Cumberland Island Dungeness Ruins with Horses

How to Visit Cumberland Island for Less Than $30

Jennifer Meyer Budget Travel, Georgia, Planning Leave a Comment

Imagine this:

An entire island that is virtually untouched by man with a rich history.

And yeah, you can actually visit it! Best part? You can visit it for as little as $25.

In this post, I'm going to show you how you can visit Cumberland Island for only $25, and if you have some extra room in your budget, I'll give you some great tips to help you decide where to spend your extra change.

About Cumberland Island

Horses walking down the road on Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island is a small island (about 18 miles long) right off the coast of Georgia (yes, the state).

Cumberland used to be the mostly private residence of an incredibly rich family.

I wish I could tell you that you can tour the house they once lived in, but it burned down in the 1900s. Still, the ruins of the house remain, and they're hauntingly beautiful.

Seeing the ruins of Dungeness is definitely a highlight of the visit to this island, but we won't really go into much detail on things to do on the island in this post. Don't worry, I'm working on another one that will cover all of that!  Check back soon!

While Cumberland Island is still home to a few private residences, it's mostly uninhabited, making it an adventurer's dream.

On certain parts of the island, you can almost imagine that you're the first one to discover it. It's pretty cool.

Cumberland Island is a National Park, which means it's well kept and well staffed.

You won't be running into park rangers every 5 minutes, but they're around.

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How to Plan Your Visit to Cumberland Island

Best Dates to Visit

Woman holding a calendar.

The spring and fall are the best times of year to visit this park.

While winter is also a viable option, you'll likely find that the animals and plants are a little more lively in the fall and spring.

If you're thinking about visiting in the summer, I would caution you. Summer is hot and extra buggy. (Yep, I'm talking about the creepy crawly kind. Ew!)

Generally speaking, you'll be most comfortable in the fall and spring.

How to Get There

Map examining a map.

If you're thinking, "drive, duh," you're in for an interesting surprise.

Remember how I said this island is virtually untouched by man?

Well, there are no bridges on the island.

So, the only way you can get to it is by ferry!

Cool, right?!

Ferry Tickets

I won't lie. This is the expensive part of visiting the island.

Ferry tickets cost $15 for adults.

That's if you reserve the tickets in advance. I'm pretty sure I saw the same ferry tickets going for $30 on the day of departure. Yikes!

Even if you're okay with paying $30 for a ferry ticket, you should reserve them anyway. There are only so many tickets available, so you'll want to make sure that you've got yours!

Tickets can go quickly, so make sure you plan your trip at least a couple weeks in advance.

You can book your ticket here.

Ferry Departure and Arrival Times

IMPORTANT: The ferry operates 7 days a week except from 12/1 - 2/28, when it only operates Thursday through Monday.

Spring/Summer Schedule
3/1 - 9/30

Departs from St. Mary's

9 am
11:45am

Departs from Cumberland

10:15 am
2:45 pm
4:45pm

Fall/Winter Schedule
10/1 - 2/28

Departs from St. Mary's

9 am
11:45am

Departs from Cumberland

10:15 am
4:45pm

Important Info About the Ferry

Whether leaving St. Mary's or Cumberland Island, it's incredibly important that you are on time for your ferry.

The ferry will leave precisely at the specified time, so it's best to plan on arriving at the docks 15 minutes prior to departure.

Also, it's important to note that the ferry ride takes 45 minutes, so be prepared.

PRO TIP: When choosing a seat on the ferry, make sure you take into account the sun. If it's a hot day, you might want to take a seat on the shaded side of the boat.

Day of Departure Details

Person writing a checklist.

On the day of departure, you unfortunately can't just walk onto the ferry.

First, you must check in.

The exact address will be given to you when you purchase your ferry tickets.

I recommend arriving at the check in no later than 8:30 am. Check ins start at 8 am.

Arriving by 8:30 am gives you time to park (Yes, there is a free lot you can park in. You'll see signs for it when you arrive.), wait in line, check in, and walk a few blocks to the ferry.

Immediately after checking in for the ferry and getting your ticket, which you NEED in order to board, you will need to pay to enter the park.

Yep, a ferry ticket does not cover park entry. Damn!

If you have a national park annual pass, you can use that to save yourself $10! If not, you will need to pay the $10 fee to enter the park.

Optional Extras

If you have some spare change that you're just dying to spend, I've got a few suggestions I think you'll love.

Keep in mind that you've already spent $25 at this point. And while these suggestions aren't necessary, I think they'll make you trip even more amazing.

Breakfast

Beautiful breakfast.

Since you'll be on an island hiking, it's important to eat a hearty breakfast.

I highly recommend arriving early and getting breakfast and coffee at Cedar Oak Cafe.

It'll run you about $10 for a delicious (and huge) breakfast and coffee.

The good news is that this joint is right on your way to the check in spot. So, no lengthy detour required.

This cafe is incredibly small. It easily has twice the number of tables outside as inside.

But, don't worry, I was there on a Saturday morning shortly before 8, and we easily found a table inside.

I enjoyed coffee, an omelet, grits, and a biscuit. And, yes, I would highly recommend it. It was just what I needed before the long day that was ahead of me.

Dinner

Chalkboard menu of specials at Fulford's Fish House.

When you get off the ferry at 5:30 pm. You're going to want dinner and a drink.

There's no two ways about it.

After our adventure, we stopped at Fulford's Fish House.

Here are the highlights:

  • Happy hour 3 pm - 6 pm daily (half-price beer and wine)
  • Amazing fish tacos
  • Delicious salmon dip
  • Live music at 6 pm
  • An outdoor patio to sit on so no one has to smell you (sorry but you stink)
  • Counter service so it's less expensive than a full service restaurant
  • Entrees run about $10-$12

It's a pretty sweet spot to just chill out and enjoy some great food after an exhausting day.

If you've been counting, you're up to about $52 total for a totally killer day trip.

Hotel

View from Riverfront Hotel St. Mary's, GA.

St. Mary's is just an hour drive for me, so it's easy to make a day trip out of Cumberland Island.

If you're traveling from a farther distance, you might find it difficult or impossible to arrive on time for the ferry leaving the same day.

So, in that case, you'll probably need a hotel room.

I'll be honest: I've never stayed at a hotel in St. Mary's.

However, my parents have, and they highly recommend the Riverview Hotel.

Ready for the highlights?

  • Inexpensive (around $80 per night)
  • Offers a great view of the river
  • Continental breakfast
  • Super close to the ferry and check in
  • Each room offers a unique experience
  • Historic building, which is decorated appropriately. You'll feel like you stepped back in time (in a good way).

You can check out the rooms and rates right here.

If you're not interested in staying at a super cool and affordable hotel, no worries. 😉 You can use the map below to find another sweet hotel!

(There aren't a lot of hotels in St. Mary's, so you can zoom out a bit to find more options!)

Booking.com

Everything You Need to Bring

You can't go to an island without bringing a few things.

To help you pack your backpack, here's a list of what you'll need and why!

Water

Water is incredibly important!!!

Aside from a few of water fountains located throughout the island, there is no drinkable water.

You should plan to bring as much water as you think you'll need. If you need more, you can fill up a water bottle at a water fountain, but don't let that be plan A.

Why?

Because if you're miles away from a water fountain when you run out of water, you have to trek miles to get to water. You don't want to get dehydrated. So, just take as much water as you think you'll need, and refill a bottle when you find a water fountain.

How Much Water is Enough?

This depends on you.

However, to give you an idea, I took 66 oz of water. One 32 oz reusable water bottle and then two 17 oz plastic water bottles.

Those 66 oz got me through the day (including lunch), but I did refill my 32 oz water bottle at a water fountain for the ferry ride back.

Need a dope reusable water bottle? This is my favorite brand.

It's leak proof and doesn't sweat. Ever.

So, yeah, if you need a water bottle, check out Hydrapeak bottle.

Best Way to Carry Water

I literally put my water bottles into a pull-string backpack and carried that.

It was effective, but the strings started hurting my shoulders after a while. I would definitely recommend using a nicer backpack.

Also, I had to stop and open it every time I wanted to take a drink of water. Ugh. (Talk about first world problems.)

So, I would definitely recommend that you take a backpack with better straps and a more convenient place to store your water bottles, like a side pouch.

Or, if you want to get really fancy, you can invest in a Camelbak Hydration Backpack.

My parents used a Camelbak Hydration Backpack on this trip, and I was just a little jealous. They could literally drink water whenever without stopping.

Shall we take a look at the benefits?

  • Easy access to water, which will help you stay hydrated
  • Stores a whopping 85 oz of water
  • Has plenty of storage space for other important things (like lunch)
  • Reduces waste by replacing plastic water bottles

It's definitely not required for your trip, but these Camelbak Hydration Backpacks are incredibly nice.

If you're only visiting Cumberland Island for a day and don't plan on hiking again for a while, you definitely don't need one. However, if you plan to do quite a bit of hiking in the future, it's a great investment.

Check the price and learn more about the Camelbak Hydration Backpack.

Food

There are no restaurants on Cumberland Island, so you will have to pack your own food.

You'll also want to leave the adorable picnic basket at home because you won't want to carry it.

I recommend packing a sandwich (PB&J is my personal favorite) and some chips/crackers (I always love Cheez-Its...a little too much) and some fruit! An easy peel tangerine, a banana, or an apple would be perfect!

You'll also want to take some snacks just in case you get a little extra hungry.

On my trip, we packed Cliff bars. They're delicious and they're the perfect pick-me-up when you're in the middle of your hike.

Like I said earlier, I definitely recommend eating a good breakfast before you even embark on this journey.

A Bag for Your Trash

Everything you bring onto the island you have to take back off with you.

This means all of your trash.

In order to keep your backpack clean and organized, I highly recommend bringing a little quart sized ziplock bag to put your food trash in.

This will just make your life better.

I promise.

Sunscreen

This is especially important during the summer. However, it's still important during the spring and fall, as well.

A good portion of the island is covered in shade, which is nice. But, it's not shady enough to skip the sunscreen.

It's always good practice to put the sunscreen on before you get into the sun. (By the way, I can practically see your eyes rolling into the back of your head because that's what they do every time your mom says the same thing. Well, she was right. Just saying. Okay, tangent over.)

A Hat and Sunglasses

Protect your face and eyes from the sun by bringing a hat and sunglasses with you!

Plus, they'll help you see much better on a bright, sunny day.

I only wore a hat last time, and I definitely missed my sunglasses.

Still, I'm glad I wore a hat! Without it, I would have been miserable, and the top of my head might have gotten burnt, which is no fun, by the way.

Bug Spray/Bite Cream

The bugs on Cumberland Island are quite annoying.

In addition to gnats, you'll be battling mosquitoes and ticks. So, make sure you're wearing bug spray that you trust!

Also, go ahead and apply it before you even step foot onto the island.

Without it, you'll be a target!

As good as your bug spray might be, you'll also want to bring some anti-itch cream for your bites because you still might get bit!

Go check out the best anti-itch cream ever. It works incredibly well.

Basic First Aid Kit

You don't need anything crazy, but it's a good idea to carry some band-aids, neosborne, and a cold compress just in case.

Certain spots on the island will provide you will basic first aid attention, but i f you're far away from them, it's nice to be able to treat it immediately.

You need something compact but that still have everything you might need.

Need a first aid kit? This one by I GO will do the trick!

Bikes

If you have a bike, you can see waaaayy more of the island.

There's an entire north end of the island that I've never seen because I can walk that far and back without missing the ferry.

It does cost an extra $10 to bring your bike on the ferry, but it's definitely worth the cost!

If you don't have a bike, you can rent one on the island.

However, they don't have a lot, so as soon as you get off the ferry, you need to hurry in to rent one!

When I was there last, they were all rented out in about 10 minutes...

(Bonus Item) Camera

I was originally planning on ending the list with bikes, but frankly, that would have left it incomplete!

You can't visit Cumberland Island without your camera!

I took pictures using my phone's camera because I forgot to charge my camera's batteries before I left. 🙁

Still, I got some fantastic photos.

So, no matter what, make sure you bring a camera of some sort!

I highly recommend taking a DSLR or at least a point and shoot camera with a decent lens, though.

Conclusion

As you can see, it's incredibly easy to visit Cumberland Island on a budget!

This day trip can be as cheap as you want to make it!

Other than a ferry ticket and entrance fee, everything else is totally optional.

It's possible to visit Cumberland Island for only $25!

If you're on a super tight budget, you can grab in expensive fast food for breakfast and dinner.

Can't make a day trip of it? St. Mary's has quite a few affordable hotels. You can check prices right here.

Also, you can always camp on Cumberland Island, which is incredibly economical, so long as you already have all of the supplies you need.

You do need to reserve a campsite, though, so don't forget!

Just to give you a quick recap, here's everything you'll need to bring with you for your day trip to Cumberland Island:

  • Water!!!
  • Food!!!
  • A Bag for Your Trash
  • Suncreen
  • A Hat and Sunglasses
  • Bug Spray
  • Anti-Itch Cream
  • Basic First Aid Kit
  • Bikes
  • (Bonus) Camera

Cumberland Island is definitely worth at least a day trip!

And, now you know exactly how much it will cost you to visit, so you can budget accordingly.

I know you'll have a blast!

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Cumberland Island Georgia is the perfect budget vacation destination. It has beautiful scenery and stunning wildlife. It truly offer\'s an amazing experience. To help you plan you trip, I\'ve put together a list of everything you\'ll need! Plus, learn what you need to spend your money on and what is unnecessary. This post is perfect for budget conscious travelers.

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