Learning and Loggerheads in the Lowcountry

The Camellia Garden at Honey Horn
The Camellia Garden at Honey Horn Coastal Discovery Museum
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The Coastal Discovery Museum has been an invaluable resource on Hilton Head Island since its founding in 1985. The museum has enriched generations of islanders and tourists alike with an awareness and pride in the beauty of the Lowcountry and her inhabitants. After roughly 20 years in a single-building facility on the island’s north end, the museum took up residency on historic Honey Horn Plantation in 2007. With an emphasis on both the Lowcountry’s natural history as well as its cultural history, there is a wealth of knowledge housed within this museum’s grounds.

The Coastal Discovery Museum’s expansion to the 68-acre Honey Horn Plantation has allowed the museum to realize its potential and provide unparalleled experiences.

You can tour the property’s salt marshes and live oak forests by foot or on Segway, visit with the resident Marsh Tackys—a small horse native to the sea islands that was used for farming by the Gullah people—or even get a chance to meet an alligator up close and personal during the “Critter Meet and Greet” that the museum hosts every Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 11:00-3:00pm. And these are but a few of the regularly scheduled activities that the Coastal Discovery Museum offers—more can be found on their website.

A portion of boardwalk over saltwater marsh
A portion of boardwalk over saltwater marsh Wood + Partners Inc.

The grounds also play host to a butterfly habitat and numerous gardens, including a “Carnivorous Plants Bog Garden” and a beautiful Camellia garden. You can easily spend the better part of a day at Honey Horn strolling through the gardens and the other installations and exhibits located on the plantation.

In addition to all the activities, the Coastal Discovery Museum also offers an exciting lecture series that runs from August through May on select Wednesdays. If you need a break from the beach or a relaxing afternoon after a day of kayaking or cycling, this is a great way to rest your bones and learn something interesting in the process. All lectures are led by local experts and tackle topics ranging from the dolphins here in the Lowcountry to local fungi (which includes a take home DIY mushroom culture). You’ll be able to tackle your next hike or day on the water with a richer understanding of the Lowcountry environment.

With as much as they offer on site, you might think that the Coastal Discovery Museum would leave well enough alone and rest easy. But you’d be wrong. In fact, some of the museum’s most exciting offerings are hosted off-campus at various locations around Hilton Head Island.

Kayakers on a guided tour of Jarvis Creek
Kayakers on a guided tour of Jarvis Creek Jarvis Creek Water Sports

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of each week the Coastal Discovery Museum offers naturalist guided tours of Jarvis Creek through Jarvis Creek Water Sports . Jarvis Creek is a quiet creek on the north end of Hilton Head Island that skirts the edge of Honey Horn Plantation. The land around the creek is minimally developed and very few boats traverse its waters making it a perfect creek for kayak exploration. Here you’ll have the abundant wildlife and calm waters you can find on Broad Creek , but with little to no signs of human activity on the shores. You’ll feel fully immersed by the saltwater marsh as you're led through the spartina by an experienced and knowledgeable guide.

With an emphasis on smaller groups, this guided tour is an incredible opportunity to get out in an isolated creek and learn about Hilton Head’s natural history at the same time. The guided kayak tour is just one of many “on water” experiences the museum offers. You can also experience a shrimp trawl, ride up the May River with a marine biologist and learn about its ecosystem, or participate in ongoing research on dolphin vocalizations.

A baby Loggerhead makes its way down the beach
A baby Loggerhead makes its way down the beach Coastal Discovery Museum

While there is nothing quite like a solo hike, with the magnificent solitude and awe inducing silence, the Coastal Discovery Museum offers guided hikes that may make you think twice the next time you want to strike out alone. You can join guides from the museum on one of two hikes, a 1.5 mile hike on Pinckney Island or a beach walk at Mitchellville Beach. Both of these tours provide you with new insights that help you better understand Hilton Head's ecosystems and their interconnected workings. Learn how the tides shape our island or how the complex spartina grass habitat supports life and biodiversity in the Lowcountry. You’ll leave with a deeper appreciation for the intricate forces that shape this environment and make it the beautiful landscape that draws visitors from far and wide.

One of the most popular tours the Coastal Discovery Museum hosts is held at night. Every year, from May to October, Hilton Head is visited by nesting Loggerhead sea turtles when they return to their place of birth and lay their nests, continuing the cycle for the next generation. Development of the island’s beaches and historical nesting sites threatens the survival of these loveable turtles. Due to this, the museum works with a conservation program called The Sea Turtle Protection Project (STPP). At 7:30pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays you can meet with an STPP team member and learn all about their efforts to protect the Loggerheads and ensure that sea turtles continue to visit Hilton Head Island well into the future. After the presentation you’ll have the opportunity to visit a Loggerhead nest site and witness a small portion of this epic yearly cycle. There are few experiences on Hilton Head that compare; many locals have never even seen a Loggerhead nest. Do not miss your chance.

The Coastal Discovery Museum is truly remarkable. To have such a rich resource on such a small island is extraordinary and should not be taken for granted. With the help of Coastal Discovery Museum, you can turn your time on Hilton Head into an unforgettable experience. Whether you’ve lived on Hilton Head your whole life or you’re visiting for the weekend, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t reap the bounty that the Coastal Discovery Museum has to offer.

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