You may be desperate to inject some joy into 2020’s finale. A holiday getaway that’s semi-remote with space to roam while packing some good tidings and staying COVID-safe.
Then consider Jekyll Island.
Never heard of Jekyll? Just north of the Florida border, this bite-sized island off the coast of Georgia is one of four beautiful barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island—collectively known as the Golden Isles. Jekyll was once the wintering grounds of banking elites with surnames like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today Jekyll Island is 100 percent state park: beautiful, bikeable, and blissfully chill. Days are best spent on the island’s many bike trails, exploring maritime forests and driftwood-covered beaches, and eating all the shrimp and grits you can handle.
Now through January 3, Jekyll packs a ton of Christmas spirit into its small acreage. And while programming looks different this year due to the pandemic, they’ve got parades, fireworks, drive-in holiday movies, and a few Santa sightings on tap. Even if you skip the events, the island’s atmosphere is straight-up magical: Its historic houses and oak-lined lanes are decked out with over a half a million twinkling lights.
Besides partaking in myriad loops of the lights drive each night, take a turn through the mini-golf course—currently adorned with sugar plums, swirly oversized lollipops, and the likeness of Frosty and friends. Honestly, after the year we’ve had, leaning into some old fashioned holiday cheer never felt more necessary.
But this quiet island hideaway is an ideal escape any time of year. Here are some highlights.
At the island’s northern end, a spacious campground shaded with enormous oaks is a dreamy spot to park an RV or pitch a tent. It sits within walking distance to Clam Creek and just across from Driftwood Beach, so-named for the ancient trees that fell there due to myriad storms and beach erosion. 179 total campsites with 167 full hook-up sites (back-in and pull-through options) and 12 primitive tent sites are spaciously located within 18 wooded acres.
Bicycling has long been a favorite activity on Jekyll Island. With more than 20 miles of picturesque paths and trails, biking offers a scenic way to see all of the island’s hallmark points of interest. Paths wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites while ancient oaks offer ample shade. You can rent from the Jekyll Island Bike Barn to explore the island’s coastal trails. At just seven miles long, it’s hard to get lost on Jekyll.
Jekyll Island is home to more than a thousand acres of maritime forest, 10 miles of shoreline, and marshes filled with many wonders. Learn more about the island’s natural resources on a Park Ranger Walk. Walk down a historic trail through one of the island’s most diverse habitats viewing Jekyll Island’s active bald eagle nest. On tour with Jekyll Island Conservation staff, learn the trail’s history, identify unique vegetation communities, and see examples of active wildlife research efforts.
Nearby, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility. The Center offers the public a chance to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action with a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are also available for guests of all ages.
On Jekyll’s southern tip, the Wanderer Memory Trail is a new educational experience on Jekyll Island that tells the story of America’s last known slave ship, the Wanderer. The trail is located along the banks of the Jekyll River where the ship illegally came ashore 160 years ago with more than 500 enslaved Africans. Made up of individual exhibits, the trail walks visitors through the story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America on the ship. Visitors of all ages will follow Umwalla’s journey from capture through freedom told through interactive exhibits along the trail.
The Marshes of Glynn
Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,
Virginal shy lights,
The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.
—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)