The Heart of Hilton Head Island

THE ONE PLACE that connects every person to nature on Hilton Head Island is Broad

Broad Creek

An oyster reef lines the vast salt marsh in Broad Creek. Photo by Marianne Ballantine

Creek. We pass over it on the Cross Island Parkway Bridge and enjoy the best scenic view on the Island. Picture-perfect and slow-flowing, this 7-mile-long tidal river bisects the Island. From the oyster-lined, billowing salt marsh to the secretive wading birds and those spunky bottlenose dolphins, or the solitary angler to recreational boater, all living things depend on the Creek.


A Tale of Two Islands

The study of coastal geology, past sea level changes, and soils show that Hilton Head Island was formed during two different periods of time. Broad Creek was a shoreline and is now the dividing line between millions of years of climatic activity.


Global sea level has been much higher, and also much lower, many times in the past. During the Pleistocene Epoch (lasted 1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago), the higher ocean covered the Island’s “south end” (from Sea Pines to Port Royal and Palmetto Hall). The ocean slowly created a beachhead on our “north end”—from Hilton Head Plantation to Jonesville and Spanish Wells. During the last ice age, global sea level fell by as much as 400 feet, exposing land clear to the Continental Shelf (70 miles offshore).


But in the past 20,000 years, much of the glacial ice melted. Sea level rose an astounding 400 feet. By 10,000 years ago, the rising ocean nudged sediment in place, building south end. And Broad Creek, the ancient shoreline, was flooded with tidewater. Ever since, the tides have pulsed in and out of the creek, nourishing the rich marine ecosystem locked within, and preserving evidence of our “two ancient Islands” island for all time.


Discover Broad Creek

Located smack-dab in the middle of Hilton Head Island, Broad Creek is accessible several boat ramps, from docks, marinas, and Calibogue Sound. The best ways to explore:

  • Take a guided kayak tour. Naturalists will help you learn more about the wildlife and ecology of the creek.
  • Tour under sail. Because Broad Creek is broad, the breeze is usually sufficient for a quiet tour (especially during rising and falling tides). Dolphins love to follow sailboats.
  • Join a sunset dinner cruise. The comfortable tours are often narrated. Pay attention to the steep bluffs along the north side of the Creek. Remember: that is the million year-old beach.


One of my favorite places in Broad Creek is the mouth, which opens to Calibogue Sound. It’s very shallow at this point. The story of this channel is dramatic. That’s where we’ll begin in my next blog.