One of our favorite family excursions over the past few years has been a dolphin viewing trip with the Island Explorer off Hilton Head. For several hours on a peaceful Sunday morning, we cruised through the marshes of Broad Creek out to Calibogue Sound, checking out the wild dolphins swimming in their home waters, along with watching marine birds and other sea creatures.
It was pretty close to a perfect day.
The Island Explorer offers a variety of small-boat excursions in the waters off Hilton Head -- everything from dolphin watching to a trip to Vanishing Island to a Lowcountry photo tour and workshop.
And it's not the only dolphin tour on the island. Several outfitters offer the chance to get out on the water and see another side of Hilton Head.
Here are a few of the others:
Capt. Mark's Dolphin Watch Nature Cruise on board the excursion vessel "Holiday." The boat is docked at Dock C in Shelter Cove Harbour, across from Palmetto Dunes resort. The narrated cruise features 45 points of interest, including saltwater marshlands, shrimp boats and oyster beds.
Vagabond Cruise Line out of Harbor Town features all sorts of cruises, including an Ocean Dolphin Cruise and a Sunset Dolphin Cruise. The ocean cruise travels through Calibogue Sound to the headwaters of the ocean, spotting Atlantic bottlenose dolphin along the way. The sunset cruise, narrated by the naturalist captain, tours the estuaries behind Bull Island at a perfect time of day. (Don't forget the camera to capture these sunsets.)
Commander Zodiac offers three different dolphin excursions on 20-foot inflatable zodiac rafts. The boats hold a maximum of six passengers and each trip focuses on educating visitors about the dolphins along with seeing them up-close.
Dolphin and Nature Tours cruise the waters off Hilton Head in the SS Pelican and the Island Queen. The Island Queen is a 45-foot long boat that can hold 40 passengers. The SS Pelican is a 26-foot ex-Navy motor whale boat that can accommodate up to 20 passengers.