Back to Camp

Back to Camp

Nostalgic for those carefree summer days? Rekindle the magic with a Jekyll adventure.


Exploring the wilds of Jekyll, by yourself or led by a guide, on horseback, in a canoe, or on foot, can be as much of a kick for adults as it is for kids. With a steady stream of programs and guided adventures, a trip to Jekyll might take you back to your days at summer camp, only without the cafeteria food and early wake-up calls.

Consider this a checklist for collecting your island adventure badges …  

Paddle Power

Feel like a kid again as you dip a paddle into the glittering waters around the 4-H Tidelands Nature Center and glide around the marsh searching for wildlife from herons and egrets to blue crabs and, if you’re lucky, river otters. Two- and three-hour guided kayak tours (from $65), complete with paddling instruction, take visitors through meandering tidal creeks and breezy, open waterways where guides detail the unique coastal ecosystem. Tip: A high-tide tour means access to more creeks and more bird activity; a low-tide tour means a higher likelihood of seeing frolicking dolphins and other marine creatures coming to the water’s edge to feed. Or, rent a canoe ($25 per hour or $50 per day) and set off on your own on the 17-acre Tidelands Pond, where you can cast a line for red drum and flounder. Rent fishing tackle from Tidelands ($10) or bring your own.

Overnight Adventure

If you love the idea of camping but don’t love musty cabins and whatever that is beneath your shower shoes, you’re in luck. The Jekyll Island Campground, in the midst of an upgrade and expansion, may be just what you’re looking for. The 18-acre campsite, set in an enchanting forest of palmettos and moss-draped oaks, added another 11 acres to its grounds in the past year. New amenities, including a camp store, three new bathhouses with private family restrooms, a dog park, and six glamping-style canvas-sided yurts are scheduled to open by year’s end. Currently, you can choose from 179 campsites (167 full hook-ups, from $51; 12 primitive, from $36). Tucked among the tent sites find a sanctuary with feeders that draw colorful perching birds like painted buntings and warblers. The campground is known for a relaxed camaraderie: In the evenings, mingle and gather around the campfire and roast s’mores, and in the morning take the half-mile stroll or bike ride to the fishing pier or Driftwood Beach to take in the morning sun. Or sleep in. No wakeup call here.

Wildlife Exploration

For a thrilling wildlife adventure, make a reservation for the Gatorology program, then grab your binoculars and head to Horton Pond, a hidden gem on the north end of the island. From the observation deck you’ll spot all kinds of wildlife, including almost certainly the American alligator, about 120 of which roam the waterways of Jekyll. Several, which the conservation team at Jekyll has tagged and regularly monitors, are known to frequent the waters and sunny floating platform on the pond. Feel like an island naturalist yourself watching the mysterious critter in its natural habitat and nesting site. In late summer, you might even catch a glimpse of a hatchling. Guides will get you hands-on with gator teeth and bones, research equipment, maps, photos, and even a young gator borrowed from the 4-H Tidelands Nature Center. Pet the armor-like scales on its back (“scutes”) and its ultrasoft belly skin and webbed, clawed feet, and we’ll say you’ve earned yourself that wildlife badge.

Saddle Up

For some, summer camp meant a rare opportunity to swing a leg over the back of a horse. At Jekyll, the saddle awaits. Meet at the corral on Clam Creek Road for one of several daily rides (from $68) and climb aboard a trusty Quarter Horse or sturdy Belgian or Percheron for an hour-long guided adventure. Group rides stick to a leisurely walk, while experienced riders on private trips may be permitted to trot or canter; all rides explore maritime forests, salt marshes, and the sandy, dramatic shoreline at Driftwood Beach. Tommie Crum of outfitter Three Oaks Farm, which offers a mix of group and private horseback-riding tours, says the most popular trip is a private sunset ride. But a moonlight ride, offered in the days around the full moon, makes for a magical evening excursion, with the moon glinting off gentle waves. Want to keep your feet on the ground? Non-riders are welcome to visit the corral with apples and carrots for a fun horsey encounter.

Arts and Crafts

There’s a veritable arts colony on Jekyll, a far cry from knotting friendship bracelets and tie-dying T-shirts. The Mediterranean Revival–style Goodyear Cottage is home base for the Jekyll Island Arts Association, which welcomes artists on any level and with varying interests in creative pursuits, from woodworking to weaving. The cottage’s three floors are dedicated to working guilds, workshops, and classes. They feature studios with pottery wheels and kilns, floor looms, wood sanders, and wood planers. There’s also space for painting, needleworking, photography, and more. Annual membership ($30) grants access to seasonal classes, use of the studios and equipment, and the opportunity to display and sell works in the gallery. There’s a full catalog of classes in the winter; look out for pop-up workshops during summer months. The annual Jekyll Island Arts Festival, held in March, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2025.

This article first appeared in Volume 7 Number 1 of 31•81, the Magazine of Jekyll Island.

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