While the weather can be unpredictable in early spring, it is the best time of year to go kayaking in the Lowcountry.
After years of kayaking around here, I’ve developed a few favorite paddles, several of which are in the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Each of these trips offers something different, depending on what type of paddling you like and what you want to see.
Squished between Hilton Head and mainland Bluffton, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is about half tidal marshlands.
Four bodies of water lap the shores of Pinckney, each with their own highlights for the kayaker. On the very southern tip of the island is the Pinckney Island boat ramp. From here you can paddle right into Mackay Creek. This intricately winding creek runs between Pinckney and Bluffton. It is unique for its shallowness, never reaching much deeper than 10 feet. My favorite way to paddle here is on an incoming tide, embarking about two hours prior to the high. Paddle up the creek and between the two smaller islands in the creek—Big and Little Harry Islands. There is a sandy flat between the islands that is great for getting out of your boat. As the tide comes in it is fun to paddle over in just inches of water.
If you go left when leaving the boat ramp, you will be in the Calibogue Sound, one of the larger bodies of water in our area.
On the right side of the Sound, there are some nice sandy beaches, and usually great dolphin sightings! For those looking for some adventure, you can take the Calibogue to Jarvis Creek, the May River, The Broad Creek or the Cooper River—but be sure to get a waterproof map and check the tides!
Between Hilton Head and Pinckney runs the Skull Creek, a robust creek that boasts the most beautiful sunsets.
If you have your own kayak, launch into the Skull from the Rowing and Sailing Center on Squire Pope Road. From here, head North (right) around high tide. At its mouth, the Skull Creek meets the Port Royal Sound—by far the most mighty of Pinckney’s waterways. The Port Royal Sound is the largest natural harbor south of New York and successfully paddling this area is very dependent on fair weather. Wind above about 10 miles per hour can make paddling in the Sound unenjoyable. You can head right in the Sound and land on Dolphin Head Beach, which is perfect for a lunch spot.
Or, if you’re experienced and up to it, you can paddle all the way across to Parris Island.
Choose a calm day with a morning low tide and light winds out of the south. Depart the hours before low tide, and land back at the Rowing and Sailing Center four hours later. As you approach the other side, you will hear gunfire from the Parris Island Marine Base.
If you don’t have your own boat, you can go out on Skull Creek with an Outside Hilton Head guide.
On a regularly scheduled two-hour tour, you can explore the banks of Pinckney for great nature viewing and historical sites. If you are looking to really understand and explore Pinckney from the water, you can hire a guide to take you all the way around, through all four waterways! Generally a four- to seven-hour excursion, this immersive program is an experience you will not soon forget. While not ideal for brand new kayakers, this program is suitable for intermediate paddlers and includes stops on some of the most remote sandbars, shell banks and beaches in the area.
However you choose to do it, get Outside at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge this March!
Written by Jessie Renew
Outside Hilton Head provides all ages with personalized adventures, from kayak, fishing, nature and dolphin tours to kids’ camps, history excursions, family outings and stand-up paddle boarding. Don’t miss the guided full moon kayak tour, which explores the salt marsh. For more information about these activities, call Outside Hilton Head at 843-686-6996 or go to www.outsidehiltonhead.com.