I recently had an opportunity to visit Ossabaw Island, which is one of the most remote barrier islands along the beautiful Georgia coast.

It’s such a unique and magical place!

Since so few people ever lay eyes on the island, I thought I’d use this opportunity to share some of my photos from the trip.

Top photo of a massive tree trunk with thick Spanish moss dangling from limbs and bottom photo of an abandoned cabin with red metal roof. Text overlay reads 11 Incredible Photos of Ossabaw Island Georgia.

If this is your first time here, first of all… welcome!

My name is Erin, and I authored the Savannah First-Timer’s Guide.

I’m happy you stopped by, and I hope you’ll enjoy hanging out for a bit.

Ossabaw Island GA

Ossabaw is designated as a “Heritage Preserve,” which means the land is protected due to its natural and cultural significance.

It’s owned by the state of Georgia and co-managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Ossabaw Island Foundation (TOIF).

Visitors to the island must be accompanied by either a DNR or TOIF representative, and the typical number of guests in any given year is approximately 2000.

Thanks to the foresight of Mrs. Sandy West, Ossabaw is primarily used for the purpose of research and cultural studies.

That includes both day trips and overnight retreats — as long as those trips include some type of historic, educational, or cultural component.

The island’s caretakers have hosted church groups, garden clubs, Boy Scout troops, photographers, scientists, and more.

I’m personally hoping to plan a return visit during sea turtle nesting season to learn more about local conservation efforts (and to spot some adorable baby sea turtles, of course).

Photos of Ossabaw Island

As you might imagine on an island that hosts so few visitors each year, much of the land still appears fairly untouched by man.

It’s an incredibly peaceful place, and visiting feels a lot like stepping back in time.

The trunk of a large oak tree with thick Spanish moss hanging from its branches
The Spanish moss grows thick and heavy throughout the stately oaks covering the island, and it looks beautiful when a breeze gently stirs it. | ©Erin Clarkson

Some of the island’s inhabitants include deer, alligator, free-range donkeys, armadillos, and a wide variety of bird species.

It’s a very popular sea turtle nesting spot, as well.

Ossabaw is also known for its robust pig population. The DNR manages controlled hog hunts on the island each year, and TOIF hosts an annual pig roast as a fundraiser.

The only way to access the island is by boat. The trip is a relaxing 20 to 30-minute pontoon journey from nearby Skidaway Island.

Our skipper for the day, “Captain Mike,” pointed out nesting birds and other notable sights along the way.

The Club House

When my fellow travelers and I arrived at the dock, our host, Robin Gunn, ushered us towards the main Club House.

We were led down a dirt road lined with palm trees, and I noticed skittish fiddler crabs ducking for cover in the nearby marsh grasses as we passed by.

Our footprints obscured the tracks of the previous night’s visitors, which appeared to include a family of deer and a few raccoons.

The Club House is a simple two story wooden structure with a metal roof and festive green trim around all the doors and windows.

Its wraparound porch is lined with rows of inviting rocking chairs, which beckon visitors to sit and relax for a spell.

Front porch with rocking chairs and a handwritten sign saying Welcome to Ossabaw Island
The porch of the Club House makes an ideal spot to relax and watch the Spanish moss rustling through the oaks. | ©Erin Clarkson
An old wooden door with brass detailing and a glass knob at the entrance to the club house on Ossabaw Island
Not gonna lie, I was (and still am) practically drooling over the hardware on this door. | ©Erin Clarkson
Beautiful carved wooden bookshelf with a woven grass basket and seashells perched on the mantel
The interior of the Club House is just as incredible as the exterior. The details carved into this mantle are stunning! | ©Erin Clarkson
Remnants of animal skulls sitting atop a bookshelf with a brick wall in the background
I spotted found items like shells, skulls, and broken bits of pottery throughout the Club House. | ©Erin Clarkson
A room in the Club House on Ossabaw with photos and memorabilia on the shiplap walls
Room with wood floors, shiplap walls, and a green sign with the words "Sandy's Room" hung over a door frame
The kitchen of an old cabin shows a wooden table with cast iron post hanging above and a fireplace in the background
I just loved how old-timey and cozy the Club House felt. It’s definitely a “kick your feet up and relax” kind of place. | ©Erin Clarkson

As much as the front porch and those comfy rockers were calling my name, my insatiable need to explore quickly won out.

Slave Quarters on Ossabaw

There are only a small number of original slave quarters still in existence in the state of Georgia, and three of them are located on Ossabaw Island.

Since they’re so remote and difficult to access, few people have had the opportunity to see them in person.

Visiting was a sobering experience, as is often the case when I’m reminded of this particular time period in Georgia’s history.

Two massive oaks framing the view of a dirt path and three cabins surrounded by trees on Ossabaw Island
The cabins are in a lush, almost mystical, setting…surrounded by palmettos and massive oaks. | ©Erin Clarkson
Peeking through an old wooden fence at an even older, abandoned slave cabin with a faded red roof on Ossabaw Island
Of the estimated nine to 18 original slave cabins on the island, only three remain. They’re a sobering reminder of 18th and 19th century plantation life on the island. This area was known as North End Plantation. | ©Erin Clarkson
Close up of a sawtooth palm frond
Peeking through pine trees towards an abandoned slave cabin with a red roof on Ossabaw Island
Peeking through bright green pine trees towards an abandoned slave cabin with a faded red roof on Ossabaw Island
The tabby cabins were constructed by enslaved families in the early to mid 1800s. Tabby is a material made from a mixture of oyster shells, lime, sand, and water. | ©Erin Clarkson
Old wall constructed of tabby with a wood-framed window and rustic wooden shutter
Interior of a slave cabin showing faded and peeling blue paint and walls made of tabby
The interior of a slave cabin on Ossabaw Island with sunlight streaming through the door and an old anvil perched sideways on the floor
The interior of the cabins are as simple as you’d expect. The floors were originally made of wood, but only dirt remained in the cabin I toured. Each home only has a few windows. A tiny field mouse scurried past me as I took this shot! | ©Erin Clarkson
A blurry artistic shot of the interior of a slave cabin with wooden posts near the ceiling and sunlight peeking through air holes in the walls
I visited Ossabaw on a photo tour led by Associated Press (AP) photographer, Stephen B. Morton. This is an artistic shot I captured of the holes along one wall of a slave cabin. | ©Erin Clarkson
Peeking through an old fence at an abandoned slave cabin made from tabby on Ossabaw Island GA
I feel like such an outsider looking in when I visit cultural sites like Ossabaw. What was life like for the enslaved families who called this cabin home? Did they even consider it “home”? Were they able to enjoy any moments of peace or solitude? | ©Erin Clarkson

Related Reading: Black History Tours in Savannah: Which Ones are the Most Authentic?

Maritime Forest

Anyone who knows me knows that the trees are by far my favorite thing about living in Savannah, so you can imagine I was practically in heaven walking around under the magnificent oaks of Ossabaw.

Tall old oak trees with Spanish moss along the main road on Ossabaw Island GA
The island has some of the tallest oaks I’ve ever stood beneath. I kept hoping I’d spot a family of owls peering out at me from one of the hollow limbs. | ©Erin Clarkson
The main road to Ossabaw Island, heavily shaded by oaks dripping in Spanish moss.
I wasn’t surprised to find an aisle of oaks on the island’s main road. The South Carolina Lowcountry is famous for its tree-lined drives, but this one on Ossabaw rivals many of those. I’d love to see it in the early morning mist or just after a fresh rainfall! | ©Erin Clarkson

A portion of the island is dominated by a maritime forest.

The base layer is covered by bright green sawtooth palms, but I also spotted pine trees, magnolias, and plenty of beautiful old oaks.

The Department of Natural Resources tends to let nature take its course in the maritime forest.

For example, Robin informed us that whenever a passing hurricane topples a tree, that tree will remain in the exact spot where it fell until it’s eventually reclaimed by nature.

The exception is when a felled tree blocks a road or falls near a building, in which case it’s moved to allow access to the island’s caretakers.

As it decays, the tree serves as a host for moss, mushrooms, and wildlife.

A maritime forest with low-growth palms as ground cover and a canopy of pine and oak trees
I constantly heard wildlife rustling through the sawtooth palms and kept wondering if a deer or wild hog was going to pop out on the path in front of me! | ©Erin Clarkson
Wooden sign painted black with white text that reads Cane Patch Road, and a dirt path in the background that leads towards a maritime forest on Ossabaw Island
The roads on Ossabaw are few and far between, and some are marked by hand-painted wooden signs. | ©Erin Clarkson

Planning a Trip to Ossabaw Island

As I mentioned previously, you can only tour the island if you’re accompanied by a host from the DNR or TOIF.

Our guide for the day was Robin Gunn, who works for the Ossabaw Island Foundation.

She’s extremely knowledgable about the island and was an excellent host!

All of the details regarding trips to the island can be found on the Ossabaw Island Foundation website.

While you’re there, I highly suggest reading about the history of the island, especially as it pertains to Mrs. Eleanor “Sandy” Torrey West.

She was the island’s biggest champion and the primary person responsible for cementing its future as a Heritage Preserve.

Georgia Barrier Islands

There are a few other undeveloped barrier islands similar to Ossabaw along the beautiful Georgia coast. Some are so remote they’re only accessible by boat or kayak.

These are a few of the lesser-developed options:

🏝️ Cumberland Island National Seashore
🌴 Little Cumberland Island
🏝️ Little St. Simons Island
🌴 Little Tybee
🏝️ Sapelo Island

Nearby Daufuskie Island, which is located in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, is also incredibly beautiful.

A few of the more well-known barrier islands of Georgia are fully developed and offer plenty of restaurants, hotels, and things to do.

Here are a few good options if you want to enjoy a fun weekend on the coast:

🌴 Jekyll Island
🌊 Sea Island
⛵ St. Simons Island
🏖️ Tybee Island

If you’re looking for beaches near Savannah, GA, nearby Tybee Island is the closest option.

It’s a 20 to 30-minute drive from the Historic District and is nicknamed “Savannah’s beach.”

This map of the Georgia coast will help give you a better idea of where each island is located.

How You Can Help Protect the Georgia Coast

Before you go, here are two of my favorite organizations that work tirelessly to preserve Georgia’s coastline and the heritage of the Sea Island people.

Check them out, sign up for their newsletters, and please consider making a donation so they can continue to do good work throughout Georgia and the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Savannah Travel Guide

Looking for more photo inspiration? I live in downtown Savannah, and I love sharing my photos of the area. Here are a few additional posts you might want to check out…

Do you have any questions for me about Ossabaw Island, Georgia? As always, let me know in the comments below.

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Top photo of an old cabin framed by a wooden fence, bottom photo of an abandoned slave cabin with a red metal roof. Text overlay reads A Photo Essay of Ossabaw Island Georgia
Massive oaks dripping in Spanish moss and covered in resurrection fern and a dirt path leading towards an old home. Text overlay reads 13+ Photos of Ossabaw Island Georgia
Top photo of a massive tree trunk with thick Spanish moss dangling from limbs and bottom photo of an abandoned cabin with red metal roof. Text overlay reads 11 Incredible Photos of Ossabaw Island Georgia.