Your Complete Guide for Camping at Cumberland Island

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 campsite, what essentials to pack, and what to expect when you arrive.

I spent weeks researching and planning this camping adventure, hoping we wouldn’t forget anything. Since you cannot take your vehicle or RV to Cumberland Island, you can imagine my enormous sigh of relief once we arrived, made camp, and reassured myself that we had everything we needed. Now that I’ve experienced the natural beauty of Cumberland Island, I can’t wait to return! 

Also, don’t forget to look at my complete day trip guide to Cumberland Island here. It includes a brief history of the island, information on booking ferry reservations, and a list of must-see sights and activities, such as the Plum Orchard mansion and Dungeness Ruins.

Campsite four at Sea Camp Campground on Cumberland Island
Campsite four was a small but cozy campsite at Sea Camp Campground.

So, Where Is the Best Place to Camp on Cumberland Island?

Cumberland Island has five campgrounds: Sea Camp Campground, Stafford Beach, and three wilderness backcountry campground sites. 

Sea Camp Campground is the preferred camping spot on Cumberland Island, mainly due to its proximity to the ferry dock. Although it may seem like a long distance when carrying your camping gear, Sea Camp is just half a mile from the pier, where you can catch the ferry. Stafford Beach, the other camping option, is three and a half miles north of Sea Camp.

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 of the Sea Camp dock, at distances of 5.5 miles, 7.5 miles, and 10.5 miles, respectively.

If you plan to camp at Stafford Beach or any of the three wilderness locations, be prepared to carry all your camping equipment and travel bags. Wagons or carts (including wheeled coolers) are not allowed north of Sea Camp.

However, wagons are permitted to carry your gear if your camping reservation is at Sea Camp Campground. You can either bring your wagon via the ferry or rent one from the ranger station. Before our trip, we were informed that renting a camping wagon costs $5, but we weren’t charged upon arrival. Regardless, just in case, you might want to bring some cash to cover a rental. 

What Amenities Do the Campgrounds Have? 

Sea Camp Campground and Stafford Beach Campground have the following amenities:

  • Cold water showers
  • Flush toilets
  • Designated fire rings with grills
  • Water spigots with drinkable water
  • Food storage locker

If you choose to camp at one of the three wilderness campsites, it’s important to know that you won’t have access to luxuries such as showers and bathroom facilities and won’t be allowed to start a fire. Additionally, you must treat your water before drinking it at Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise, and Brickhill Bluff. Although I personally enjoy camping, I’m unsure if I’m brave enough to camp at one of these three backcountry sites!

The pathway for campsites one through twelve at Sea Camp.
The pathway for campsites 1-12 at Sea Camp Campground.

Cumberland Island Camping Reservations: Booking a Site 

Overall, we found the booking process relatively easy. However, Sea Camp Campground has only 18 campsites, while Stafford Beach Campground has 10. Therefore, if you’re planning a camping trip in these areas, it’s best to book well in advance, as they tend to sell out quickly. You can make a reservation up to six months in advance by visiting this website here

You must have a reservation and permit to camp on Cumberland Island. The permit must be printed within ten days of your trip, as the National Park Service rangers will ask for it during check-in. Once you arrive at your campsite, you must display the permit on the provided clip at the entrance.

When booking a camping reservation on Cumberland Island, it’s important to remember that camping fees do not include park entrance fees or ferry tickets, as those are separate fees.

Camping reservations cost between $9 and $40 per night, depending on your location and group size. Rates for larger group sites differ from those for individual campsites. Each individual campsite can accommodate up to 6 people, while the maximum capacity for group campgrounds is 20. View facility rates here

Important tip: When booking a campsite in winter, keep in mind that the ferry does not operate on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from December 1st through February 28th. This means you should avoid planning your arrival or departure on the ferry during these two days. I almost overlooked this critical detail while trying to book our campsite. Fortunately, I remembered at the last minute!

For more information on check-out times, rules and restrictions, and general camping information, check out this website here

Also, I found this video beneficial when planning a camping trip to Cumberland Island. It gives a good overview of what to expect and how the campsites look.

Essentials You Must Pack Before Camping at Cumberland Island 

It’s highly likely that you’ll encounter numerous mosquitoes and even ticks during your visit. During our stay, we spoke to a fellow camper who had more than fifty bites by the time they left. It’s definitely not a pleasant experience to end your vacation with this discomfort!

With this said, the number one item you must remember is bug spray or insect repellant. 

In fact, it’s a good idea to apply insect repellant before you step onto the ferry for Cumberland Island. Mosquitoes tend to gather around standing water, including the sink and shower area at Sea Camp Campground. Some of these mosquitoes are not your average-sized mosquitoes—some are pretty large!

Below is a list of essential items you should consider bringing on your camping trip. This list excludes obvious items such as food, drinks, tents, or other camping gear. However, these are the items that I found particularly helpful for camping at Cumberland Island: 

Cell Phone Charger

Knowing you won’t be completely detached from the world while camping is always a good feeling. Electrical outlets are available at the Sea Camp Campground and the ranger station near the dock.

Visiting tip: Charge your phone at the Sea Camp Ranger Station while enjoying a lovely sunset at the dock. 

Trash bags:

When visiting Cumberland Island, it is important to remember that no trash bins are available. Visitors must pack out all garbage and leave no trace behind.

And you’ll have 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.

Firewood

If you plan to cook your meals over a fire at the campground, you will need firewood and materials to start the fire. You can bring your own firewood or purchase some logs from the ferry staff. You can also use the dead branches lying around 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 quality because of the moisture trapped in the logs. As a result, it took several long hours for the fire to burn well to cook breakfast and dinner. Either plan extra time to cook food or bring a fire starter to help get the fire going.

Since the ferry arrives daily, you can return for more firewood if you run out. However, it’s better 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 shift from hot and humid to cold and rainy in no time. We were fortunate it did not rain during our camping trip to Cumberland Island, but you’ll want to prepare for any weather conditions.

Shower Shoes

Although the National Park Service cleans the bathroom and shower facilities, the shower experience is not really pleasant. Many 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.

Portable Clothesline and Tarp

I wish we had brought a portable clothesline and tarp for our camping trip to Cumberland Island. Many campers near us had tarps to cover their camping areas in case of rain. Although there are plenty of trees at Sea Camp Campground, having a tarp is great for additional shade from the sun.

If you take a dip in the beautiful beach at Cumberland Island, you might wonder where you can dry your towels and swimsuit. We forgot to bring a clothesline, so we used our lawn chairs to dry off our towels. Although it was a bit inconvenient when we wanted to sit, the chairs still did the job. But bringing a portable clothesline to tie up between the trees would be much easier.

Picnic Cloth:  

Many campsites have picnic tables to enjoy your morning coffee or s’mores at night. However, some insects love these picnic benches and tuck themselves between the wooden slats. They are not exactly appealing to look at while eating your sandwich!

A picnic cloth is a great option to solve this problem and keep things cleaner. However, be warned that birds may relieve themselves on the cloth. To avoid this, consider placing a tarp overhead or bringing a dish towel and soap to clean off bird droppings.

A Good Pair of Hiking Shoes:

Cumberland Island has over 40 miles of trails, so you’ll want to bring comfortable hiking shoes. Even if you don’t plan on hiking, you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking. This is especially true if you don’t bring a bike along.

Arriving at the Cumberland Island Ferry

I fretted for quite some time about how we would transport our camping gear from our car to the ferry and eventually to our camping site. Several questions were running through my mind, such as where to park and how to load our belongings on the ferry. However, all of my worries turned out to be almost unnecessary because the entire process went smoothly, thankfully.

So where can you park your car if you are staying overnight? A parking lot is about a block away from the Cumberland Island 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. 

Cumberland Island ferry
Getting aboard the Cumberland Island II ferry!

How do you get your travel bags and camping stuff to the ferry? Unless you have a camping wagon or cart, you must carry your items a short distance to the walkway leading to the ferry. But before parking in the nearby visitor parking lot, you can temporarily park your car in one of the spaces right in front of the pier, making transporting your travel bags and camping gear easier.

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: When arriving at Cumberland Island, ensure you get off at the correct dock. The ferry staff helps you know which dock, but you will want to confirm it is the dock for Sea Camp. The Dungeness (Ice House) Dock is farther away from the campgrounds, and carrying your camping gear for a longer distance probably won’t be fun! 

Sea Camp Ranger Station
You’ll see the Sea Camp Ranger Station at Cumberland Island Sea Camp Dock.

What to Expect at Sea Camp Campground

Raccoons, Armadillos, and Spiders, Oh My! 

Sitting near your tent amidst a maritime forest and listening to the sound of waves while sipping your morning coffee is a remarkable way to start your day!

Sea Camp Campground is conveniently near the beach, and you can quickly get there by taking a short hiking trail. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by towering white sand dunes, and if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a wild horse on the beach. If you keep walking south along the coast, eventually, you’ll arrive at the enchanting 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 (at least, I hope it was a horse and nothing ominous!).

Wild horses fighting amongst themselves.
These two wild horses were having a dispute in the historic district. The National Park Service recommends keeping at least a school bus distance from them!
Many wild horses surround the Dungeness Ruins. Be careful where you step!

Animals that we did see at Sea Camp campground included many raccoons and armadillos that lingered around our campsite as if we were new best friends. Like feral cats, the raccoons stroll around Sea Camp, pillaging for food left outside. And if you don’t want to share your food and toiletries with raccoons and other critters, you will want to definitely use your food locker and the extra food and toiletry storage (it looks like a birdcage) at your camping site. 

Are there any bears on Cumberland Island? Nope. There are no bears left after the last one died in the 1930s.

Also, 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 supposedly not found on Cumberland Island, I could have sworn I saw one. No, thank you! 

Some Campsites Are Better Than Others 

We stayed at Campsite 4 in Sea Camp Campground. Although we liked this spot, the campsite was relatively small. Its size was mentioned on the website when we made the reservation, but since it was the only one available during our preferred dates, we had no choice but to take it.

What do the campsites at Sea Camp Campground include? All campsites have a food locker, fire ring, grill, and picnic bench. However, the campgrounds vary in size. Some have two picnic tables, others just one. There may not even be enough space between trees to hang a clothesline or tarp.

If you arrive at your campsite and find that you’re not happy with it, take a walk around Sea Camp to explore other campsites that might be better for you next time. This is precisely what we did on the morning of our departure – we noted the campsites that we liked and would consider for future visits.

Also, check out YouTube before you book your camping location. Several videos show different campsites available.

Sun rays coming through oak trees on an island.
Early morning sun at Sea Camp Campground.

Things to Do at Night While Camping at Cumberland Island

If you’re searching for things to do on Cumberland Island during the daytime, I have a comprehensive list in my Day Trip to Cumberland Island Guide. However, if you choose to camp on the island, you’ll have the advantage of exploring more than a day visitor can experience. 

If you are planning to stay overnight, here are some activities that you can do:

Stargaze

Although Cumberland Island is not certified as a dark sky park, it does provide a clear view of the stars compared to a city. Moreover, the island is peaceful and calm at night, with only the occasional sound of the wind, waves, and wandering 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 saw more stars by capturing photos with a digital camera. Unfortunately, I had no film camera this time for astrophotography.

Important reminder: Do not use your flashlight (or any light) at night on the beach during turtle hatching season, usually in August. Light pollution can cause newly hatched baby turtles to lose their way to the ocean, which can be fatal!

A boardwalk leading to the beach with stars overhead.
You’ll see so many stars in the sky compared to being in a city!

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 sunsets at two different locations: Dungeness Ruins and the Sea Camp Ranger Dock. Although the sunset at Dungeness Ruins was pretty, we found the sunset at the Sea Camp Ranger Station dock to be better. At the pier, we could see the sun dip behind the trees on a nearby island while the ocean waves gently moved around the dock.

Watching the sunset is a beautiful way to end the day or a memorable trip to Cumberland Island.

Blue hour at Dungeness Ruins
Blue hour at Dungeness Ruins.
Sunset over the water
Sunset near the Sea Camp Ranger Station.

Final Thoughts 

Cumberland Island is a great place to go camping and have a blast! You’ll see various wildlife, plants, and an ever-changing landscape and ecosystem. It’s an excellent opportunity to unwind and take a break from the busy world. Moreover, there’s nothing quite like having a beach with hardly any people and skyscrapers in the background. Although it takes a lot of planning to camp and visit, seeing this beautiful island is well worth it.

Will I return to camp? Heck yes.

Have you ever been to Cumberland Island National Seashore for camping? If so, please share your experience in the comments below!

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