Why Hilton Head Island Is an Outdoor Lover's Paradise

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Hike, swim, and boat through the low country to see the island at its best.

Hilton Head Island is a destination nature lovers can turn to 12 months out of the year. While the beaches and the hiking trails are the two main draws for those looking to escape to the great outdoors, the island is also known for pristine golf courses and no shortage of recreational activities, from tennis and squash to water sports. Whether you’re in the South Carolina low country for a week and want to get in a round of golf and a hike every day, or you’re planning a Hilton Head Island beach weekend, we’ve rounded up the very best of what to do on Hilton Head Island for an outdoorsy low country vacation. Here, the beaches and hiking areas that make Hilton Head Island a veritable wilderness lover’s paradise.

Best Beaches on Hilton Head Island

Coligny Beach


Courtesy Hilton Head Island 

On the south end of the island, Coligny Beach is one of the island’s most popular spots for sunshine, cresting waves, and sand castles. Coligny Beach has plenty of free parking, but it gets pretty lively when the weather is nice, so you’ll want to come early to grab a parking spot and prime beach real estate. It’s lined by a boardwalk with a few bars and restaurants if you need sustenance (and libations) for your beach day. 

Driessen Beach

A central beach on Hilton Head Island, Driessen Beach (often called Bradley Beach by the locals) is great for families, because the beach is actually lined with playgrounds and there are grills by the beach where you can prepare a lunch feast for your family. There’s plenty of parking near Driessen Beach, and unlike the beaches at the southern end of the island, it tends to get less crowded, making it an ideal spot to sprawl for the day.

Alder Lane Beach


Chris M. Rogers/Courtesy Hilton Head Island 

Alder is the island’s dog beach, so if you’re wondering what to do on Hilton Head Island with a furry companion, they can join you for a beach day here. Also centrally located on the island, adjacent to Bradley Beach, this is a great spot to spill over to if you’d like to see more than one of Hilton Head Island’s iconic beaches in one day. There’s metered parking right across the street from Alder Lane, and you’ll walk down a lovely elevated wooden path (which also makes it accessible for all) to get to this sugar-sand beach off South Forest Beach Drive.

Related: A Barbecue-Inspired Luxury Road Trip Across the South

Burkes Beach

On the north end of the island, Burkes Beach is the classic stretch of South Carolina coast, with glistening waters and a stretch of sand that feels infinite. A favorite beach among locals, Burkes Beach has very limited parking (just a few metered spots across the street), so we recommend parking by Chaplin Community Park, which still offers you access to Burkes Beach. There’s actually a lovely trail along Burkes Beach, too, if you want to get a hike in with a view of the water.  

Best Hiking Areas on Hilton Head Island

Audubon Newhall Preserve

The island’s 50-acre preserve is home to native plant life and rare, exceptionally old trees. What’s more, it offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing on Hilton Head Island, thanks to the Hilton Head Audubon’s wildlife habitat preservation initiative. Among Newhall’s scenic trails is a quick, two-mile loop that gives hikers a perfect introduction to some of the birds and awe-inspiring nature of Hilton Head Island. 

Jarvis Creek Park

Wildlife is an important part of Hilton Head Island’s outdoors culture. And the 53-acre Jarvis Creek Park is one of the best bird watching venues on the island; look for them in the trees lining the scenic lake, where the island birds tend to cluster. The park’s main loop is a quick 1.1-mile hike that will take you on the elevated path over the wetlands. And from the lovely swinging benches to the Jarvis Creek fishing dock, there are plenty of picturesque areas to stop for a picnic and enjoy the view of the water.

Sea Pines Forest Preserve


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You’ll find more than 600 acres of forest on the idyllic Sea Pines Resort. You’ll come to find, on Hilton Head Island, that Sea Pines is a frequent gathering point; not only is the Sea Pines Forest Preserve a beautiful place to explore the island’s natural beauty, but you can find golfing and plenty of recreation options, as well as luxury accommodations here. The preserve has four serene lakes, a myriad of wooded boardwalk paths over wetlands, and a protected wildlife habitat.

Related: Everything to Know When Planning to Hike the Appalachian Trail

Golf, Tennis, and Outdoor Recreation on Hilton Head Island

Oyster Reef Golf Club

The 12 miles of Hilton Head Island is a golfer’s haven—with 24 courses. But Oyster Reef Golf Club is considered one of the very best. With 18 holes on 190 acres, the Rees Jones-designed course offers picturesque low country scenery and a sixth hole with a view of the Calibogue Sound. Book your tee time in the morning and follow up your golf game with lunch at the club’s Lagerhead Tavern.

Outside Hilton Head 


Bill Reagan/Courtesy Hilton Head Island 

For families looking to book a private adventure experience while immersed in the Hilton Head Island outdoors, work with Outside Hilton Head for kayaking, fishing, or really any water sport imaginable (standup paddle boarding is always a good idea). The water is such an integral part of the Hilton Head Island experience that exploring the island outdoors calls for renting kayaks, taking a low country boating tour, or even trying your hand at shrimping. Rent equipment yourself for a DIY adventure experience, try a private family kayak tour, or look into Outside Hilton Head’s small group excursions.

Tennis at Sea Pines Resort


Courtesy Hilton Head Island 

For tennis lovers, one of the best places to work on your form is at a Sea Pines Resort tennis clinic. At the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy, players of all skill levels can sign up for private lessons or group drills, and the resort often hosts limited-edition series with some of the nation’s best tennis pros. Reserve a court online to play with a loved one, or book a multiday tennis package at SeaPines.