Barrier Islands

Compared to its neighbors to the north and south, Georgia has a short coastline, measuring just 100 miles from Savannah to St. Marys. And unlike the green and blue ocean waters of its neighbors, Georgia’s water is brown, a result of the nutrient-rich silt and sediment washed down by the mighty Altamaha and other rivers that empty into the ocean here.

What really sets Georgia’s coastline apart from the rest of the Eastern Seaboard, though, is its spectacular barrier islands, most of which remain undeveloped and contain protected wilderness areas. Only four are accessible by car.

Each island has its own flavor. Some have fancy resorts and trendy restaurants. Others are completely uninhabited or only sparsely so. And all of them are rich in history, be it Native American, antebellum era or Gilded Age.

But the one thing all the islands share in common is their astounding natural beauty, from their wide sandy beaches and vast salt marshes to their protective dune systems and maritime forests thick with Spanish moss and live oaks.

Discover nine of Georgia's Barrier Islands in the links below.

Map illustration by Gloria Arteaga.

Inspired by past Personal Journeys set in the Georgia Barrier Islands and AJC photographer Curtis Compton’s stunning nature photography of the area, I embarked on a two-week journey this spring, island-hopping along the state’s coast and exploring its many wonders. In addition to putting 1,014 miles on my trusty Volvo, I rode on ferries, motor boats, a horse-drawn carriage, the backs of pickup trucks and paddled a kayak. I slept in a sleeping bag and ate at a five-star restaurant. I saw wild horses, deer, American bald eagles, gators, snowy egrets, woodstorks and too many armadillos to count. And I met some fascinating, generous people who helped inform and guide my way, including National Park Service ranger Pauline Wentworth, environmental activist Carol Ruckdeschel, Southeast Adventure Outfitters guide Matthew Morton, Stanley Walker with the Department of Natural Resources on Sapelo, Miguel Robledo with Three Oaks Farm in Jekyll Island, Capt. Fran Lapolla and his wife, Kathryn, of Savannah Coast EcoTours, Sea Island Communications Director Merry Tipton, Little St. Simons Island naturalist manager Stacia Hendricks and Will Canepa, bar manager at Tybee Island Fish Camp. I owe them all my deepest gratitude.

Suzanne Van Atten
Lead Features Content Manager

Suzanne Van Atten is Lead Features Content Manager for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her duties include editing Personal Journeys and managing the AJC’s books coverage. She is also a travel writer and author of “Moon Puerto Rico,” now in its fourth edition, and “Moon San Juan, Vieques and Culebra,” in its second edition.

Curtis Compton joined the AJC as a photo editor in 1993 before returning to the field as a staff photographer. Previously, he worked for the Gwinnett Daily News, United Press International and the Marietta Daily Journal. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and won a World Hunger Award for his coverage of the famine in Sudan.