hot and humid to cold and rainy in a single day. We were fortunate that it did not rain while we were camping on Cumberland Island, but you’ll want to prepare for any weather.
While I appreciate that the National Park Service cleans the bathroom and shower facilities, the shower experience is not the most pleasant. Lots of things make their way into the shower, so you will want to bring an old pair of flip-flops or shoes to use while standing inside them.
Portable Clothesline and Tarp:
These are two items I wish we thought to bring. Many campers near us brought tarps to cover their camping area if it rained. While there are a lot of trees at Sea Camp Campground, the tarp is an excellent option to provide a little more shade from the sun.
Where do you plan on drying off your towels and swimsuit if you take a dip in the gorgeous beach at Cumberland Island? We didn’t think to bring a clothesline; therefore, we relied on our lawn chairs to dry off our towels. A bit of a nuisance when we sat, but they still did the job. It is much easier, however, if you bring a portable clothesline to tie up between the trees.
Many campsites have picnic tables where you can enjoy your morning cup of coffee or s’mores at night. However, the insects enjoy these picnic benches and seem to tuck themselves between the wooden slats. Not exactly appealing to look at while eating your sandwich.
A picnic cloth helps solve this problem and makes it a little cleaner. However, a fair warning: birds might relieve themselves on the cloth, so you might want to consider putting that tarp overhead or bringing a dish towel and soap to wipe that off!
A Good Pair of Hiking Shoes:
There are over 40 miles of trails at Cumberland Island, so you’ll want to bring a good pair of hiking shoes. And even if you don’t hike, you’ll probably be doing a lot of walking, especially if you don’t bring a bike.
Arriving at the Cumberland Island Ferry
I fretted for some time about how we were to get our camping gear from our car to the ferry and then eventually to our camping site. A few questions were running through my mind: where to park and how to load our stuff on the ferry. All those worries were almost for nothing because the whole process went smoothly, thankfully!
You might ask where you park your car if you stay overnight. A parking lot is about a block away from the Cumberland visitor center. There are no security guards, and it is not gated; however, it is very close to St. Marys main street and dock. We had no issues leaving our car there, but I still would not leave any valuables behind.
How do you get your travel bags and camping stuff to the ferry? Unless you have your camping wagon or cart, you will have to carry your items a short distance to the walkway leading to the ferry. Before parking your car in the nearby visitor parking lot, you can temporarily park your car in one of the spaces right in front of the pier, which will make things a little easier in transporting your travel bags and camping gear.
Plus, the ferry employees were extremely helpful in getting our travel bags and camping gear on the ferry. They also helped us unload once we got on to Cumberland Island. From there, we grabbed the wagon available at the Sea Camp Ranger Station and made our way to our Sea Camp campsite!
Important tip: ensure you get off at the correct dock when arriving at Cumberland Island. The ferry staff helps let you know which dock, but you will want to ensure it is the dock for Sea Camp. The Dungeness (Ice House) Dock is further away from all the campgrounds, and it won’t be fun walking further with your camping stuff!
What to Expect at Sea Camp Campground
Raccoons, Armadillos, and Spiders, Oh My!
Having your morning coffee while listening to nearby waves as the sun’s rays beam down into a maritime forest where your tent is pitched sounds like a remarkable way to start your day!
Sea Camp Campground is very close to the beach and is reachable by a short hiking trail. You’ll see tall white sand dunes, and if you are lucky, you might see a wild horse on the beach! Continue walking south on the beach and past the tall sand dunes, and you’ll eventually reach the magnificent Dungeness Ruins.
We saw many horses at the ruins but didn’t encounter wild horses at our campsite. Although, we might have heard one lumbering through the bushes at night.
Animals that we did see at Sea Camp included many raccoons and armadillos that lingered around our campsite as if we were new best friends. Like feral cats, the raccoons make their nightly strolls around Sea Camp pillaging for food left outside. And if you don’t mind sharing your food and toiletries with raccoons and other critters, you will definitely want to use your food locker and the extra food and toiletry storage (it looks like a birdcage) at each site.
Are there any bears on Cumberland Island? Nope. The last one died in the 1930s, and there are zero bears today.
However, be prepared to see lots of spiders. LOTS. There are many in the bathrooms and shower facilities. They mostly keep to themselves unless you disturb them, but they still creep me out, so I respectfully keep a healthy distance.
And although brown recluses are not supposedly found on Cumberland Island, I could have sworn I saw one. No thanks!
Some Campsites Are Better Than Others
We camped at Campsite 4 at Sea Camp Campground. While I liked this campsite and it did provide my basic necessities, it was small. This size detail is listed on the website when booking the reservation, but considering it was the only one available for our timeframe, I had no option.
All campsites at Sea Camp Campground will have a food locker, fire ring, grill, and picnic bench.
However, the campgrounds vary in size. Some will have two picnic tables. You might not even have trees spaced out well enough to hang a clothesline or tarp.
If you get there and decide you aren’t a fan of your campsite, walk around Sea Camp to see which campsites might work better for you next time. Noting which campgrounds we liked for next time is exactly what we did on the morning of our departure.
Also, check out YouTube before you book your camping location. There are a few videos that show you the different campsites available!
Things to Do At Night While Camping at Cumberland Island
If you are looking for something to do during the day on Cumberland Island, I have a list in my Day Trip to Cumberland Island Guide. But with the bonus of camping, you get to see more than the person visiting for a day sees.
If you are staying the night, here are a few things you can do:
Cumberland Island is not a certified dark sky park, but you will see many stars here versus a city! Plus, it’s very quiet and serene at night – all you hear is the occasional wind, the waves, and a few roaming animals.
But remember that if you are stargazing on the island’s south side, you probably won’t see the entire Milky Way with your eyes. The Fernandina paper mills in the nearby distance light up like a Christmas tree. I could see more stars by capturing photos with a digital camera. Unfortunately, I had no film camera this time for astrophotography.
Important reminder: try to be careful not to use your flashlight (or any light) at night on the beach during turtle hatching season, usually in August. Any light pollution can cause newly-hatched baby turtles to lose their direction to the ocean!
Watch the Sunrise or Sunset
Admittedly, I did not wake up early to watch the sunrise. I was just too tired from all the hiking to wake up early. However, a few campers watched the sunrise on the beach and said it was spectacular.
Instead, we saw the sunsets at Dungeness Ruins and the Sea Camp Ranger Dock. The sunset at Dungeness Ruins was pretty, but it is better at the Sea Camp Ranger Station dock. You will see the sun dip behind the trees on a nearby island while the ocean waves gently move around the dock.
And watching the sunset is a great way to end the day or wrap up a memorable trip to Cumberland Island!
You will have a blast camping at Cumberland Island! You’ll see lots of wildlife, plants, and an ever-changing, diverse landscape and ecosystem! It is a fantastic place to unwind and take a break from the busy world. Plus, there is nothing like having a beach with little to no people and sky risers in the background. It takes a lot of planning to camp and visit, but seeing this beautiful island is well worth it.
Will I return to camp? Heck yes.
Have you had a Cumberland Island National Seashore camping experience? If so, please share your experience below!
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