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5 invigorating springtime hikes

By: Matt Hickman on March 29, 2011, 10:14 a.m.
brown horse standing on the beach in foreground of long shoreline

Photo: dougandme/Flickr

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Cumberland Island National Park

If the high-altitude hiking of Mount Rainier and Haleakalā National Parks gives you pause and you'd rather get up close and personal with historic ruins than with volcanic summits, Cumberland Island may be more your speed. As the largest of Georgia's barrier islands and one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the entire world, 36,145-acre Cumberland Island is perhaps best known as the place where, in 1996, John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette. However, it's also known as an untouched wonderland for hikers — especially those with an eye for American history (the island is rich in it), birding (it's a stopover on the Transatlantic migratory flyway) and beachcombing (shark's tooth necklace, anyone?).

Boasting several distinct thriving ecosystems including salt marshes, maritime forests, tidal creeks, freshwater wetlands and stunning, untouched beaches, Cumberland Island has 50 miles of maintained hiking trails including the historical Dungeness Trail, the Nightingale Trail, the South End Trail, Parallel Trail and the River Trail.

Trail-mates: Feral horses, armadillos, wild boars, alligators.

Welcome signs of civilization: Jekyll Island, St. Mary's.

Requisite gear: The Sibley Guide to Birds.

Historic hike-toid: Once owned almost entirely by the Carnegie Family, most notably by Lucy Coleman Carnegie, Cumberland Island was sold to the federal government and became a National Seashore in 1972.

Optimum hike time: Springtime