Have you ever had someone tell you that they live where others vacation? While there are many cities and towns across the state of South Carolina where locals could make such a statement in earnest, I’m not sure if I’ve ever come across a destination that embodies this distinction more fully than Daufuskie Island.
With a name like Daufuskie, you can imagine that things are done a little differently on this barrier island off the coast of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. For starters, it can only be reached by boat. So that’s exactly how my day of adventure on Daufuskie began—catching the 7 a.m. ferry to Haig Point. And from the moment I saw the vibrant pinks, oranges and blues of the sunrise over the Hilton Head Island marsh as I made my way down the dock, I knew this would be no ordinary day.
Haig Point, a spectacular private community on Daufuskie, runs the Haig Point Ferry for members, residents and their guests, but visitors can utilize the ferry if they’re participating in one of the Daufuskie Trail Rides that are managed through the Haig Point Equestrian Center. Haig Point also offers Discovery Visits for potential members. If you decide to visit and stay for more than just the day, you can find accommodations in the island’s one-of-a-kind lighthouse. Its views are spectacular, and it’s allegedly haunted by a friendly ghost, which makes it all the more alluring.
When we arrived on the island after our 30-minute ferry ride, my mind was blown away upon encountering several Haig Point residents waiting to catch the boat to attend their morning tennis lessons on Hilton Head Island. I just couldn’t wrap my head around a morning commute that consisted of island hopping! This is when it first dawned on me just how different life—or in this case, a vacation—here would look like.
With its exclusive boat access, there are very few vehicles on Daufuskie, so traffic doesn’t really exist. In fact, as you navigate through the Lowcountry landscape, you will notice that many of the roads aren’t paved and there’s no need for stop lights. There are no grocery stores or gas stations and only a handful of restaurants. But all of this only adds to the magic of the island. It is purposefully undeveloped to maintain Daufuskie’s unique culture and cadence.
So, here’s my (highly recommended) experience from a day discovering Daufuskie. After the ferry ride was over, which is an experience in itself, my first stop was to take a guided tour. There are several outfitters that offer tours on an array of topics, from history and culture to culinary and eco-tours—all fascinating to be sure. Many of the guides are locals who provide a personal touch to each of their tours, bringing the island’s many stories to life.
This was a day of many firsts for me. Not only had I never visited Daufuskie, I also had never before taken a tour on horseback. Because Daufuskie is so beautifully untouched, it can feel like time stops when you’re on the island. The landscape is so vibrant, and the wildlife so prevalent, it seemed only natural to explore the island for the first time on horseback.
My guided tour with Daufuskie Trail Rides took me along moss-covered trails and by the pristine beaches of the island. My horse was gentle and gentlemanly, (he is known to step off the trail for potty breaks to be considerate of other tour participants) and after a few minutes of being saddled up, I felt very comfortable navigating the paths with him despite having zero riding experience.
Throughout the ride, we learned about the various communities on the island and the unique wildlife, including large native squirrels and deer that you can spot around every turn. The guides were also knowledgeable about things to do during your time on Daufuskie, like visiting Freeport where visitors boat in for the day to enjoy fresh seafood, live music and simply being on island time. It was the perfect way to take in the island for the first time and whet the appetite for the rest of the day’s adventures.
The next stop after our tour was lunch. While there are only a few restaurants on Daufuskie, you will find they are both delicious and highly popular. The crab cakes at Lucy Bell’s are so good, both residents and visitors start lining up an hour before opening each day, and no one minds the wait or sitting outside in the front yard of the restaurant to savor the meal.
And if you need to walk off some of the island’s fantastic fare, the opportunities for exploring are endless. Take in the masterful metalworks of the Iron Fish Gallery & Studio, learn of the stories preserved within the Daufuskie Island History Museum, visit the goats at the Daufuskie Community Farm or simply stroll the beach to savor the views. With every turn of a dirt road, there’s something new and wonderful to discover.
All in all, what I took away from my time on Daufuskie Island was that I needed more of it. As we boated back to the mainland, rain pelted the windows of the ferry, reflecting my feelings for having to leave so soon. In just a few short hours, I was so captivated by this place, there was no doubt that I would find my way back.