Sapelo Island takes visitors back in time

To learn what the first explorers saw when they walked the beach on Hilton Head and other Lowcountry islands, visit Sapelo.

No development mars the gorgeous shoreline on this barrier island, which is part of the Georgia state parks system and reachable only by ferry. Visitors can explore the forested uplands, vast salt marsh, and solitary beach and dunes. Peace, uninterrupted by traffic, ringing cell phones and the other sounds of modern life, is a given here.

But modern life--albeit a quiet version of it--is part of Sapelo too. Guided island tours highlight the African-American community of Hog Hammock (home to 45, and dwindling), University of Georgia Marine Institute, the beautiful Reynolds Mansion and a working lighthouse.

Built in 1820, the lighthouse was in service until 1905 when it was deactivated. Following its 1998 restoration, it again became a working aid in navigation.

The historic Reynolds Mansion is used for conferences and retreats, but most people go to Sapelo for the day.

With your tour group, it's fun to peek in the mansion, which was built by Thomas Spalding in 1810 and later owned by the tobacco baron. Go upstairs to the circus ballroom for the wild animal murals.