Hilton Head Island’s beautiful beaches have long attracted visitors to the family-friendly resort. But there’s much more to explore in the area beyond the shoreline.
Within an hour’s drive of the island, you can go hiking, biking or bird watching in two different national wildlife preserves, kayaking on the pristine rivers of the ACE Basin, paddleboarding along a salt marsh or fishing in the bountiful waters of Beaufort County.
Here are 5 fantastic outdoor excursions near Hilton Head Island you won’t want to miss:
Surrounded by endless expanses of salt marsh, slow-moving tidal creeks and plankton-rich backwaters, Beaufort is a world-class destination for saltwater fly fishing. Angling options include hunting down speckled sea trout feeding in the current or sight casting for redfish cruising the mudflats near oyster beds. In the spring, you’ll have the unusual opportunity to chase cobia in the Broad River, one of only two places on the East Coast where cobia come inshore to spawn. A number of outfitters offer guide services in Beaufort’s marshland waters.
Once a privately owned game preserve, Pinckney Island abounds with wildlife from white-tailed deer to American alligators to an amazing array of waterfowl, shorebirds, neo-tropical migrants and raptors. Biking the 4,000-acre preserve’s 14 miles of gravel roads and grass trails will allow you to cover more ground in a shorter period of time. You’ll want to park your bike and spend some time at Ibis Pond, which features an island of trees that serves as a rookery for ibis, egrets, herons and wood storks. If you don’t have your own bike, you can take a free guided bike, walking or shuttle tour with Friends of the Savannah Coastal Wildlife Refuges.
Designated one of the “Last Great Places on Earth” by The Nature Conservancy, the ACE Basin is an ecological treasure encompassing 350,000 acres of forested wetlands, tidal marshes, hardwood uplands, barrier islands and beaches. From the early 1700s to the mid 1800s, a large part of the land was used to grow rice. Today, this unique estuarine system supports a rich diversity of wildlife, including endangered and threatened species like shortnose sturgeon, bald eagles and woodstorks. One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of the ACE Basin is to paddle one of its three namesake rivers—the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto. Outfitters in Beaufort and Colleton counties offer guided kayaking trips that will take you past magnificent plantation homes, through rice field canals and into cypress-tupelo swamps.
Bring along your camera on this outdoor outing to Snapchat a shot of the reptilian king of the wetlands, the American alligator. You’ll find plenty of the 200-million-year-old species sunning on the banks of tidal creeks or cruising stealthily through freshwater impoundments. Along with gators, you’re sure to see wading and marsh birds, woodland songbirds and maybe even a shallow-tailed kite soaring overhead. A number of trails offer access to the wetlands.The Tupelo Trail will take you along a creek on an old plantation dike. Or try perching behind the photo blind located on the Cistern Trail.
This historic waterway, once traveled by Native Americans, is an awesome spot to experience the sport of stand up paddleboarding. From your elevated stance above the water, you’ll enjoy views of Bluffton’s historic waterfront and the surrounding salt marsh It’s not unusual to see herons, bald eagles, osprey and dolphins on a paddling trip on the scenic May. You don’t need any experience to stand up and paddle. After just a few minutes of instruction, you’ll be on your way. Several outfitters offer SUP lessons, tours and special outings, including moonlight, sunrise and sunset paddles, and even yoga on a SUP.