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Backpacker Magazine – May 2013

First Night Out: Water

Three beautiful water-side hikes

by: Sarah L. Stewart and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Chapel Beach Loop, Lakeshore Trail (Willard Clay)
Chapel Beach Loop, Lakeshore Trail (Willard Clay)

Cumberland Island National Seashore, GA
Parallel Trail

Escape the high-rise condos and beach shops lining much of the Atlantic Coast on this barrier island, where you’ll find wide, undeveloped beaches flanked by primordial maritime forest. Catch a ferry (reservations recommended, $20) from St. Marys to reach the island, where only 300 visitors are permitted each day. From the Sea Camp dock, hike 3.5 miles beneath live oak branches hung with Spanish moss en route to the backcountry Stafford Beach Campground. Head 500 feet east, cresting a sandy ridge to your first views of rolling dunes leading to the ocean. There, your most likely companions will be seabirds like oystercatchers and plovers and—at night from May through July—nesting loggerhead sea turtles. Next day, make it a loop by hiking back along the beach. Keep an eye out for the island’s 150 feral horses.

Go Summer for nesting sea turtles; September/October for mild weather and no crowds Get there From Jacksonville, take I-95 north 30 miles to St. Marys Rd. Follow 3.3 miles to GA 40 east; continue 5 miles to St. Marys St. The ferry departs one block west. Permit Required; $2/person/night Map USGS Quad Cumberland Island South ($8, Contact

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