Rediscover Nature Along the Golden Isles

It’s said that the Golden Isles got its name 400 years ago from Spanish explorers in search of gold. See why this gem is the perfect location for HGTV Dream 2017. 

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Photo By: GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: Cassie Wright

Photo By: Cassie Wright

Photo By: Cassie Wright

Photo By: Cassie Wright

Photo By: Johnson Pictures Inc., GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: Michael Gowen/Southeast Adventure Outfitters

Photo By: Michael Gowen/Southeast Adventure Outfitters

Photo By: Cassie Wright

Photo By: Michael Gowen/Southeast Adventure Outfitters

Photo By: Benjamin Galland, GoldenIsles.com

“The Marshes of Glynn”

“Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!” These lyrics make up part of an 1878 poem titled “The Marshes of Glynn,” by the renowned poet and former Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier. The poem, which pays tribute to Lanier’s beloved South, reveres the breathtaking expanse of grasslands in Glynn County, Georgia, that extend toward the mainland. The piece was part of an unfinished compilation titled, “Songs of the Marshes,” yet it succeeded in unveiling the beauty of the coastal marshes to the rest of the world.

Cannon’s Point Preserve

Though the most heavily populated of the Golden Isles, St. Simons has made strides in protecting its natural history, and none have been more noteworthy than the protection of Cannon’s Point. St. Simons Land Trust acquired the 608 acres of undeveloped land in 2012. In addition to containing the island’s last intact maritime forest—a quickly diminishing habitat along the Atlantic Coast—the site also boasts the ruins of a plantation home and the site of several slave quarters on which many archaeological investigations continue to take place. An exceptional day trip, Cannon’s Point is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays for biking, hiking and picnicking.

Little St. Simons

The least populated of the Golden Isles is the privately owned Little St. Simons Island. Reachable only by boat—and only then if you have a reservation—the 10,000-acre island is virtually undeveloped, save the six cottages that form the Lodge, a modest compound that houses no more than 32 overnight guests. Little St. Simons was a family’s private retreat from 1908 until 1979. Today, the island is revered as a model for conservation. Naturalist-led excursions by foot, bike, boat, kayak or canoe treat visitors to abundant populations of rare and threatened wildlife and the serenity of fully intact natural habitats. Thanks to the island’s owners, Little St. Simons will be preserved for generations to come; in 2015, they donated a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy on the entire island.

Birding

Georgia’s barrier islands host a number of native and migratory birds, but Little St. Simons’ rich, undisturbed ecosystem makes it ideal for birding enthusiasts. More than 330 species have been identified on the island, from spoonbills and warblers to herons and eagles. Mapped locations that include observation towers, ponds and trails, indicate the best locations for visitors to see various species. Because of Little St. Simons’ thriving bird population, it has been named an important birding area by the American Birding Conservancy; consequently, a number of avian research partners study migration patterns and rare species sightings. And you can study right alongside them.

Sea Turtles

Georgia’s beaches are key nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles—some 2,000 nests, in fact. Therefore, it’s very possible to stumble upon nesting females, which can weigh in at more than 300 pounds, or tiny hatched turtles scampering toward the ocean. What’s more difficult is to leave these magnificent creatures alone. But because they’re endangered species, we have to do just that. During the nesting season, which runs May to mid-August, residents of the Golden Isles know to keep their eyes open, noise to a minimum and their lights out to give the Loggerhead population a fighting chance.  

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Six of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide are either threatened or endangered. The source of their dwindling numbers? Us. Pollution, development, poaching and entanglement are constant threats to sea turtle populations. In response, Jekyll Island opened Georgia’s only sea turtle hospital in 2007 as a long-term care and rehabilitation center. The center provides visitors with a viewing area to watch doctors and nurses operate and care for these amazing creatures, in addition to interactive, hands-on exhibits. Whenever healthy sea turtles are ready to be released from care, the center invites the public to cheer these survivors out to sea.

Southeast Adventure Outfitters

With year-round warm temperatures, sandy beaches and diverse populations of sea life, St. Simons Island is a dream for aquatic explorers. Launch your adventure directly from the Pier Village, where the locally owned and operated Southeast Adventure Outfitters takes you by boat, kayak or paddleboard to experience first-hand an unspoiled view of coastal living—from the water side.

Captain Gabby

Often referred to as the “mothership,” this former shrimp boat was creatively converted into a fully equipped charter vessel that can sleep up to six guests. If this 42-foot wooden trawler could talk, she’d spin countless tales from her hand-built, hardworking beginnings in 1977 in St. Augustine, Florida, to today, where she takes outdoor enthusiasts on relaxed, customized chartered cruises ranging anywhere from two-hours to two weeks.

Kayaking

Exploring the Intracoastal waterway or ocean by kayak is one of the most serene experiences to be had on St. Simons Island. Besides views of scenic marshlands and sandy beaches, a quiet paddle will put you within arm’s length of sociable sea life. From dolphins and sea turtles to right whales and manatees, the winding waterways through the Golden Isles are rich with encounters landlubbers never get. A guided kayak tour will put visitors in the right spot at the right time.

Paddleboarding

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) requires little more than a board and a healthy sense of adventure. Okay, a good sense of balance doesn’t hurt. Islanders have embraced the relatively new sport with zeal, making the Golden Isles a destination for SUP enthusiasts who ride the gentle currents of the Altamaha River or test the ocean waves. The area’s predictable currents and tides eliminate the element of surprise. What might surprise you? The killer core workout you get without even noticing—thanks, in part, to the breathtaking views.

Fishing

St. Simons Island Pier in the heart of Pier Village is a popular fishing and crabbing location for visitors, but locals will tell you that island fishing is a lot like a “choose your own adventure.” From fly-fishing to offshore angling, the size of the catch and the scope of the experience is entirely up to you. And while plenty of folks will fish conventionally—from the shore or boat—you’re just as likely to see locals casting a line from a paddleboard or kayak. Want a (true) fish story? Hook up with any one of the handful of skilled fishing charters for local knowledge.