Hilton Head Island is an incredibly popular destination. Its pristine natural beauty has been preserved as the island has grown, and there are more ways to enjoy the outdoors here on Hilton Head than ever before.
The unfortunate trade-off with this popularity is the crowds of people that come in its wake. With so many others coming to enjoy the island alongside you, it can be hard to find those moments of silent wonder or blissful solitude that many crave when enjoying the outdoors. Despite this reality, there are still some places where you can escape the throngs and enjoy some peace and quiet. So, if you’re looking for a private hike or a serene paddle, this is the list for you.
1. Audubon Newhall Preserve (Hiking)
This little known gem is located right in the heart of the south end of Hilton Head Island. The Audubon Newhall Preserve is the perfect reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Hilton Head’s busiest area, and you don’t have to go far. Located discretely off of Palmetto Bay Road with only a small sign and a trail into the woods, many drive right past without knowing what they’ve missed.
The 50-acre preserve plays host to a series of interconnected trails that wind through untouched Hilton Head wilderness. Living up to its Audubon namesake, the preserve is a veritable outdoor library with the all of the local flora marked, and informative panels describing the ecosystem and its inhabitants. An information post near the entrance has an in depth brochure that contains a map of the trails as well as further information on common plants and animals on the preserve. This oasis of calm is not to be missed.
2. The Crossings Park (Biking/Hiking)
The Crossings Park is also located on the south end of Hilton Head Island. The park is known for its baseball and soccer fields, but many people don’t realize that there is a series of trails located on the property behind these fields. They are referred to as “interpretive trails” and can be used for biking or hiking. There is even a portion of the trail that has long berms that serve as ridges for mountain biking, complete with adrenaline pumping drops. However you choose to utilize these trails you are sure to enjoy your time beneath the tall pines. The trails are heavily shaded, making them not only a great place to escape the crowds, but the heat as well.
3. Burkes Beach (Hiking)
Burkes Beach is considered a “locals’ beach” by many islanders. It is less crowded than Coligny Beach and more relaxed, with no major resorts or restaurants. Before you reach the walkway to the beach there is a small trail to your right that offers a fun hike through a maritime forest. The trail takes you to a winding inlet, known as “The Folly,” that runs straight from the ocean deep into a saltwater marsh.
Many locals are not even aware of the trail’s existence; it is used mostly by fisherman, so you are nearly guaranteed to have some time to yourself while you hike. The trail is comprised of a small loop that begins with a short walk through the woods and spills out onto The Folly. Once you’ve had your share of exploration, you’ll return down a small sandy trail that runs between the marsh and the forest. After you hike be sure to head down to the beach and relax like a local.
4. Squire Pope Rowing and Sailing Center (Paddling)
The Squire Pope Rowing and Sailing Center is a brand new facility that opened to the public in winter 2014. The site boasts a 200-foot low-floating dock built especially for non-motorized craft and is a great place to launch for an excursion on Skull Creek . The park is located near the northern tip of the island, far from the epicenter of tourist traffic and mobs of people. You will likely run into other locals itching to get out on the water, but once you launch you will have miles of water to stretch out and enjoy the beauty of Hilton Head. From this launch point, you can explore Pinckney Island or make your way along Hilton Head’s northern shore toward Port Royal Sound. This park provides the only public access to this portion of Skull Creek, so as you paddle away from the dock you can be sure that you’re on your way to crowd-free bliss.
5. Broad Creek (Paddling)
Broad Creek is a favorite destination for many paddlers on Hilton Head Island. Whether you want to take your paddleboard or kayak out, this is a great place to do so. Winding waterways through spartina grass mazes offer hours of exploring and make it a great place to catch a glimpse of local wildlife.
It is a particularly good place to view many of the island’s seafaring birds, from ospreys and kingfishers to herons and egrets, they can all be found here. Many kayak outfitters on the island offer guided tours of Broad Creek. There are many launch sites on Broad Creek, but most of the tours launch farther up the creek. The perfect place to launch your paddle is the Marshland Road Boat Landing. This boat ramp is far enough up the creek to avoid most of the traffic, and is the perfect place to launch a day of self-guided fun.