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 pristine and magical place! I’ve been told there were only 1000 visitors to the island in the past year, so I’m beyond honored I received an invitation. I wanted to use the opportunity to share some of my photos from the trip.
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Before we get to the pictures, if this is your first time here…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.
Some of the more common inhabitants of the island 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. As much as those 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.
Related Reading: Black History Tours in Savannah: Which Ones are the Most Authentic?
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.
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. As it decays, it serves as a host for moss, mushrooms, and wildlife. 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.
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 for the day!
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 Georgia coast. Some are only accessible by boat or kayak. These are a few of the lesser-developed ones…
- Cumberland Island
- Little Cumberland Island
- Little St. Simons Island
- Little Tybee
- Sapelo Island
Nearby Daufuskie Island in the Lowcountry area 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 islands close to Savannah, GA, nearby Tybee Island is the closest option. It’s about a 20-minute drive from the Historic District and is nicknamed “Savannah’s beach”.
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…
- 11 Photos That Will Make You Fall in Love with River Street
- Is Jones Street Really the Prettiest Street in Savannah?
As always, if you have any questions about Ossabaw Island let me know in the comments below.
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