A balance of outdoor activity and rejuvenation on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
It’s 10am on a sunny spring morning, and instead of taking my usual jog on the beach—hard-packed sand means that runners can hit the beach in regular running shoes—I decided to join the dozens of bicyclists I’d seen zooming along the paved bike trails that meander through Hilton Head Island. There’s only so much exploration that can be done on foot and, from the map I’d picked up which identified about 60 miles of bike trails on the island, there was a lot to see.
With helmet in place I hit the trail, catching glimpses of Calibogue Sound and the ocean as I rounded shady bends in the path, picking up speed on straightaways and looking for alligators as I slowed to pass placid ponds. When I cut over to the beach, where that packed sand also makes bicycling a breeze, I cruised for miles, wishing I’d brought a bag for shells.
My husband and I had come to Hilton Head in search of nothing more than beach time. What we found, though, was an island filled with many weeks’ worth of fun activities that we couldn’t wait to try.
Paddling with dolphins
One was kayaking. Visit a beach in South Carolina and there’s a good chance you’ll spot at least one pod of bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the warm ocean. But if you want to get close to a dolphin, it’s best to launch a canoe or kayak into a quiet creek and see if one comes close. Hilton Head Island, with its huge network of brackish rivers and saltwater marshes, is one of the best places in the state for dolphin spotting. We launched at high tide, hoping that the influx of small fish would bring lots of hungry dolphins. My husband, who had never kayaked, was a bit nervous—alligators like to sun themselves on the muddy banks—but I convinced him that the chance to be just a few feet from a dolphin would be worth it.
We’d only been paddling for a few minutes before we saw the sun glinting off their sleek gray backs as they popped up to get air; before long, two had separated from the pod and were inspecting our kayak, close enough that we could hear the rush of air as their blowholes opened. After twisting around trying to get the perfect photo, I gave in to my husband’s gentle suggestion to enjoy the moment. I’m glad I did. Gracefully, they dipped up and down on the surface of the calm water, and we watched, in awe, as they swam under our small craft, over and over, as if it was a game.
Yoga on the beach
Kayaks aren’t the only way to combine exercise with a potential wildlife show. On Jenkins Creek, stand-up paddle boarders often catch sight of dolphins stalking the shrimp and small fish that live there. April Lewis, who teaches yoga on stand-up paddleboards, told me that the group has also been interrupted by giant manta rays, the massive but harmless cousins of stingrays who often leap into the air like breaching whales. Although it may seem impossible to acquire the balance and strength to do yoga on a floating board, even first-timers can usually find their balance—as long as you don’t mind an occasional dip. It’s also a particularly lovely way to enjoy Hilton Head’s glorious sunsets.
Yoga is popular on Hilton Head, especially during the warmer months, when small groups gather in the morning hours for yoga sessions on the beach. The opportunity to try a seaside yoga class was something I couldn’t pass up, so I happily joined. As the sun warmed my muscles and I listened to the ocean, it was easy to enjoy the poses; the sounds of kids playing and dogs barking took the pressure off and let me relax into the experience. I was so relaxed that it was only when the waves tickled my feet that I realized I’d fallen asleep during shavasana, the prone relaxation pose that traditionally ends a yoga class. Traditional outdoor pursuits like tennis and golf are also popular on Hilton Head, with more than two dozen golf courses and so much visitor-friendly tennis—round robins, stroke clinics and informal matches—that my husband and I wished we’d brought our rackets. I made a mental note to bring them along next time.
There are also spas galore, from full-service wellness centers to luxury hotels to smaller boutique spas that offer specialized treatments like reflexology, organic facials and myofascial release, which is a body treatment that keeps your body supple and is highly recommended by Art of Massage owner April Lewis. I splurged on a deep tissue massage that loosened every knot I had and left me in a delightful zen-like trance. Best of all, I was able to bike back to my room, which allowed me a bit more time to enjoy in my blissful state.
We didn’t want to leave Hilton Head Island, but when it was finally time to pack the car, we knew that we’d return home not just relaxed, but flush with the glow of the new experiences we’d enjoyed. We felt truly rejuvenated, with a sense of contentment from staying healthy and active throughout our visit. Hilton Head Island offered so many activities that we fully took advantage of, and there were more that we were already looking forward to for our next visit.
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