Pristine beaches and wildlife on the Atlantic coast
The folks who came before us fought to acquire and designate land for everyone to enjoy. They had amazing foresight and understanding of the value of pristine waters and wildlife habitats. Over the years we have enjoyed several of these places, especially for birding and boating. They include ocean beaches and natural wildlife at three national seashores in Cumberland Island, Georgia, Assateague Island in Maryland and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. They are located on the east coast at Cumberland Island, Assateague Island and Cape Hatteras. These are some of our favorite National Seashores to visit since they are close to our home.
We always bring binoculars especially at some of these natural wildlife areas. If you don’t have binoculars, borrow some and you’ll be hooked on everything you didn’t know you could see. Here’s a few tips about Traveling with Binoculars.
Cumberland Island GA
Our first visit to Cumberland Island was cruising our boat from the Chesapeake Bay to Florida. This National Seashore is an island and provides an isolated environment for wildlife with miles of shoreline on the Atlantic coast. The Cumberland River is the border between Georgia and Florida. We fondly remember the island as the birthplace of three kittens, offspring of Puss and Boots, our seagoing cats. Puss settled her new brood in an old box tucked in the forepeak of our 41-foot sailboat Gusto. We were returning North and stopped to anchor behind the island.
We soon learned Cumberland Island offered more than a birthing place for Stormy, Tiger and Sunshine. The island has a bounty of freshwater marshes, ponds and tidal mudflats and creeks. The bird population thrives in the forest of oak, live oak and palmettos and is a haven for Sandpipers, Plovers, Willets and Warblers. You will also find Egrets, Ibis, Herons and Pelicans. The island is known for its wild horses, too.
To get there take a ferry from St. Mary’s Georgia on the mainland, a charming historic town on the St. Mary’s River just north of Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Visit the National Park Service’s site with Cumberland Island visitor’s information.
Assateague Island National Seashore MD
Another National Seashore on the Atlantic coast is Assateague Island National Seashore. It extends for 37 miles along the Atlantic coast of Maryland and Virginia. Beginning at the Ocean City, MD inlet to the tip of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA. Day visitors and campers – tents to mega-RVs – find some of the most pristine sand dunes and beaches of anywhere we’ve seen. In our story about Exploring Chincoteague VA you’ll read more about Assateague Island National Seashore.
The seashore is an easy drive from Berlin, Maryland but first stop at the Visitors Center. Here you can pick up a wealth of information and experiences. Kids get an introduction and see exhibits of the wildlife, watch a film and dip their hand in a touch tank. Check the schedule for the ranger-led talks on the wide deck of the center that introduce you to the seashore’s environment.
To get to the island you go over the Verrazano Bridge (just like in NYC) and car traffic slows to a halt for the famous island residents: the wild horses who greet you. The jaws of first time visitors drop, kids perk up and everyone snaps pictures of this most unusual traffic jam.
The roads are clearly marked, many one-way, that lead to the camping sites, nature trails and North and South Ocean Beaches. Signs for OSV or over the sand vehicles (permit required) are marked and once on the beach you’ll see signs for “wild beach” access reachable only on foot.
Our firsthand experience using binoculars when traveling: 8×25 compact binoculars are a good choice for traveling because they’re lightweight and easy to tuck into a backpack or purse. The first number”8” is its magnification which makes an image 8 times closer than what you see with your eyes; it’s good for a wider field of view. The “25” is the size of the objective lens measured in millimeters that defines how much light the binocs can gather. A larger objective lens has more light gathering power so the image resolution will be higher and brighter.
For birders the nature trails offer a retreat from the beach and stargazers with binoculars take advantage of the dark skies.
For more information Assateague Island National Seashore.
Maryland State Park
At the entrance to the National Seashore you’ll also see a sign to Maryland’s Assateague State Park. This State Park has great recreational opportunities, plenty of camping sites and two miles of sandy beaches for swimming, surfing and fishing.
We first visited here on a biking trip years ago and have been returning ever since. As a matter of fact, it was there we were introduced to the idea of camping. We met some RVers while sitting at a bench taking in the quiet beauty of the seashore. We were intrigued by the friendly retired couple who traveled from north to south following the sun and good weather. We’d cruised on several boats but had a lot to learn about camping so we peppered them with questions. Several years later we visited Assateague in our own motor home.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore NC
As you drive south in the Outer Banks toward Cape Hatteras you’ll see signs posting “Outer Banks National Scenic Byway”. It’s a tipoff that you’re in store for some pretty spectacular natural landscapes. Cape Hatteras National Seashore preserves the portion of the Outer Banks from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island, stretching over 70 miles.
We visited in the Spring of 2021, the first time we were there since the move of the historic lighthouse. Here’s a link to the story we wrote about Adventures in the Outer Banks. We had read the brochure that detailed the move of the Cape Hatteras Light Station. It was quite an engineering feat to move a lighthouse 2,900 feet from the spot where it had stood since 1870. That was in 1999 when the lighthouse was in danger of shoreline erosion. The move of the historic lighthouse was a major news story detailing the massive project.
In 2021 peering up at the top of the lighthouse it was hard to imagine the massive structure was moved to its location.
While the centerpiece of the national seashore is the lighthouse, many visitors enjoy the beach for shelling, relaxing in the sun and playing in the sand and picnicking. Others enjoy the sandy beaches for fishing from their off-shore vehicles using the roads designed for them (permit required.)
The natural environment surrounding the park is the appeal to birders and nature lovers who enjoy walking and biking the miles of trail there.
Gene and Katie Hamilton travel the U.S. extensively in search of a favorite place. They are members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.