Going kayaking to Cumberland Island, Georgia, is truly the best kayak on the Georgia coast. Cumberland Island has long been a destination for tourists seeking unspoiled beaches and classic maritime forest landscapes; But over the past 15 years, kayaking to the island has become a must for paddlers around the world. The trip to Cumberland Island, however, is not for beginners; and even the experts can be found at Up The Creek if they don’t control the tides.
The tidal currents in the area are substantial and can be a double-edged sword. If you know what the tides do and work with them, tidal currents can make your trip a breeze. If you don’t pay attention to the tides, they could turn your trip into a nightmare. There is approximately a 6-foot to 10-foot tidal range along this part of the southeast coast; meaning that depending on the time of year and time of month, high tide can be 6 to 10 feet above low tide. That translates into a large amount of water flowing in and out of these channels every six hours. The result is tidal currents that can reach 6 knots or more! For reference, that’s a pretty respectable speed for a racer in a kayak built to race.
So, check the tides before leaving for the island, or before paddling anywhere within 20 miles of the shoreline. With the tides in your favor, the trip to Cumberland can take anywhere from an hour and a half to just over 4 hours, depending on your destination. From the boat launch at Crooked River State Park, the trip to Plum Orchard is approximately 6 miles and the trip to Sea Camp is closer to 9 miles. For backcountry campers seeking the solitude of Brickhill Bluff, the trip is about 12 miles (paddle the 6 miles to Plum Orchard, then 6 more miles down the Brickhill River to your campground). With a 5 hour window of outgoing tidal currents (you lose some time when traveling to shore), an experienced kayaker can easily reach any of these destinations.
To negotiate local tides in any area, you should contact a local expert, or at least obtain a tide chart from a local supplier, fishing supply store, or bait shop. Along the coast, everything that happens in the water is affected by the tides in one way or another, so tide tables should be easy to find. After acquiring a tide chart, check the tide of the day you plan to paddle and then apply the correction factor for your entry and exit. The times listed on the chart will be calculated for the outer bar; but it takes about two hours for the water to reach the harbor at Crooked River State Park (the most popular starting point for rowers heading to Cumberland). When you kayak to Cumberland Island, in other words, look for high tide for your departure date and add two hours to that. You’ll want to leave shortly after High Tide at Crooked River State Park and ride the low tide toward the island.
For the return trip, you will leave the island after low tide and travel with the incoming tide, or flood tide, as it fills the estuary system and draws water in the direction of Crooked River State Park, where you will want to go arrive BEFORE of the next high tide. If you don’t return to the Crooked River before high tide, the tide will turn and the currents will reverse in the river as it empties into the Atlantic. Don’t think you can row against this current! It can not. Imagine the Crooked River as a reversible treadmill that changes direction every 6 hours and accelerates rapidly to speeds unruly for paddlers.
Along with the winds, the tidal currents on the Crooked River can sometimes create quite dramatic surface conditions that require advanced negotiating skills. Make sure you’re up for a challenge and check in with local experts as you plan your trip to avoid trip-ruining mistakes. Paddling to Cumberland Island is worth the effort it takes to get it right, so check the tides and make sure you understand what the tides are doing before you embark, to make sure your journey starts and ends on a good note. .