Located on the west side of St. Simons, Gascoigne Bluff is an incredibly peaceful and scenic place to spend a day while vacationing on St. Simons Island.
Nowadays, the 24-acre park overlooking the Frederica River is known for its disc golf course, fishing piers, picnic areas, and idyllic southern live oak trees. The area’s history, however, goes back thousands of years and is a storied example of the many layers of conflict and conquest that make up America’s past.
While many visitors choose to spend their time in and around the beaches on the east side or golfing at Seaside Golf Course, a quick 10-minute drive will take you to a whole different side of the island where you can spend the sunrise to sunset exploring the area’s rich historical significance while you stroll along shady groves of southern live oaks.
So, if you’re looking for something unique to do and a break from the sand and the surf, we highly recommend you add in a visit to Gascoigne Bluff while staying on St. Simons Island.
The Storied Past of Gascoigne Bluff
Native Camps and Spanish Missions
For thousands of years, Native Americans used the area as a safe camping site. The unique geography offered relative shelter from the mainland and the coast.
In the 1500s, Spanish explorers arrived on the shores of St. Simons and were met with Guale Indians. Franciscan Friars settled in the area and built many missions along the Georgia coast and in Florida to convert the natives to Christianity..
Conflicts with Native Americans and the English over the next decades resulted in uprisings, attacks, and eventually the San Buenaventura Mission was burnt down. The original location of the Mission remains unknown to this day.
A Southern Keystone of British Settlement
In 1736, Gascoigne Bluff got its current name in honor of a British sea captain, James Gascoigne, of the HMS Hawk. Gascoigne sailed alongside ships of English settlers who came to the island to build Fort Frederica on the north side.
As a reward for his efforts in protecting Georgia from the Spanish, Georgia’s first governor, James Oglethorpe, granted Gascoigne a plantation on the bluff.
A Crucial Branch of Early American Defense
Later on, Gascoigne Bluff was home to a lumber mill and lumber shipping point. In 1794, the Spanish live oaks that grace the area were harvested and used to build the U.S.S. Constitution ship (known as “Old Ironsides” for its strong hull).
The southern live oak branches formed a perfect material for the ship’s bracing, which today sits in Boston Harbor. 80 years later more timber would be cut for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Cotton Plantations and a Legacy of Slavery
There are still many historical sites left that you can visit during your trip to the bluff. In the and In the 18th and 19th centuries, Sea Island cotton production took off and slave labor was used to keep up with labor demands on the plantation of James Hamilton.
Visitors today can see two of the original tabby slave cabins that workers lived in on the Hamilton plantation during this time which have been preserved. The cabins are located right by the St. Simons marina and the Epworth By The Sea conference center. The Cassina Garden Club Slave Cabins offer a window into the lives of slavery during the antebellum south era.
Top Things to do at Modern Day Gascoigne Bluff
While the bluff’s past is fascinating and you can spend a good amount of your time visiting the historic sites, the park today offers a number of family-friendly activities. Whether you are a history buff or simply out to indulge in the beauty of the area, there are lots of options.
- 9 holes of disc golf course through the tree line in a beginner style course which has been recently updated. Grab a buddy or make some new ones while you test your throws.
- If you are more likely to be too distracted by the sight of swaying Spanish moss to properly toss a disc, you might opt to lay out on a blanket and picnic with friends or loved ones under the shady canopy.
- If fitness is on your agenda, you can take advantage of the nearby nature trail and running path along the southeast side of the park. As one of the best walking trails on the island, it features workout equipment stationed throughout and you can’t beat the setting. If you still have energy, you can play a pick-up game of soccer on the park fields.
- Calming tidal waters are great for kayaking and exploring the large network of tidal creeks and tributaries around the Mackay River. The Public Marina also offers affordable boat launches and dockage.
- The park’s piers are also great for fishing for whiting and croaker or better yet crabbing for delicious blue crabs.
- There are grills and picnic tables in designated areas in the park, so whether you catch your lunch from the river or pack it in, you have everything you need to make a cookout.
A Family-Friendly Oasis
Overall, the park is very family-friendly, quaint, quiet, and secluded. The easy access from the rest of St. Simons Island, easy parking, and well maintained bathrooms and amenities make it a perfect low-key location for family get-togethers.
If you have a special reason to celebrate while on vacation, you should consider coming to the park. It is a fun and unique location to host an informal birthday party, small wedding reception, or family reunion.
A playground for children and bike paths offer additional options for young ones. Breathe in the fresh park air and don’t forget to bring the pets! The park is pet-friendly and there is plenty of open space to roam.
Cotton candy sunsets and majestic southern live oaks make the park particularly pleasant during an evening stroll with loved ones.
The Best Time to Visit is Anytime!
Gascoigne Bluff is beautiful any time of year, but it is particularly pleasant during the cooler winter months, which might be contrary to what you thought was the best time to visit St. Simons Island.
It is also fantastic at night, especially if you are participating in the famous Tree Spirit Scavenger hunt across St. Simons. There are over 20 hand-carved figures hidden on trees throughout the island, each with their own story. Grab a map and try to locate as many as you can during their stay!
There are many festivals throughout the year. Foodies will love the St. Simons Land Trust Oyster Roast in January, the Firebox BBQ on the Bluff in October, and late April’s Golden Isles Food Truck Festival where the community serves up good food and good music for all.
In the end, the best time to visit is whenever you are staying on St Simons island! It really is a great place for all types at any time of year. There is always something to do or see for everyone.
Getting to the Park from your Lighthouse Rental
If you are heading to the park from any of the Lighthouse Vacation Rentals on the southeast side of the island, the fastest way to get to the park is to take Kings Way. Head north for 2.5 miles to Hamilton Rd, then continue on Hamilton Rd for half a mile. The park will be right on your left-hand side. You can’t miss it!
The park is free for all visitors and is open 24 hours a day, all year long and is located at 1000 Arthur J. Moore Drive on St. Simons.