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Lots to explore on Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island is a place of extremes. Ornate Victorian mansions contrast rustic camping in the woods. Wild horses roam sandy roads where cars are rarely seen. Miles of wide, sunny Atlantic beaches are covered with shells instead of footprints. Lizards scurry in the leaves, songbirds decorate tree branches like holiday ornaments and gnarled, centenary, live oaks slowly compete to block the sky. Cumberland Island is a place of extreme beauty and an island that surges with life.

Cumberland Island National Seashore is an easy day trip from Bluffton. The last in the chain of Sea Islands in Georgia, Cumberland is accessible only by boat. Though nearly the entire island is open to the public, what you see will be determined by how your plan your visit and how willing you are to get out into the wilderness.

Spanning 17 miles and covering more than 36,000 acres, the island offers lots of room to roam. There are three ways to experience Cumberland Island. First, you can take a daytrip and visit the stately ruins of Dungeness, the 19th century mansion built by Thomas Carnegie, rent a bike to explore sandy

paths or spend the day on a wide pristine beach. Second, you can take an overnight adventure with a camping trip to the well-equipped Sea Camp campground or enjoy a luxury stay at the Greyfield Bed & Breakfast, where for $250 a night you get a personalized tour of the island. Third, you can take to the backcountry and hike to one of several rustic campgrounds located in the wilderness area, where your only company will be wild horses, solitude and a few other hardy souls.

Recently, I experienced the wild side of Cumberland while hiking and camping with a group of friends. From Sea Camp and the public ferry a 10-mile trek with backpacks brought us down the Parallel Trail to Brickhill Bluff campground. This breezy clearing overlooking a marshy creek offered scenic views and a water pump that required treatment of the water before drinking. From this base camp the island could be explored on foot, and we made a day of exploring the beach and miles of trails through maritime forest. Wild horses, remnants of those set free by Thomas Carnegie so long ago, roamed the beach and woods around us. No clocks, no calendars need apply as the outside world slipped away and the solitude of Cumberland Island took effect.

Whether camping, staying in a luxury inn, backpacking deep into the wild northern half of the island or simply spending a day, Cumberland Island will guarantee you an experience that will overload the senses and transport you to another world.