Cumberland Island Sea Kayak Adventure

I was invited in December to join a Sea Kayak trip to Cumberland Island Georgia and then on to Tybee Island Georgia.  But I did not respond to the invite until January when I was able to roll my P & H Capella reliably in January pool sessions.  Paddling out on the Atlantic and in the Devils Triangle at Tybee was not in my comfort margin until I could roll consistently.  I was able to roll my Skin On Frame Greenland kayak last August at the Qajaq Training Camp, but not consistently in my Capella.

With a $250.00 check in the mail I was in, then a flurry of emails up until the end of April trip.  This trip involved “backpacking” in my kayak with everything I needed for 4 days of rustic camping on Cumberland Island.  I spent $1474 in gear for the trip not having some of the right camping gear for the trip.  Granted some of those expenses are for items that were wishes and not needs, such as a new spray skirt, a new PFD, new contacts for my eyes, a kayak compass, a Kokatat Hydration add on to my PFD.  Except for the Jetboil and the one man tent (the required items), I will use the gear purchased for a long time post trip while kayaking.  The final trip cost check was for $193.00 that included sharing the gas for the vehicle.  Therefore for only $443 I had 4 days of camping on Cumberland Island, 4 days of Tybee Island lodging in a very nice rental house, plus transportation for me and my kayak.  Pretty reasonable 10 day vacation cost.   Food and beverages were extra.

I had 40 Lbs. of gear, food and some water to fit into the Capella’s three hatches.  Some warm weather clothes were also taken and most were used on Cumberland Island, there were very few items that were over kill.  Spare batteries were never needed and – maybe a paddle shirt and one pair of long pants could have been reduced.


Kayak Launch

Packing Kayaks For Launch at St Mary's

The adventure started Friday April 20th at 5:30 am, the plan was to meet in Ann Arbor Michigan at Sweetwaters Café with the two travel vehicles.  Well the truck with the kayak trailer had hitch ball issues requiring a trip to Meijers and then it was trailer lights, this delayed the 6:30 AM meeting at Sweetwaters by an hour and a half.  Then we were on the road with 15 kayaks between two vehicles.


Truck and Trailer

Tow Truck and Trailer - AnnArbor Michigan Start

Azteck Vehicle

The Second Vehicle - The Aztek

We made several stops in Ohio trying to get the trailer to stop from swaying, first we thought the height of the hitch was the issue then finally learned that the tongue weight of the trailer was too light, shifting the gear and the kayaks in a rest stop helped stop the trailer sway.  This also put us behind schedule, we got to Charlotte North Carolina at midnight for a 6 AM breakfast and resume travel time.  The original plan time was to arrive around 9 PM.

We arrived in St. Mary’s Georgia after noon to negotiate the campsites with the park ranger for Cumberland Island the next day.  There was uncertainty in the camping on Cumberland Island.  There were campsites reserved in January for 10, then two more people joined and the park would not increase the number in February stating the Island was full.


Sea Kayak Trailer View

View Fom "Tybee 2" to "Tybee 1"

There was another wrinkle, a group site required 12 people minimum, and our reserved site was for 10.  They have a restriction of 3 tents only per non group site, which meant larger size tents would have to be taken in the kayaks.  The park ranger would not assign us a campsite until the day we were heading to the island so we camped at Crooked River campground and would have to see the ranger again on Sunday when we launched for the island.


Crooked River Lauanch

Crooked River Intial Plan Lauch Site and Campground

Three people cancelled out of the trip due to the campsite uncertainty.  Not everyone can deal with uncertainty and go for the adventure of the trip.  So Saturday we set up camp on the mainland at Crooked River, went back to St Mary’s for a wonderful dinner at Captain Seagles with a great waitress – Heather who was lots of fun.  She put the ten of us in a room by ourselves and then had to close the door because we were too loud having too much fun.  Fat Tire beer was on tap.  The food was fantastic and more than we could eat.

St. Mary’s is a very quaint historical little town with not much more than a few restaurants, the National Lakeshore visitors center, a marina, a general store, and craft/gift shop and a very nice park next to the boat launch.  We were off season so I’m not sure how quiet it is at peak season for Cumberland Island Tourists but it was very laid back while we were there.

View Of St Marys From The Water

View Of St Marys From The Water

It rained hard over Saturday night and in the morning getting our tents wet before we returned to St Mary’s for the launch and another visit to see the ranger.  The tent I was in took on water over night getting some of my stuff wet due to the lack of stakes available for use on the tent.  I could not find my rain gear which was a little disappointing at the time since I knew I packed it.  The rain gear turned out to be in the bow of my kayak still there from the packing dry run before the trip.  Since the kayaks were still on the trailer at the campsite I was not able to look for it until later after it stopped raining and the kayaks unloaded.


St Mary's Launch

Getting Ready for Launch at St Mary's Ramp

Once back at the National Lakeshore visitor’s center we were given a group site and all issues about the number of people and tents vanished.  The ranger was very nice and tried to help us as much as he could.  It appears there were many cancelations and getting the campsite we wanted was not an issue.  There is no camping except at the campsites, this is enforced and there is a large fine if caught camping elsewhere on the island.  This fact limited where we could paddle to in a day’s time around the island.  Cumberland Island  turned out to be pretty vacant.  Sometimes you just have to go for it and take some risk with a trip like this, not everything can be planned out.


To Cumberland Island

Paddle to the Island

In advance we had storage lined up for the trailer and the kayaks not being used at Cumberland Island.  This turned out to be a problem with the code not working at the gate, nobody answering the phone being a Sunday.  We did find an alternate storage location.  Just one more item not planned but in the end worked out.

We had close to a 2 hour paddle over to the Island, finding the right water way was a little difficult.  There were small craft warnings and high winds predicted however we did not experience that on the paddle over going with the tide made it an easy paddle.  About 500 yards from the dock we did get hit with a downpour making it hard to see the dock and getting us soaked from the kayak skirt up.  Once we all got the kayaks beached we huddled under the dock until the rain stopped.  Then the sun came out and acted like it never rained.

Paddle to Cumberland Under Clouds

Cloudy Paddle To the Island Going With The Tide

Cumberland Landing

Landing At Cumberland Island Sea Camp Ranger Station Dock - After The Rain Stopped

Negotiating the boats and the gear up to the ranger station was fun.  There was a big wall between the shore and the land.  We stored the kayaks behind the ranger station and the gear was put into carts for the approximate ½ mile walk to the campsites.  A wedding party was just leaving after having the ceremony at one of the campsites; they did get rained on also before they left the Island via the ferry.  It was funny to see people dressed up on the island.   Before the sun came out it was also a little cool.

Cumberland Sea Camp

Trail to Cumberland Sea Camp


My Sea Cmap Tent

My Sea Camp Tent


At Cumberland Island Sea Camp Site

At Cumberland Island Sea Camp Site

The next day was to be paddle day exploring the island; unfortunately the wind was at 20 MPH gusting at times higher.  This made it too difficult to paddle not to mention unsafe, so we rented bicycles for the day and explored the island by bike instead.

Cumberland Island Coastline

Cumberland Island Coastline

This turned out to be very interesting touring the old Thomas Carniegie summer mansions that were on the island circa 1880’s to 1925.  We were told they only spent about 6 weeks on the Island during the year but had a staff of 300 maintaining the place.  The Island mansions were self sufficient having gardens and fruit trees, a small farm.

Dungenese Mansion Distryed By Fire

Dungenese Mansion Distroyed By Fire


Dungenese Mansion View From Shore

Dungenese Mansion View From Shore


Plum Orchard Mansion

Plum Orchard Mansion - For The 22 Year Old Couple


Plum Orchard Mansion View

Plum Orchard Mansion Front view

The next day the wind was down to 10 to 15 MPH so we headed out going up the Cumberland shoreline against the wind.  It was tough going and the constant noise of the wind was tiring.  We stopped for lunch near the Stafford house and found out that we were on private property and got yelled at to leave.  This was after we had lunch so we did not mind much and then discovered the tide had gone out and we had a long muddy walk to get the kayaks back to water.  Just one more part of the adventure.


Cumberland Paddle UP the Coastline

Cumberland Paddle UP The Coastline


Cumberland Paddle UP The Coastline

Cumberland Paddle UP The Coastline Against Wind

The paddle back was much quicker with the wind.  We did not get as far up the shore as we wanted but we had a good work out and we happy to get the boats back out and go relax at the camp site.  We had showers at the camp but not hot water, now the cold water felt good and refreshing.  All the dinners at camp were great, more food than we needed as some very experienced kayak campers were in our group and brought some good homemade dehydrated food.  The wine and conversation flowed.

After A Days Paddle

After A Days Paddle Waiting for Sunset at The Ranger Station


Cumberland Island Sunset

Cumberland Island Sunset

The next day it was already time to pack up and get the kayaks re-loaded for the crossing back to the mainland.  This was the warmest day yet, winds were low, sunny.  While we crossed a submarine was going back to the nearby sub base at Kings Island.  We even got to paddle through sub wake.  Then we were circled by two different government helicopters.  Seeing 10 kayaks from the air must have been interesting to them.


Packed For the Walk To the Launch Site

Packed For the Walk To the Launch


Close Encounter Of The Sub Kind

Close Encounter Of The Sub Kind

Back to St Mary’s for loading the vehicles again for the 3 hour trip North to Tybee Island.  We had another good meal in St Mary’s at the Riverside Café before leaving; we eat on the porch with a great view.  A blog to follow on the Tybee part of the trip  adventure.

The Atlantic Side Of Sea Camp
The Atlantic Side Of Sea Camp
Landing at Sea Camp Atlantic Side

Landing at Sea Camp Atlantic Side

Leave A Comment


  1. Rob

     /  May 8, 2012


    Great write-up! I really like the integrate of the photos with the narrative, but I especially appreciated the first timer perspective. Like in anything, the more experienced can lose perspective. Thanks for renewing mine.


  2. Thanks for the compliments Rob, had a great time with the group.

  3. Louise

     /  May 9, 2012

    I vastly enjoyed reliving this gorgeous trip through you! Can I steal some pics????

  4. Sure Louise, Use the Flicker link provided yesterday to get the pics.

  5. It looked like a fun trip! What a shame, those mansions looks so grand, and now they’re only left for tours and such?

  6. Earl

     /  July 23, 2012

    I am going next month with a group and we are planning on kayaking to cumberland island also. Could you please tell where you put in at? I was thinking about taking the same route that the ferry takes but I saw were many people advised kayakers to put in on crooked river. We are staying at sea camp also. Could you tell which campsites were the best and which ones were the closest to the beach?

  7. We were originally going to put in at Crooked River however the weather was rainy in the AM, so we put in at St Marys which was fine, it is a shorter paddle from St Marys, can not comment on Crooked River since I did not go that way. We were only able to get to Sea Camp, not far from the Atlantic side beach, but still a good walk with Kayaks and gear. We put the kayaks behind the Ranger station and used carts to get the gear to Sea Camp from the other side. Main and most important thing is watch the tides for the paddle over and back. Go with them…

    Wind and tide kept us from going up to the other camp, easier to get to from Crooked River.

  8. Stephanie

     /  April 14, 2014

    Bob – Enjoyed this blog and the photos that went along with it! We live in ATL and are planning our 2nd trip to Sea Camp with our kids and friends in October. Do you remember if you stayed in a Group Site at Sea Camp or was it a numbered site at Sea Camp? We’ve got 8 adults and 8 children (4 families) and we think we’ll end up in a group site.

  9. We had a group site.

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