Head to the great outdoors on Hilton Head Island! Kayak the tidal waters of the coast, go fishing in the Atlantic, or sail through our waterways on a Hilton Head boat tour and get up close and personal with a bottle-nosed dolphin. For more land-based pursuits, go bird watching, take a zip-line canopy tour, discover the beautiful wildlife and foliage of the Low Country at the Audubon-Newhall Preserve and Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge or explore our miles of trails and paved paths for some of the best biking and hiking in South Carolina. A world of natural wonders awaits you on Hilton Head Island.
Located just off Palmetto Bay Road, this Hilton Head nature preserve covers about 50 acres on the southern end of Hilton Head Island. There are several walking trails that lead through a wide variety of trees and shrubs, as well as a wetlands bog that is a common for Lowcountry barrier islands. A great habitat for birds and other wildlife, the preserve is open dawn to dusk with several parking spaces are available inside the entrance. There is also a kiosk with information about the preserve and trail maps near the parking area.
One of the most popular activities on Hilton Head Island is biking. With over 50 miles of paved paths covering the Island, there isn’t a place you can’t go on a bike, including 12 miles of beaches. Hilton Head is also among three League of American Bicyclists silver-lever bike friendly communities on the Atlantic coast. Click here for a map of Hilton Head Island’s Bike Pathways and for listings of Bicycle Sales & Rentals and Bike Tours.
With our protected wetland and variety of birds like egrets, sandpipers, wood storks, sea gulls, pelicans and osprey eagles, Hilton Head Island is a bird watcher’s haven. According to the Audubon Society, nearly 200 species of birds flock to the lakes, marshes and shoreline of Hilton Head, while more than 350 species of native birds have been sighted on the Island over the past 10 years. Among the most notable species are the snowy egret, large blue heron, osprey and white ibis, as well as cattle egrets that first arrived here in 1954—quite a change from their traditional South American habitat!
To learn more about the birds of Hilton Head Island, visitors are encouraged to take a bird-watching tour at the Audubon-Newhall Preserve. Please contact the preserve for additional information at 1-843-671-4721. In addition, many of our Boat Tour companies offer bird and wildlife viewing tours. Click here for a full list.
On Hilton Head Island, bottlenose dolphins are prevalent along the shoreline, especially during the summer, while several oceanfront resorts on the Island—including Hilton Head Plantation, Port Royal Plantation, Palmetto Dunes and Forest Beach—are excellent places to see a bottlenose dolphin. There are also many companies offering dolphin tours, while marine life study and dolphin-watching excursion cruises are available through the Coastal Discovery Museum and several of the Island’s public marinas.
Endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles
The endangered loggerhead sea turtle nests extensively along Hilton Head Island’s 12 miles of wide, sandy beaches. Few people ever get to see these 200-pound giants, for the turtles choose the darkest hours of the night to crawl ashore and bury eggs in the soft sand. If you happen to spot one of these wondrous creatures, please do not interact with the turtle in any way. These rare animals, some almost a century old, must be allowed to lay their eggs to help ensure the survival of the species. If you are lucky enough to witness this extraordinary sight, we ask that you mark the spot after the eggs are covered and inform the local Wildlife Department through the wildlife hotline at 1-800-922-5431.
Coastal Discovery Museum on Hilton Head Island offers a late night Turtle Watch for visitors who are interested in observing the habits of the loggerhead turtle. Please call 843-689-6767 for more information.
You’ll find some of the best hiking in South Carolina on Hilton Head Island, with designated paths and trails beautifully bordered by plants, wild animals and marshlands. Each trail leads to a point of interest on the Island, and can be explored from sunrise to sunset. Another option is to cross the bridge to the Main Trail on Pinckney Island: This 3.5-mile trail is completely bordered by water and watched over by dolphins and alligators. Birds and foliage spill onto the trail in some places making the experience even more spectacular. All trails are suitable for walking or careful biking.
Meander the pristine waterways and inlets off Hilton Head Island and the rivers surrounding Bluffton in your personal kayak. Canoe and kayak rentals and instruction are available for those who want to explore the Island’s creeks, marshes and inlets along Calibogue Sound. Outside Hilton Head offers a year-round kayaking school led by an expert staff of ACA Certified instructors, as well as guided tours and day and overnight trips to destinations such as Cumberland and Pritchards Islands. Lucky Hilton Head Island kayaking enthusiasts might even catch a glimpse of a bottle nose dolphin during their ocean outing.
Get in touch with your wildlife-loving side at a Hilton Head nature preserve. Visit the Newhall Audubon Nature Preserve and view the natural flora and fauna of the Island, or discover wildlife at Pinckney Island Nature Preserve, a former lookout used by early settlers. Walk the last remaining tract of undisturbed land on Hilton Head Island at Sea Pines Forest Preserve, explore a 4,000-year-old Indian Shell Ring, or visit one of many registered South Carolina historic sites designated by the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, check out our listing of Hilton Head Nature Tours.
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
If you’re looking for a great place to see a wide variety of birds and other wildlife, then head to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which includes most of Pinckney Island, several smaller islands and marshes along the mainland. You can get there by car and with 14 miles of trails, you can choose to walk, bike or kayak around the island. Please note: Motorized vehicles and pets (whether on or off leash) are not allowed on the island. There are a few portable restrooms in the parking area; however, there is no drinking water available. Maps and information about the preserve are at the entrance.
Visiting With Animals
Hilton Head Island natives also include deer, bobcats, otters, minks and even a few wild boar. Of all the Island creatures, the bobcat proves to be the most elusive, lurking in the forest preserves and in the undeveloped parts of the Island. With great foresight, plantation designers in the 1950’s set aside areas for an animal habitat, when the master plan for the Island was first conceived. This ingenuity and high regard for environmental preservation set the standard for resorts worldwide. To view these Island creatures in their natural habitat, guests can take a Lake and Forest Hayride, Horseback Tour or Petting Zoo at Lawton Stables or Walking Tour of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. These informative, award-winning nature-based tours are ideal for families and can be booked by calling 800-SEAPINE.
Zipline Canopy Tour
Zipline Hilton Head at Broad Creek Marina Adventures features two-hour tours soaring over magnificent live oaks while looking out at beautiful Broad Creek, the boats, marshes and dolphins. Come fly along eight zip-lines with heights up to 75 feet, including a dual cable racing zip-line finale—plus climb suspended sky bridges and an aerial staircase. Professionally trained guides lead your group; reservations preferred.
Additional Activities & Videos
Are you still looking for more outdoor activities and adventures? Golf at one of the Island’s 24 courses (some with views of the Atlantic Ocean), go fishing in the Atlantic surf or sail through our waterways on Hilton Head boat tours. Horseback the woodlands where bobcats prowl, watch a flock of seabirds swoop over a sandy shore, or explore South Carolina’s wonders of nature. The Hilton Head Island outdoors experience is one like no other. Experience Hilton Head videos here.