For the past 7 years, I have been part of a longstanding custom in my husband’s family that consists of a weeklong vacation in Hilton Head Island, SC. Over the years activities have ranged all over from long boarding or biking down long moss-shaded sidewalks to fishing with casting nets and watching for alligators in the lagoons. Loosely held traditions include a putt-putt game, extensive beach time and wave riding, the obligatory trips to thrift stores or other shopping outlets and an out-to-dinner date night for all the adults at a fun restaurant. My husband and I love to get in beach runs on the wide flat expanses of sand and the days end with a rotating roster of different family members taking turns cooking a big dinner for all 18 of us.
While the whole week is a sunlit, breezy run-together wave of relaxation and fun, we have developed a tradition of our own that is now one of our favorite things to do in Hilton Head. No trip feels complete without a kayak or SUP adventure down Broad Creek searching for dolphins. While there are many dolphin watching cruises and even paddle tours available, we always prefer to bring our own boats and explore for ourselves. There are always tons of gorgeous waterfowls–pelicans, herons, egrets, white ibis, even the occasional eagle and we usually catch a glimpse of at least a dolphin or two. Several times, we have had whole pods surrounding our boats, gliding in and out of the water close enough you could almost reach out and touch them.
I don’t know why the excitement of this never diminishes for me. Every time we spot a distant dorsal fin, shining gray across the water I am filled with childlike giddiness. These creatures are so beautiful and coming across them in the wild feels like being let in on a lovely secret. The tides and marshes lend the area an ever-changing allure, and whether the dolphins appear or not, we always enjoy our excursions on Broad Creek.
Getting Here: There are several places you can enter Broad Creek, but recently our favorite spot has been Shelter Cove Marina. Here, you can rent boats from Outside Hilton Head or launch your own boat for a $5 fee. We like this spot because the water entry is super clean, easy, and gentle on the boats. It also happens to drop you in a part of the creek where we have most frequently come across dolphins.
If you have your own boats and want to make the Shelter Cove area a destination (roughly 2 miles), you can begin at Marshland Road Public Boat Ramp near the Old Oyster Factory. It is free to use this spot and easy enough to get to and unload. The only downside is that the entry point is composed of two extremes–rather rough pavement and very squishy marshy mud. Despite this slight inconvenience, we have successfully used this spot many times, taking a right off the ramp and heading towards Shelter Cove and beyond. It is another great option.
Good to Know: No matter which launch spot you choose, make sure to check the tide direction and observe wind/weather conditions. These details can potentially make or break your trip. If you rent at Outside Hilton Head they will happily give you a rundown of this info, but if you’re striking out on your own, it’s good to have thought through this. You ideally want to do your hardest work (going against the tide or wind) at the beginning of your paddle and save the easier direction for your return. Always bring water, a PFD, an emergency whistle and some snacks. I personally prefer to have a good hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as well.:)
Where to Eat: When you’re done with your dolphin watching and paddling, you should definitely hit up a delicious Hilton Head restaurant. We love the Lucky Rooster for a nice dinner. Their food is creative, delicious, and locally sourced. The Hilton Head Social Bakery is a new favorite that happens to be in very close proximity to the Shelter Cove put-in (same shopping center). It is a French bakery with delicious pastries, breads, and savory items such as sandwiches and quiches.
Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!