Last updated: December 6, 2021
Most visitors travel to Cumberland Island via the passenger ferry, but kayaking can be a rewarding mode of transportation. Careful planning is required for a safe trip. The tide schedule, weather conditions, and launch/ take-out points should be considered before attempting to paddle to the island. It can be difficult to paddle to and from the island in one day because of distance and tides. The following are general considerations to begin planning your kayak trip.
Tidal currents are strong around Cumberland Island, with a rise and fall of 6 to 9 feet twice a day. Study a tide chart for when you’re planning to paddle to the island. Be careful to plan your paddle with favorable tides. You do not want to be paddling against the tide. Keep in mind, the tide is not the same everywhere and there is a difference between high tide on the island and high tide on the mainland. Check the correct tide station for your departure/arrival location. Read the 'Launching Your Boat' section for suggestions on planning around the tide.
Here are some of the relevant tide stations to monitor:
Pay close attention to the weather forecast. Wind speed and direction are important to consider for your paddle to the island. Marsh grasses can help break up the wind, but there is a lot of open water around Cumberland Island. It can be very gusty, and therefore, choppy on the water. This can make for dangerous conditions if not prepared with proper boat and gear. Touring or ocean kayaks are best suited for these open-water conditions. Carry a bilge or sponge with you to remove water that may enter the boat. Consider bringing a compass or GPS unit to aid in wayfinding.
Launching Your Boat
There are several departure points on the mainland to consider depending on where you are going. Kayakers often depart from Crooked River State Park to visit Plum Orchard Mansion or if camping at any of the wilderness sites. Some paddlers will launch from St. Marys or Amelia Island as well.
Kayak Mileage (one way):
Saint Marys to Dungeness Dock- 7 miles
Saint Marys to Sea Camp Dock- 8 miles
Crooked River State Park to Plum Orchard- 6 miles
Crooked River State Park to Brickhill Bluff Wilderness Site- 11 to 12 miles
If launching from Crooked River State Park, kayakers will want to begin at high tide or soon after and “ride” the tide to the island, as it moves toward low tide. You will want to do the opposite when returning to the mainland- start after low but before high tide.
*If launching from Crooked River State Park, visit their website or call ahead regarding overnight parking and entrance fees.
If launching from St Marys, it is more complicated to plan. Paddlers will want to start after high tide with the aim of hitting dead low tide at the Cumberland Sound. At this point, the paddler will turn north up river. If the tide is still going out, they will have to fight against the tide. Hitting the sound at low tide will create a favorable tide for the last few miles north to the dock.
All kayakers, 16 or older, must pay the park entry fee or have an America the Beautiful pass with them. Fees can be paid on the island at self pay stations located at each dock, in person at the Mainland Visitor Center, online ahead of time, or over the phone by calling the park.
Interested in kayak camping? Kayakers must make a reservation and have a printed permit with them when camping on Cumberland Island. Make sure you will have favorable tides for the dates of your camping reservation. Have a back-up plan in case weather conditions do not permit a safe paddle to the island. For information on campgrounds and making reservations visit the Camping page.
Kayaks can be pulled ashore for camping at:
Plum Orchard dock (stow kayaks in the treeline next to the dock)
Sea Camp Ranger Station (pull kayaks behind ranger station)
Brickhill Bluff Campground
For more information about kayaking to the island, call the park office at 912-882-4336 x254.
Kayaks can be pulled ashore for camping at Plum Orchard dock (in the trees south of the dock), Sea Camp Ranger Station (store kayaks behind ranger station), and in Brickhill Bluff Campground.