Hilton Head Island History, Wildlife and Ecology
Photo of Snowy Egret
Hilton Head Island Ecotours
Hilton Head Island Boat Tours
Miles of sandy beaches, fabulous sunsets, lush subtropical folliage, luxury resorts, spas, golf courses and watersports make Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, a world class tourist destination but learning about the history, wildlife and ecology of this island can also be a very enjoyable part of vacationing here.
This article will provide information about fun ways to learn and discover the island's unique history, wildlife and plants through onsite visits to local parks, museums and tours.
Picture yourself touring the beautiful Calibogue Sound aboard a hard bottom Zodia Boat, having an up-close and personal encounter with Bottlenose dolphins and other marine wildlife, or stepping back in time and enjoying a tour of nearby Daufuskie Island, made famous in author Pat Conroy's classic book, The Water is Wide, about his year of teaching there.
How about sailing on a catamaran and watching dolphins play all around you as you lay on the boat's trampoline or taking a sunset cruise of the salt marshes and tidal creeks?
If you're adventurous and fascinated by live reptiles and amphibians you can book an alligator and wildlife tour.
Think kayaking is boring or are afraid to try it? Few experiences are more awesome than paddling on moonlit waters and from mid April through early November you can take a safe guided tour with an interpretive naturalist and kayak expert.
Never kayaked before? No problem. There are many different kinds of kayak tours that begin with a brief paddling clinic, including kayaking basics and simple strokes. All tours allow you to see and experience nature and the local wildlife on an intimate basis.
If you prefer to see things from a different perspective you might enjoy parasailing where you can enjoy stunning aerial views of the sound, marshes and island.
Or have fun learning a new sport such as stand up paddle boarding.
If you love horses you can go to the 603 acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve and take a horseback or Clydesdale carriage ride through winding trails beneath a canopy of Palmettos and moss covered oaks past a 4,000 year old shell ring made by Indian moundbuilders and lakes that sparkle in the sun like shimmering jewels- Lake Mary, Joe and Thomas. In springtime you will see wild flowers in full bloom and each season brings an ever changing array of wildlife, plants and flowers.
The rest of this hub will focus on some specific places you can visit that will enhance your knowledge of the island and will include many photos of the wildlife, museums and land.
We shall start at the Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center & Museum of Hilton Head Island. Click on the thumbnails to see full size photos.
Hilton Head Welcome Center PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Start at Hilton Head Island Welcome Center
The ideal place to begin learning about the island is the Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center & Museum of Hilton Head Island which is off Rte. 278 just after you cross the James F. Byrnes Bridge. The center has beautiful displays and many brochures that will help you plan your own adventures or book tours with experts.
I recommend picking up a copy of "101 Things to do on Hilton Head Island" which is sure to have suggestions for activities that will appeal to everyone in your vacationing group or family.
Some excellent free pamphlets/brochures about wildlife, birds, ecology and island history that are available at the center include:
- "Birding on Hilton Head Island, SC" published by the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society. This glossy brochure shows photos of some of the most common birds and lists 10 hotspots where novice and expert birders are most likely to find them. For more information go to www.hiltonheadaudubon.org.
- "A Guide to Hilton Head Island Historic Sites," published by the Hilton Head Island and Blufftton Chamber of Commerce. This is a pull-out brochure and map that includes a brief history of the island and highlights 16 sites that have historical significance.
- "Around the Horn: A Self-Guided Tour of Historic Honey Horn." Honey Horn is a historic house that was once a private home and hunting retreat but is now home to the Coastal Discovery Museum's gift store and many permanent and temporary exhibits. The museum has many family-friendly seasonal programs and tours and this brochure highlights some of them.
- "NMFS Southeast Region Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle viewing Guidelines" is a glossy fold-out pamphlet that teaches visitors a viewing code of conduct that will ensure visitor and marine mammal safety. It also has information about Federal laws and fines that may be incurred if the laws are not obeyed.
- "Adventure Guide to the Lowcountry" is a glossy 15 page pamphlet published by Outside Hilton Head Outdoor Outfitters that details water sports and adventure tours. You can find more information about their tours at www.outsidehiltonhead.com . This is not the only company that offers these kind of tours but because it has 5 different locations throughout the island you're likely to find one close to where you're staying.
- If you are hungry when you're at the welcome center consider eating at The Crazy Crab Restaurant which is right next door and has delicious seafood with fabulous water views (I included photos in the welcome center tour).
- Or have a picnic on the outside tables on the deck of the welcome center. The deck is shaded by live oak trees.
Visit Honey Horn PlantationClick thumbnail to view full-size
If you're longing to stroll through the grounds of an old fashioned plantation, picnic under live oak trees, enjoy boardwalk views of the marsh, view educational films, exhibits and attend lectures, walk through a butterfly sanctuary and see the flowers and plants that are native to Hilton Head Island visit the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn Plantation.
There are also many special events held on the grounds throughout the year. For more information visit the Coastal Discovery Museum website at www.coastaldiscovery.org or call 843-689-6767.
Gullah Tours in air-conditioned vans depart from here. To learn about the Gullah people view the Gullah Tour video.
Gullah Tour Video
Photo Tour of Coastal Discovery Museum ExhibitsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Visit Heritage Library: Bringing Past to Life
History buffs from every state will enjoy a visit to The Heritage Library which is a genealogy and history center on Hilton Head Island,.The library is an authorized branch of the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, and part of the research system of the Genealogical Society of Utah.
Knowledgeable volunteers will greet and guide you to the large collections of materials on local, regional, state, and national history. The library's collections include CDs, microfilm and microfiche records, books and periodicals and there are computer work stations where patrons can access and search the library's indexed holdings.
Those interested in genealogy can use one of the computer work stations to access the major research websites such as AncestryLibraryService, FamilySearch, Genealogy.com, Origins Network, Heritage Quest, and Footnotes.
Library staff and volunteers also provide community education through lectures, workshops, and seminars on a wide range of historical and family heritage topics.
There is a nominal fee of $10 per day to use research materials, and nominal fees for lectures and workshops. It's also possible to purchase a 1 year membership for full access to the library and other benefits. For more information call 843-686-6560.
Visit Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge
Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge was once part of a plantation owned by Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney during the early 1800's. Though no plantation structures exist today, visitors can get an experience of what Hilton Head Island was like before it was commercially developed.
Almost two-thirds of the refuge consists of saltmarsh and tidal creeks. There is also forestland and freshwater ponds and the combination of these habitats support wildlife such as waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptor, white-tailed deer and American alligators. Visitors may also see groups of white ibis, herons and egrets.
Pelicans are Abundant on Hilton Head Island
Photo Tour of Compass Rose ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Visit Compass Rose Park
Compass Rose Park has meditation fountains and several open pavilions that show a pictorial history of the initial commercial development of Hilton Head Island which began in 1956 when Charles E. Fraser developed the now famous Sea Pines Resort. Fraser was a committed environmentalist and went to great lengths to protect the trees that were within the Sea Pines Plantation and later developers and also the Town of Hilton Head followed his example.
Learning about the care and planning that went into preserving nature, wildlife and trees on Hilton Head Island, and which was put into reality when Sea Pines was built, will help you appreciate this stunningly beautiful community even more.
- Compass Rose Park is a great place to relax, watch great herons and egrets, picnic at one of the small tables and/or bring a board game such as checkers, scrabble or chess. You can also bring your laptop (there's free Wi-Fi), ipod, Kindle or Nook to use while resting on a bench or on the wooden swing.
- The park is a great place to eat some award winning ice cream from the Hilton Head Ice Cream shop located in Fountain Plaza which is just across from Compass Rose Park.
Photo Tour of Harbour Town Lighthouse Museum in Sea PinesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Visit Harbour Town Lighthouse & Sea Pines Forest Preserve
Harbour Town Lighthouse Museum is inside the Sea Pines Plantation Grounds which is the private, gated community originally developed by Charles Fraser. Visitors must pay a $5.00 one day entrance fee per car regardless of number of passengers for a parking permit that must be displayed at all times.
There is free parking and a trolley shuttle during the summer, early fall and late spring months. As parking at Harbour Town is very limited, it's best to use the trolley shuttle once inside the Sea Pines Plantation.
The Harbour Town Lighthouse Museum is an iconic landmark that people from all over the world recognize. Visitors can take the Lighthouse Legend Tour for an informative, fun, and educational experience that offers fantastic views of Harbour Town. For more information go to http://harbourtownlighthouse.com .
Discover the scenic Sea Pines Forest Preserve on horseback. The preserve encompasses 603 protected acres that will let you experience a true feel of the untouched Lowcounty. Horseback riding trails and Clydesdale Carriage rides wind through a canopy of live oak trees draped with Spanish Moss and Palmetto trees. Reservations must be made in advance by calling the Lawton Stables at the Sea Pines Resort 843-671-2586.
HHI: A Beautiful Place for Nature Lovers
Plan a Trip to Hilton Head Island
I hope that you now realize that Hilton Head Island, South Carolina has far more to offer than just world class beaches and golfing. This hub has only touched upon a few of the learning opportunities, tours and museums that are available but it should give you a good start on planning a vacation to Hilton Head.
I suggest contacting the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce before your visit and requesting a copy of The Official Vacation Planner that they publish each year. The Chamber can be reached at 1-800-523-3373 (toll free accessible in USA only) or 843-785-3673. Their website address is hiltonheadisland.org.
Hilton Head Island
The Heritage Library.
Harbour Town Lighthouse Museum is a museum and gift shop that's housed inside a lighthouse. The view from the top is stunning.