Cumberland Island National Seashore is a hidden gem in the National Park System – partly because getting there isn’t always easy. While kayaking to Cumberland Island sounds like a fun thing to do, it isn’t always safe or possible. With an average tidal range of over 8-feet and powerful tidal currents rushing around the island as the tide ebbs and flows, kayaking to or around Cumberland Island requires planning and the right equipment. All kayaking to and around Cumberland Island is considered Level 3 sea kayaking – meaning you need a transitional kayak or sea kayak and self and assisted rescue skills to attempt this trip on your own. Kayaking to Cumberland Island, in other words, is simply not for beginners (or children under 14 years old). But if you’re looking for a big kayaking adventure, Adventures Up The Creek has the two best Cumberland Island kayaking experiences available to the public – and the only private, guided trips to Cumberland Island.
Kayaking to Cumberland Island from Amelia Island
The most popular kayaking trip to Cumberland Island is the route from Amelia Island’s north end over to the beach on the south tip of Cumberland Island. This trip is the shortest route to Cumberland Island and allows for shorter-duration day trips to the island (4-hours as opposed to a strenuous, 7 or 8-hour day). This route is also the most treacherous way to the island – crossing the Cumberland Sound with potentially heavy, fast boat traffic, fixed navigation structures, powerful tidal currents and exposure to coastal winds and surface conditions beyond the abilities of novice paddlers. Adventures Up The Creek only paddles this trip when the tides and weather conditions are ideal for this crossing.
Leaving from the north end of Amelia Island, kayakers will paddle out of the Amelia River into the Cumberland Sound before fully experiencing what the Sound has to offer. There are a lot of interesting things to see on the way over to Cumberland Island – including Fort Clinch on the north tip of Amelia Island. Wildlife is abundant and it’s not unusual to see dolphins, eagle rays, sea turtles and manatees – depending on the time of year. Once on the beach at Cumberland Island, you are certain to add Cumberland’s wild horses to the list of cool things you got to see on your trip. The south end trip lands across the Cumberland Sound from Fort Clinch within easy walking distance of both Horse Creek to the west and the jetties and Atlantic Ocean to the east. After a couple hours of beach-combing and wildlife spotting, paddlers get to experience the Cumberland Sound in totally different conditions than on the trip over – sometimes dramatically different.
*Many people own their own kayaks these days; but not all kayaks are appropriate for all water. The Cumberland Sound is considered ACA Level 3 coastal kayaking and should only be paddled by properly equipped (sea kayaks with at least 2 bulkheads, perimeter deck rigging and a spray skirt) and experienced kayakers — with someone in the group trained in open water rescues and towing.
Kayaking to Cumberland Island from Crooked River State Park
Another popular Cumberland Island kayak trip is the route from Crooked River State Park (on the Crooked River in SE Georgia) to Plum Orchard on Cumberland Island. Plum Orchard is near the middle of Cumberland Island on the Intracoastal side of the island. Kayaking between Plum Orchard and Crooked River State Park (CRSP) takes about 2-hours each way and must be done with the tides. Because this full-day trip includes about 4-hours of paddling, we’ll spend at least 3-hours on the island to rest, enjoy a picnic lunch, tour the mansion and grounds of Plum Orchard and soak up the stellar views before getting back in the kayaks for the trip back to CRSP on the incoming tide.
This trip is a salt marsh/estuary trip mainly in the Crooked River with a relatively narrow crossing of the Cumberland River and a very short paddle up into the Brickhill River. Though the water is still big – and we don’t kayak on the Crooked River with winds forecast at 12-kts or higher – this trip is relatively protected with considerably milder surface conditions than can be expected in the Cumberland Sound. This trip is okay for novice paddlers; but there is a navigation component that has caused paddlers without a guide to go the wrong way and get lost. We also recommend first-time kayakers go in the front of a tandem kayak with a more experienced paddler. Using our 25-foot, 10-person War Canoes, we can accommodate groups up to 18 people of varying ages and ability with one of our Big Canoe guides in each boat. To see what a War Canoe (also referred to as, “Big Canoes” and “Voyageur Canoes”) trip looks like, visit: http://www.BigCanoeFun.com or http://www.Facebook.com/BigCanoeFun.
Private Guided Trips to Cumberland Island
If the ferry isn’t for you and you’d rather not be a part of a large group, there are several options for private outings to Cumberland Island. The most commonly requested private trip is the Horse
Creek/South End Beach trip – usually for one or two couples. Launching from Amelia Island and paddling with your own personal guide and instructor, this trip takes you to your own private beach cabana on Cumberland Island’s south end – complete with refreshments and spectacular views. Adventures Up The Creek also does private trips to Plum Orchard and Dungeness. Plum Orchard trips launch from Crooked River State Park and trips to Dungeness can launch from either St. Marys or Amelia Island. Both the Plum Orchard and Dungeness trips are 7-9-hour adventures. Besides being exclusive, these private trips include all the extras and are about as elegant as sea kayaking gets.
No matter the route you choose, the scenery is stunning and there’s more demand to do this trip than there are suitable days or suitable outfitters. This has led to several “unqualified” or inexperienced outfitters guiding trips to Cumberland Island across the Cumberland Sound from Amelia Island, including: outfitters without proper training in open water rescues and towing, outfitters who don’t seem to understand the importance of checking tides and weather before paddling in open water and outfitters using recreational kayaks with only one bulkhead, no spray skirts and none of the safety features standard on a sea kayak or a transitional kayak designed for that water. In fact, Adventures Up The Creek is the only outfitter in the area with the appropriate equipment, training and experience to make that crossing safely with guests who haven’t experienced coastal kayaking before. Don’t take a chance with your safety on the Cumberland Sound. Cumberland Island is beautiful and this experience is truly unforgettable, but the Cumberland Sound is one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the area. If you’re kayaking to Cumberland Island with or without a guide, make sure you’ve contacted Adventures Up The Creek first for a free (and accurate) tide and safety briefing so you’ll know at least one person on your trip knows what to expect.