Campground Review: Jekyll Island State Park – Jekyll Island, Georgia

Posted May 5, 2021 – Narrated by Carmen
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bambi-4
See our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.

“I long, I pine, all my days, to travel home and see the dawn of my return.”

      – Odysseus, in Homer’s The Odyssey

This post – Part 3 of 3 – wraps up The Navy Brat Tour of 2021.

Part One is Where Florida Begins and Part Two is Friendship Found.

In the interest of nostalgic self-care which the experts say is actually good for us these days, Jim wants to watch me rediscover the places I lived as a child. I’m supportive, but not much help.

welcome to georgia

At fourteen years-old I had already moved sixteen times. Memories of those first eight years are mostly learned from my sister Deborah and from Dad, and also from Mama who passed on several years ago.

Mama’s Epitaph reads: “A Navy Wife Serves Also”

And, as they say, “Time is like the Mississippi. It flows in one direction and never takes you back.”

Jekyll Island

My early childhood is like a sweet southern ambrosia – a slurry of bright innocent moments, suspended in heaps of that fluffy stuff dreams are made of – absent of schema, montage or terra firma.

Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island, Winter 2021

And, I’ve learned to like it that way.

Jekyll Island

Also, going back is a lot of work. While most people can recover childhood memories from cardboard boxes in their garage, I must travel – and I’m not even quite sure where I’m going or what I’m looking for.

Jekyll Island
View of Sidney Lanier Bridge

I have few recollections before my family boarded the SS Constitution and set off for Europe.

My brother Chris, sister Deborah, me, and my brother Carl aboard the SS Constitution – 1967

Georgia

Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of the big picture, but only momentarily. I guess, my developing childhood brain set aside record keeping and moved on to sensory management. Things trigger memories of those years on Georgia’s Barrier Islands … trees, moss, salt marsh, fish bones, the dank smell of mildewed leaves, tabby ruins, saltines crushed into a glass of milk …

Jekyll Island

One stand-out memory – deeply embedded in my hippocampus – is of watching shimmering flying fish from the deck of the family boat, Daddy’s Toy, as we toured The Golden Isles of Georgia.

Daddy’s 18’ Lone Star cabin cruiser, Daddy’s Toy, in port at our house on Saint Simon’s Island

We lived in two houses in The Golden Isles – an old beach house on Saint Simon’s, and a brand new house in a navy project in Brunswick.

Jekyll Island was our playground

On weekends we piled onto Daddy’s Toy and sped away to meet other boating friends on the beach for picnics and camping in a place I believed was a secret island wilderness …

Jekyll Island

where the driftwood shores, tangled forrest and marshland are still as familiar to me as Mama’s face, and the shadows of the overhanging oaks and riotous birdsong are like the comforts of the cradle.

Jekyll Island

Deb and I ran wild on the beach and through the dense forest where we took turns playing Tarzan because Jane was boring.

Jekyll Island

“Fifty-five years, and it looks about the same,” I said as we crossed the Sidney Lanier Bridge. Snowy egrets skimmed the surface of the marsh as we drove the lovely Downing Musgrove Causeway onto Jekyll Island.

Jekyll Island

By now, of course, I had figured out that Jekyll was not a family secret. But, until this Springtime visit, I had no clue that the island was once a winter refuge for the richest families in America … and, that wouldn’t be mine.

Jekyll Island

By appearance alone, Jekyll Island is a quiet, minimally developed vacation destination for travelers who just want to walk or ride a bike or a horse on the beach, or read a book and sunbathe without competing for space.

Jekyll Island

But the secret is starting to get out. Film makers are discovering Jekyll Island, and a new convention center has recently opened.

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Inland History

Yet, these islands were once home to tens of thousands of people. The Timucua Nation lived in present-day Coastal Georgia for 15,000 years.

Jekyll Island
Theodor de Bry‘s engraving based on Jacques le Moyne‘s drawings, depict Athore, son of the Timucuan king Saturiwa, showing René Goulaine de Laudonnière the monument placed by Jean Ribault.

The French were the first western invaders to arrive, but the British were the first to claim territory. General James Edward Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia in 1733 and gave Jekyll Island its present name in honor of his personal friend, Sir Joseph Jekyll.

Jekyll Island
Sir Joseph Jekyll

“It is my hope that, through your good example, the settlement of Georgia may prove a blessing and not a curse to the native inhabitants.”

      – James Oglethorpe – founder of the colony of Georgia

The DuBignon’s settled the island and established a cotton and indigo plantation. Then, in 1886 and until 1947 the grounds were developed into a resort known as The Jekyll Island Club, where in charming, isolated splendor, the tycoons of New York City wintered in the edenic environment.

Jekyll Island
The Jekyll Island Club

Today – due to the aftermath of The Great Depression – everyone can indulge in the splendors once reserved for the Vanderbilts, Hortons, Martins, Carnegies, Leakes, Rockerfellers, Macys, Goodyears, Pulitzers and Morgans. Some estimate that a sixth of the worlds wealth was once represented by members of the Jekyll Island Club.

Jekyll Island
The Rockerfeller’s House, Indian Mound Cottage, on Jekyll Island

The state bought the club In 1947 in order to recover and restore the abandoned and tattered remnants of success and excess … but the place still smells like money.

Jekyll Island

The Jekyll Island Club Resort with the financial support of Georgia State Parks and the Jekyll Island Authority continues to maintain the historic and elegant Millionaire’s Village. The restored island homes are tastefully furnished with Golden Age appointments.

Jekyll Island

The Wanderer

The Jekyll Island Club has a robust history laden with scandal secrets and ghosts,

The Wanderer is a most difficult but important exhibit. The Jekyll Island Authority recently opened a trail with storyboards to outline a conspiracy devised by Charles Lamar of Savannah, Captain Corrie of South Carolina, and Henry DuBignon to break government laws against the slave trade.

Jekyll Island

The three schemed to outfit a sailing yacht, which appeared for all intents and purposes to be a pleasure craft, to sail undercover as a slave ship to the Congo.

Jekyll Island
The Wanderer slave ship

The ruse was a success as the ship passed British inspections, allowing Corrie to sail into central Africa. There, he commissioned the capture of 500 souls and kidnapped them to Jekyll Island. The survivors of the ordeal were detained on the island until they could be smuggled into the illegal slave trade. The actions of this white-collar gang of heartless criminals (who were acquitted of their crimes) contributed toward tipping the United States into civil war.

Jekyll Island

“Slavery is against the gospel, as well as fundamental law of England.”

      – James Oglethorpe – founder of the colony of Georgia

So, on a short first-day walk-through, Jim and I learned that Jekyll Island, my idyllic childhood paradise, serves as a microcosm of America’s colonial sins, and as the strange bedroom of an illegitimate ruling class, and contains the shore where our horrifying slaving past made an historic and revealing landfall.

But the island is not to blame.

With two whole weeks here, and so much to process, I would use the time to think about ways to improve the world, and exercise my primal scream …

But before donning loincloths, we acquired an exclusive and pricy full-coverage vehicle pass. The pass is purchased at the State Park gate and the funds are used to Keep Jekyll Classy with piers, beaches, hikes, bike paths. So, we coughed up the $56 annual fee and enjoyed our stay.

Jekyll Island

The vehicle pass is $8 per day and is not waived for guests of the campground, hotel or B&B. Over the years we have learned that islands are expensive. But we like islands, so …

The Campground

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State Line Squirrel has arrived

Jekyll Island Campground has 179 total campsites, with 167 full hook-up sites and 12 primitive tent sites located within 18 densely wooded acres.

Jekyll Island

All sites have four-point hookups – water, sewer and 30/50 amp service.

Every site provides a sewer connection, so no dump station is provided.

Jekyll Island
Site #B13

In an effort to protect the trees and the natural environment, the sites are non-conforming. Most sites are a bit tight while others have big yards. Some sites are back-in, and some are pull-through.

Jekyll Island

Some sites are quite private, and others offer no privacy at all.

Jekyll Island
Site #B13

But all of the unpaved bare-earth sites are numbered and have a fire ring and a picnic table.

Jekyll Island
Site #B17

The island is almost perfectly flat, so neither of our sites required leveling.

Jekyll Island
Site #B17

The majority of the campground roads are paved …

Jekyll Island

with dirt roads on the perimeters.

Jekyll Island

Majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss kept us cool with little need for the awning.

Jekyll Island

Wi-Fi is free at speeds of around 2 Mbps, but our Verizon cell signal facilitated around 5 Mbps – plenty fast for our needs.

Pets are allowed in the campground with a one-time $4 pet fee to cover the cost of poop bags and maintenance. Some of the beaches allow leashed dogs.

Jekyll Island
Pico de Gallo meets a buddy

Bath Houses

Because of The Virus, we avoided the bathhouses. They were clean, but outdated.

Jekyll Island

Meeting Room

A climate-controlled special event pavilion has seating for up to 164 guests.

Laundry

The laundry room was spotless. The machines have slots for both credit cards and quarters.

Jekyll Island

Camp Store

The campground store offers firewood, fishing tackle, ice, bike rental, and limited personal items – but, no groceries.

Propane is available for sale at the front entrance for just under $4 a gallon.

Jekyll Island

Reservations

Rates start at $47 for full hookups, and $32 for a primitive site. With taxes and the pet fee, we paid $691 for 14 nights, averaging $49 a night.

Monthly rates are not listed online. Call the office to reserve the special 30-day rate. From October through March you can book up to 90 nights for $750 a month. From April through September, you can book up to 30 nights for $800 a month.

Check in is 3 PM and check out is at noon.

Book a site online or call 912-635-3021. There is a three-night minimum stay for: Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. If you need to cancel, call the office to make changes. Cancellations and early departures are subject to a $10 fee.

Bird Sanctuary

Tucked away in the heart of the campground, we discovered a well-kept bird sanctuary with observation seating.

Jekyll Island

The feeders are maintained by dedicated volunteers.

Jekyll Island

Donations are accepted in a small box placed near the benches.

Jekyll Island

The sanctuary is a place to think, pray, day-dream, nap, meditate and be transported into the world of birds.

Driftwood Beach

It’s a short walk from the campground to Driftwood Beach, on the north end of the island.

Jekyll Island
The Walking Dead was filmed in this location

Jekyll has several beaches – each one, unique – but Driftwood is the most popular.

Jekyll Island

The specter of hundreds of massive dead oaks blasted and bleached by sun, wind and tide is something to see.

Jekyll Island

Driftwood Beach is an example of Ghost Forrests – a type of forrest erosion caused by rising sea levels.

“Why did you put me on this tree?”

The boneyard invokes whimsy, fantasy and romance.

Jekyll Island

Fortunately, much better photographers than I have immortalized Driftwood Beach.

Biking and Hiking

About twenty-five miles of trails are maintained for bicycles and hiking.

Jekyll Island

Cycling on nice hard packed sand is a wonderful low tide pleasure …

Jekyll Island

and the off-street dedicated trails lead deep into the magnolia live-oak forrest.

Kayaking

Clam Creek Fishing Pier, about a half-mile from the campground has plenty of launch sites.

Wildlife

The island is home to an abundance of white-tailed deer, and wild predatory species. That’s why low speed limits are posted and enforced.

Jekyll Island

We didn’t see any bobcats, but the squirrels were constantly on Pico’s radar.

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island is also Georgia’s premier birding destination.

Historic District

The structures built by Jekyll Island Club and its members are a National Historic Landmark, opened to the public.

Jekyll Island Businesses

Jekyll Market supports the island’s residents and tourists, but for serious provisions and produce, we traveled over the bridge to Brunswick which has everything.

Businesses on Jekyll Island are minimally stocked with necessities and are mostly tourism related.

Jekyll Island
Click on the image for a large format view

Hotels and restaurants are located throughout the island, but most are part of the new Beach Village development where musicians often play in the courtyard on weekends.

There are ten hotels on the island and many short-term vacation rentals.

Jekyll Island

Restaurants

As of this writing, 28 restaurants are open for business, but we only visited a couple which offered outdoor dining and ample social distancing.

When you’re not playing Tarzan

There’s other fun stuff … kayaking, horseback riding, golf, miniature (Putt Putt) golf, court games – tennis, croquet and pickle ball – and a water park.

Saint Simon’s Island

Saint Simon’s Island is an easy paddle from Jekyll.

St. Simon's island

And we drove there several times.

St. Simon's island

Daddy gave us directions to the old beach house. Jim and I cycled all day along every single street and lane before giving up.

St. Simon's island

But, at least we had a good excuse for a cold beer at Barrier Island Brewing Company.

St. Simon's island

The house is probably gone now. But Saint Simon’s Island with its beautiful old front porch homes, expansive beach and friendly neighborhood shops and restaurants reminded us of our old home town, Coronado California.

We even felt a twinge of homesickness.

St. Simon's island

Fort Fredrika

My most vivid memory of Saint Simon’s Island was Fort Fredrika.

Fort Fredrika

Mama often took us here to play under the trees while she harvested pecans for her amazing pies and divinity. As soon as we arrived I set out to find the grassy hillsides where Deb and I crossed our arms and rolled down the slope on our sides, making ourselves dizzy so we could stumble like drunks and sing, “How Dry I Am…” and then laugh our faces sore.

Fort Fredrika

But there weren’t any hills, only earthen battle trenches dug in the 1700’s … Aha! For a child who grew up on sandbars, those trenches must look like The Alps. Those military trenches are also where The Battle Of Bloody Marsh took place, when Spanish and British forces collided over control of the barrier islands.

MmmMmm … Nothin’ like Mama’s Bloody Marsh Pie.

“That’s a good joke, but we tell it much better in England.”

      – James Oglethorpe – founder of the colony of Georgia

So that wraps up the Navy Brat Tour.

What a winter! We didn’t see any flying fish, but we had a wonderful time, discovering and re-discovering some places that are a bit off the radar – all, good finds which we hope to see again someday.

And, Jim, my love, thank you for the memories and for making this happen. It was fascinating and informative. But that wasn’t really the goal, was it? You wanted to be part of my childhood, and now you are.

Jekyll Island

Now, let’s play us some Tarzan and Jane.

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.


Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (hiking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!

Click here to see some of our other campground reviews