One of my favorite things about camping is being able to explore the natural areas of a new place – those hidden spots that lack the brightly-colored storefronts and themed restaurants catering to tourists. There’s so much you can learn about a place just by hiking through the woods or stumbling upon a country store frequented by locals.
Probably one of the most memorable camping trips we’ve taken is to Saint Marys, Georgia. This beautiful riverside town features Victorian bed-and-breakfasts, sailboats dotting the wide, crystal-blue river, seafood restaurants, ghostly legends, and yes, I’ll admit it, great shopping. We stayed at Crooked River State Park – an idyllic spot that anyone who enjoys coastal Georgia should visit.
Crooked River State Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has amazing overlooks where the views never end. While walking one of the 50 miles of trails, we came across a Painted Bunting – a vivid little bird proudly wearing his plumage of indigo blues, cherry reds, lemon yellows, and emerald greens. Crooked River State Park is along the birding trail with everything from herons to bald eagles.
From Saint Marys, we took a ferry boat to a remote, historic island. Cumberland Island National Seashore is an amazing location, complete with wild horses roaming the island. We thought we wouldn’t see any, but as the ferry pulled up to the dock, several (including a colt) watched us as we climbed off the boat.
Cumberland Island contains the Dungeness Historic District with the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion, Plum Orchard Mansion (built in 1898 by Lucy Carnegie), and the First African Baptist Church. Take a walk down Grande Avenue and you will feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
Another trail will lead you into a dense maritime forest. The thick, twisted limbs of wind-sculpted trees wind up and overhead to create a shady canopy. (Word of caution: bug spray and sunscreen are absolute must-haves. Don’t use it before you leave and think you’ll be fine – keep both and reapply often.)
Once your eyes have adjusted to the thin light of the forest, you’ll suddenly emerge onto a blindingly white sand beach – pristine, uninhabited, not a hotel in sight – it really is incredible to see a wilderness beach in its full glory. We collected shells and shark teeth, both of which are plentiful. We were able to swim and hang out on the beach without seeing another person for miles. (The ferry only takes a limited number of people to the island each day. For the very adventurous, you can camp on the island, but everything must be carried from the ferry into the camping area, so pack light.)
Between the beauty and charm of Saint Marys and the amazing state parks in and around this area, this would be a great place to live. If you’ve been considering renting in coastal Georgia, you’ll enjoy the beauty and history of Saint Marys.