May is our time of year for secluded beach adventures, it seems.
Last year we took a bikepacking trip to False Cape State Park, which still remains one of my favorite beach trips ever. Living in Tennessee, beach trips are fewer and further between, but we are finding ways to fit them in regardless. We went to Little Talbot Island State Park in Florida back in January (and I will review this at some point!). Hoping for something a little closer with camping directly on the shore this time, I did some research, and we settled on Little Tybee Island, off the coast of Georgia near Savannah.
There is a campground on Tybee Island proper, but it’s expensive, a good half a mile from the shore, and definitely geared more towards RVs than tents. We wanted oceanfront camping. Camping where we can look out of the tent and see the sea. Little Tybee Island promised this, but at a price: there is no vehicular or foot access in. The only way to reach the island is by boat or kayak, and once there, there is, well, nothing. At least, nothing man-made. A state nature preserve, the island is entirely undeveloped, and other than the kayak tours that run from the main island and anyone adventurous enough to camp there, it’s fairly untouched by humans at all.
Most importantly, we LOVED this trip. I need to preface with that, because this was not an easy trip, and not one that I broadly recommend. Most of my takeaways from this trip are ways to prepare, things we learned, and warnings for anyone looking to head out there–but also that it was incredible. We just stood there a few times just talking to each other in awe. “This is GEORGIA.” I kept repeating. “Who knew you could have this in Georgia?”
So with that said, here are some facts about this island that made me question upfront if it was a good choice, and that made it one of our more challenging family adventures:
So, why did I look at all of that and think, hmm, this sounds like a great trip to do with a three and five year old?
Because of this:
We are a family of beach bums, but we are also a family of nature-lovers. While taking a day trip to the boardwalk at Virginia Beach and sitting with the crowds for a couple of hours was always welcome beach time, Billy and I have gladly sought out quieter coastal spaces since we’ve been together. It was true before we had kids, but now especially, we love being in a place where the kids have so much flat, open space to explore. And this island had the added bonus of an “oak graveyard” right next to one of the recommended camping hammocks, which made an amazing natural playground for the kids when the tide was out. They could be as loud as they wanted, could run as far as we could see them, could splash and come right back to camp, and we had a home base steps from all of this natural play space–no dealing with hotel elevators or having to drive back to a campground. Plus being in an undeveloped area allows so many teaching moments. We saw sea turtle tracks. The kids found a live horseshoe crab and a live starfish. They dug up clam and oyster shells. We talked about the tides, and ocean currents, and water safety, and lunar gravity. There were so many different birds–and while not a pleasant learning experience, there was even a bird carcass near us that allowed for a conversation about decomposition and why bugs are important even if they are a nuisance.
So going back to the challenges, how did we prepare for them, and what advice do I have for anyone else hoping to make this trip?
Instead of a family-friendly rating, I’m going to break this down more into categories. The family-friendliess of it has way more to do with your individual family’s adventure preferences and everyone’s comfort level.
Privacy: 5/5. You don’t have complete isolation. There are companies that run kayak tours here during the day in addition to the locals who come out, and when we pulled in Sunday morning the hammock that had been recommended to us for camping was occupied with a group who spent the weekend there–but once the tide started coming in Sunday afternoon, everyone left and we had the place entirely to ourselves. And even at the most “crowded,” there was still far fewer people than you’d find on a mainland beach in May. Plus, the island is huge, so depending on your paddling skills you can always find somewhere else to camp if the hammock near the oak graveyard is occupied.
Safety: 3/5. There are far more environmental hazards here than I think anywhere else we have camped as a family. I cut my foot badly on oyster shells our first day there, and that’s in addition to all of the wildlife and elemental dangers listed above. These can all be prepared for, but they do require preparation, and should not be underestimated.
Amenities: 0/5. There aren’t any. Period.
Activities: 5/5. So, so, so many. I mean–there’s kayaking obviously. Swimming. Sandcastle building. Shelling. Bird-watching. Fishing. Downed oaks everywhere that make a natural jungle gym. There is a sandbar that stretches from Tybee Island to just offshore of Little Tybee during low-tide you can paddle to for wide-open running. I saw videos of people harvesting their own oysters. Think of a beach activity that doesn’t require man-made intervention, this place has it.
For the work that goes into this trip, it’s not for someone who only wants to relax at the beach. But if you want the adventure along with the beauty, this trip is so, so, so worth it. Anytime you can combine falling asleep in a tent with falling asleep to the sound of the ocean is a good time in my book, and having so much to explore was great for all of us. We all got sunburnt, and we all came home absolutely exhausted, but despite all of that, I would go back next week if we could.
Have you been there? If you have, or if you end up going, I would love to hear what your experience is like!