It might be the beach that brings you to Hilton Head Island, but there's much more to explore on this little coastal jewel than 12 miles of seashore.
Renowned for its beautifully preserved Lowcountry setting, the island's maritime forests, rich salt marshes and winding tidal creeks serve as a natural playground for every manner of outdoor adventure, from biking and birding to horseback riding and water skiing.
Want to get your blood flowing and your hair blowing? Hop aboard a personal watercraft or go parasailing along the beach. Prefer to take it slow? Cruise a quiet creek on a stand-up paddleboard or enjoy a sunset sail on Calibogue Cay. For thrills closer to shore, try a zip line canopy tour or a treetop challenge course.
One of the best ways to experience the island's unique ecosystem is by kayak. Paddling about the speed you walk, you're able to take in your surroundings and view wildlife in its natural habitat.
Several outfitters offer guided kayaking trips on Broad Creek, the waterway that runs like a shoelace through the island. As you make your way into the salt marsh, you're likely to see a variety of wildlife, such as egrets, herons and dolphins who venture regularly into the creek in search of their next meal.
If you head out on a stand-up paddleboard, you'll get a higher vantage point to the wildlife show. The buoyant boards also can be used in the surf to carve through the swells.
Ready to get wet and wild? H2O Sports will take you into the protected waters of Bull Creek for an afternoon of water skiing, one of the tried-and-true traditions of summer. If you prefer something a little less old school, try wakeboarding, knee boarding or tubing.
The warm-waters of the Atlantic and the nutrient-rich estuaries surrounding the island also provide all kinds of fishing opportunities. Experience the thrill of deep sea fishing in the Gulf Stream or the serenity of fly fishing in a salt marsh. The catch of the day could include anything from snapper to sea trout to swordfish.
Landlubbers will enjoy the resort's extensive multi-use pathway system, taking you virtually anywhere you want to go on the island. With more than 100 miles of flat, well-maintained trails and 20,000 bikes available for rent, it's no wonder Hilton Head was awarded the gold designation as a "Bicycle Friendly Community" by the League of American Bicyclists.
Along with the paved pathways, you'll find scenic hiking trails through wooded preserves, where you can observe birds and other wildlife, including alligators and deer. One of the best spots for birding is Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, a favorite annual stopover for thousands of migratory species.
If you don't want to hoof it, saddle up for a trail ride through the 600-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Lawton Stables offers Western-style horseback riding excursions into the forest on bridle trails that pass lakes, with rookeries teaming with herons and egrets. Or go on the Alligator and Wildlife Tour and cruise around the preserve's freshwater lakes in the comfort of a covered electric boat.
A number of nature tours also are available for vacationers looking to check out some of the island's other untamed inhabitants. Among the most popular are dolphin and sea turtle tours, and crabbing excursions. One of the most unusual is Vagabond Cruise's afternoon dolphin sail aboard the Stars & Stripes, the 65-foot monohull Dennis Connor raced to victory in the 1987 America's Cup Challenge.
Zipline Hilton Head and Aerial Adventure Hilton Head offer more outdoor fun with an extra dose of excitement. Located on 15 acres overlooking Broad Creek, these eco-attractions will take you into the treetops for some high-flying thrills. The guided canopy tour features seven ziplines and three suspended sky bridges, while the challenge course offers 50 activities of varying degrees of difficulty you can tackle at your own pace.
With so much to do, you'll wish you were staying longer!