Florida Man on the Run

Day Trip to Jekyll Island

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There are going to be times where you plan out an entire day and then deliberately throw half the plans out the window at the last minute. My day trip to Jekyll Island was certainly one of those days. I had made grand plans to visit Jekyll Island, St. Simon’s Island and even some of historic Brunswick. What I actually did was wake up late, have lunch in Brunswick and then become enamored with sea turtles and historic Jekyll Island instead. I didn’t even make it to St. Simon’s Island! However, in the end I think I had a better day by getting drawn into what Jekyll had to offer, rather than scurrying all over the islands trying to see it all. Plus, I got to spend a bunch of time hanging with the sea turtles!

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

One of the big draws for me to Jekyll Island was the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. At the center, the staff (mostly AmeriCorps volunteers) work to rehabilitate and care for sick or injured turtles. Jekyll Island serves as one of the primary nesting points along the coast for Loggerhead sea turtles and the Center serves as a vital part in the restoration of the species. The more I looked at planning my trip to Jekyll Island, the more I knew the GSTC was going to be my focal point.

Adopt a turtle during your day trip to Jekyll Island
Look how cute Carlin is!

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center opens daily at 10am. The best times to visit the center are during the nesting season which runs from May to October. During the time activity at the Center is in full swing including plenty of short presentations by the staff. Check the website ahead of time to get an idea for the schedule that day. My day there was focused on the 2pm Meet the Patients presentation which explained why each of the turtles housed at the center were there and what the center was doing to care for them.

The presentations are great at fostering a connection between you and the turtles. When you get to know these turtles and their troubles, it makes you want to do more to help them. When you understand the impact you can have, it goes a long way to helping create change.

The Exhibition Gallery features a self guided tour through YOUR life as a sea turtle. You’re given a card when entering to take around the small Exhibition Gallery. Each station explains part of a sea turtle’s life and has stamps for your card. I found it to be a really neat experience and was genuinely curious what my sea turtle life was going to be! The gallery also houses a healthy baby sea turtle, Carlin, who serves as an ambassador. You can help out the center by “adopting” Carlin while you’re there. To be honest he is almost too cute to NOT adopt him, so help out the GSTC by doing so!

Historic Stops on a Day Trip to Jekyll Island

After spending almost two hours at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, we left to explore more historic parts of the island. You’ll pass this part as you drive to the center, so on your way back you can’t miss it. When you turn in near the gift shop, I recommend parking near it rather than driving down to the wharf. You could stay parked at the Center, but it’ll be some extra and unnecessary walking.

The Jekyll Island Club is a historic vacation destination used for more than just a day trip to Jekyll Island
The Jekyll Island Club Resort is a prime vacation spot

From here you can wander down towards the riverfront. There are a number of old cottages along Riverfront Dr to take in, along with the wharf. After browsing through here, you can then gawk at the massive southern castle that is the Jekyll Island Club. The club forms the center piece of the historic parts of Jekyll Island, showing off its true purpose as a winter playground for the rich. The grounds of the Club feature a number of small shops along Pier Road. If the day isn’t too sweltering and miserably hot, the stroll through the grounds can be quite pleasant.

After visiting this part of the island, we drove to the southern tip of the island. St. Andrew’s Beach at this end of the island features a couple of overlooked features. If you’re looking for a spot to have a small cook-out and catch the sunset over the Jekyll Sound, its the place to do it. The small beach is completely unobstructed over the sound, offering a great place for a sunset. The beach also features a small memorial to those slaves who came over on The Wanderer, which was one of the final (illegal) slave trading ships. It was really fascinating to read about history like that so close to home that I had never knew.

A Perfect Start (or End) to Your Day Trip to Jekyll Island on Driftwood Beach

At this point in the day, I knew we weren’t leaving Jekyll Island to just come back for the grand finale of the trip. Driftwood Beach is simply too fascinating a destination to pass up. While there might be others like it in the world, none of them are as close to home for me.

Driftwood Beach is a fantastic spot to visit on your day trip to Jekyll Island
Still caught an amazing sunset at Driftwood Beach

Driftwood Beach encompasses much of the northern end of the island. As the island washes away, gnarled and bleached roots, branches, and whole trees are washed along the shore. The sight of all the wood along the beach is pretty surreal. It’s certainly not your pristine beach for spending a hot summer day, but is magnificent in its own rights.

We made it to the beach just before sunset. Being on the Atlantic side of the island, you can’t get a great view of the sunset directly from here. However, the light of that late afternoon sun creates fantastic opportunities for pictures of the driftwood. Every step I took seemed to invite another look or picture, even if I had grabbed ten already. With a number of different access points to the beach, you’d have to make a couple trips to really explore the whole area.

Where Driftwood Beach really “shines” is sunrise. I wasn’t able to get there so early, but it is one of the best spots to catch it. Just googling driftwood beach will show you exactly why you should come out. If you’re particularly adventurous, you can even come to enjoy the driftwood in some ghostly moonlight. I wanted to do just that, but we had other night time plans. You can really get your day trip to Jekyll Island started off or finished right at Driftwood Beach.

Turtle Walks After Dark

As night fell on Jekyll Island, we returned to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Along with their daily presentations on location, the Center also holds a number of off-site excursions. The months of June and July are the height of nesting season, and the GSTC hosts nightly turtle walks during these months. Having seen there was a remote possibility of seeing a sea turtle in the wild, I jumped at it.

Let me start by saying I 100% recommend doing a Turtle Walk. If you even remotely care about conservation and nature, you’ll have a blast. The information you’ll gather during a turtle walk will help you make better decisions in the future. Not just with regard to seeing nests while on the beach but also in helping to eliminate unnecessary waste in your life that has a profound impact on sea turtles and other sea life.

There isn’t a guarantee of seeing a turtle, but even the chance is worth it. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a turtle coming up to nest but that really didn’t dampen my mood. The cost of the turtle walk includes admission to the GSTC as well.

The walk itself starts at the Center. After a 30-minute introduction, everyone will load up in their cars and head for the beach. Once you’re there and ready to go, the Sea Turtle Adventure begins. You’ll spend about 1.5 hours on the beach, talking to GSTC patrols about what they do and keeping your eyes peeled for any signs of nesting turtles. The guides will take you to at least one known nest, but if a turtle is spotted you’ll need to be ready to hustle along to it. I had a lot of fun on the walk and it made me want to come back and explore two of the other options they have available.

The GSTC offers two other alternatives to the regular Turtle Walk. The more expensive option is actually going on patrol with the GSTC. That option allows you to spend most of the night on the beach and helping with the actual work of monitoring nests and measuring turtles. Now that I’ve taken a turtle walk, I really want to come back for the full nightly patrol. The other available option starts in August. The Dawn Patrol searches the beach for hatched nests and documents those found. They also will come back to nest that hatched a few days prior and excavate them to see how successful the nest was.

I highly encourage taking one of the walks or patrols. Not only will you get an opportunity to possibly see a turtle in the wild, but you’ll also be helping support the work done at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Every dollar helps with the conservation efforts both directly and through the experience you take with you. If you can’t take a walk, then consider making a direct donation here: Georgia Sea Turtle Center Donations

Day Trip to Jekyll Island Wrap Up

Since I had planned to not only day trip to Jekyll Island but also St. Simons Island, there is still more to do to finish this trip. St. Simons is a great spot to make this a whole weekend. With that being said, I loved Jekyll Island. Having done a night turtle walk, I want to take the opportunity to do a dawn patrol as well. By getting up super early and driving up to catch the sunrise, I should be able to get everything done in a single day. Or maybe I still won’t manage to leave Jekyll Island, who knows!

Thank you for taking the time to read the second blog of my Local Series. If you missed Part One, Amelia Island, follow the link to check it out. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow me on Instagram or Facebook to journey along with me live! If you loved this post, then pin it and check me out on Pinterest as well!

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