Drive Along Georgia’s Pristine Coast

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

6. Marshes of Glynn Farther south, Rte. 17 swings into Brunswick, the second-largest city on the Georgia coast and the gateway to the Golden Isles, as they are known locally. Once you turn east at Brunswick onto the causeway that heads out to St. Simons Island, you are surrounded by the vast and magnificent expanse of salt grasses dubbed the Marshes of Glynn. In the words of the 19th-century poet Sidney Lanier, the marshes make up a domain where “all is still and the currents cease to run, / And the sea and the marsh are one.” The poet affectionately characterized the great marshland as “candid and simple / and nothing-withholding and free.”

The marshes simply surround you, stretching from one horizon to the other. Besides their seeming infinitude, and apart from their marvelous productivity as a foundation link in Georgia’s coastal food chain, the single most impressive aspect of this ocean of salt grasses is its color. Deeply verdant in summer, dormant brown in winter, the Marshes of Glynn span the gamut of greens when they are brought to life by the warm spring rains. Pea green, lime green, chartreuse, pastel greens shading almost to violet in the afternoon light—the spring marshes are the color green made alive and infinitely changeable. 7. St. Simons Island At the causeway’s eastern end lie St. Simons, Little St. Simons, and Sea islands, which seem to fit together into a rounded whole like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Here ongoing development and the wild coastline mix to create a manicured middle ground. For all of their golf courses and comfortable homes on rambling lanes, these islands manage to preserve stretches of shoreline and the stands of live oaks that captivated the American naturalist William Bartram in 1774.

Near the middle of St. Simons, largest of the Golden Isles, lies Fort Frederica National Monument. Here the ruins of a fortified town, along with a film and exhibits at the visitor center, memorialize the earliest days of the Georgia Colony. At nearby Couper’s Point, a historic lighthouse is the centerpiece of the Museum of Coastal History, where maritime artifacts cast a spotlight on the area’s past.

Visitors can drive across a bridge to Sea Island, St. Simons’ neighbor to the east. This lush, green, carefully tended isle is a favorite of the well-to-do; its five-star resort, the Cloister, is visited by everyone from movie stars to presidents.

Reachable by ferry, the third island, Little St. Simons, contains another resort, where guests can ride horseback, hike through acres of virgin pine, canoe across quiet marshes that teem with wildlife, and go surf-casting for redfish.

Visitors from the Sea On warm nights the beaches of Jekyll Island, Cumberland Island, and other spots along Georgia’s coast are visited by fleets of lumbering giants known as loggerhead turtles. Weighing from 300 to 800 pounds and measuring more than a yard long, the loggerheads crawl onto the beach, dig deep holes, and each deposit more than 100 leathery shelled eggs. When the young turtles hatch two months later, they scramble down the beach into the sea. 8. Jekyll Island You’ll have to backtrack to the mainland and cross the marshes yet again to reach storied Jekyll Island, a link with the Gilded Age. In 1886 a few dozen captains of industry— familiar names such as Morgan, Rockefeller, Lorillard, Pulitzer, Vanderbilt, and Goodyear—bought the island and built the elegant Jekyll Island Clubhouse; it survives today as a hotel with posh sitting rooms and croquet on the lawn. They also built family “cottages” with up to 31 rooms (one had an astonishing 17 bathrooms).

The scenic island is laced with paved bicycle trails that lead to lovely picnic spots, broad sandy beaches, and secluded wildlife areas where a host of wading birds keep cautious company with the ever-watching alligators.

From Jekyll Island the drive returns to Rte. 17 and breezes through the tiny villages of Spring Bluff, White Oak, and Woodbine. At Kingsland, a turn onto Rte. 40 leads to St. Marys, where you can catch a ferry for a 45-minute voyage to serenely gorgeous environs of Cumberland Island. 9. Cumberland Island National Seashore No vehicles are permitted on the ferry from St. Marys to Cumberland Island, where human activity is largely limited to camping and day visits, so you’ll have to get around on foot (unless you stay at the private Greyfield Inn, which is equipped with bicycles). Trails canopied with live oaks, cabbage palms, and holly lead through this pristine wilderness, roamed by such creatures as armadillos, wild pigs, wild turkeys, even wild horses. Ospreys wheel above Cumberland’s tidal creeks, alligators doze in its freshwater ponds, and loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on the sandy beaches. Among the few signs of civilization are the Dungeness Ruins, the overgrown skeleton of an 1880s Carnegie mansion located about a mile south of the ferry dock. Remember that the last boat back to the mainland leaves at 4:45—unless you’re staying here and can spend a leisurely evening lulled by the wildlife serenade.

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