Visit Bald Head Island and You Won’t Want to Leave

Bald Head Island LimitedVisit Bald Head Island and You Won’t Want to Leave

On Bald Head Island, you'll enjoy outdoor recreation in some of the most beautiful scenes imaginable

Bald Head Island is only a 20-minute ferry ride from Southport and the modern-day mainland, but it feels a world away. While lush nature preserves cover more than 80 percent of the island, protecting views seen by the Spanish explorers who first mapped it about 500 years ago, there’s still room for the lodging, activities and amenities to make your vacation memorable.

The island has its own transportation system, and this will be your first encounter with the true definition of “getaway” you’re embarking on. Cars are prohibited, so park yours in secure lots at the mainland terminal. But before you board the ferry, reserve seats on the island tram. It will take you and your belongings from the ferry to your vacation rental. Each person can bring up to six pieces of luggage on the ferry at no cost. The ferry, tram, island and many rentals are dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your pet and its leash.

Bald Head Island golf cart travel

photo credit: Bald Head Island Limited

No cars are allowed on the island, and you'll appreciate that

Some rentals include a golf cart, which is the preferred means of getting around the island. If not, rent one or a bicycle for your entire stay or a quick sight-seeing tour. The quiet, narrow streets make walking a great way to explore. You’ll need less than 30 minutes to stroll the main branch of M. Kent Mitchell Nature Trail, though walking its secondary paths can turn it into a longer hike. It is level and has wooden boardwalks that cross protected salt marshes that are perfect for kayaking.

Unique plants and animals thrive in Bald Head Island’s subtropical climate. The island is the northernmost point in the U.S. where sabal palms naturally grow. Walk among them and stands of live oaks, cedars, junipers and wax myrtles at Bald Head Woods State Reserve, one of the East Coast’s largest maritime forests. The many greenspaces make the island feel cooler than other beach destinations, which is especially desirable during summer months.

Bald Head Island is home to alligators, foxes and more than 260 species of birds. Watchers flock here to see snowy egrets, brown pelicans and vibrantly colored painted buntings. Have Bald Head Island Conservancy naturalists point them out during a tour. They can introduce you to another special resident that they work to protect. The island is an important East Coast nesting site for endangered loggerhead sea turtles. Sign up for a Turtle Walk and you could see a female turtle nesting in early summer or her hatchlings racing to the ocean a few months later.

Bald Head Island kid fishing

photo credit: Bald Head Island Limited

Enjoy fishing and other beach activities just steps away from your vacation rental

Climb all 108 steps of Bald Head Lighthouse – the oldest still standing in North Carolina – for a 360-degree view of the state’s southernmost barrier island and its offerings. Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, “Old Baldy” was built in 1817, and it was a recognizable location in the cult classic Weekend at Bernie’s. Hear more of the iconic lighthouse’s story at the Smith Island Museum and on the history tour, which includes Fort Holmes, used by the Confederates to keep Civil War supply lines open, and British Fort George, site of a Revolutionary War amphibious attack, the first in U.S. military history.

Visit in the fall to savor a traditional oyster roast, where the locally raked shellfish are cooked over an open fire. You won’t go hungry other times. Watch boats from the patio at Mojo’s on the Harbor, whose varied menu includes the popular toasted coconut shrimp. Arrive early for coffee or breakfast at Maritime Market Café because it gets crowded fast. Choose from daily specials or its popular breakfast sandwiches and grits.

Bald Head Island MoJo's on the Harbor

photo credit: Bald Head Island Limited

Relax during an evening of dining and cocktails at MoJo's on the Harbor

If you desire to prepare a meal or two during your stay at the vacation rental, you’ll find fresh ingredients – from local produce to seafood – at the market, which also offers grocery delivery. There’s shopping in the area, too. Bring home a local artist’s work from All About Art or island-inspired fashions from Bald Head Blues.

Start exploring Bald Head Island’s 14 miles of beaches at Cape Fear Point, where notorious navigation hazard Frying Pan Shoals extends offshore for 30 miles. But the shoals you’ll want on your radar is the Shoals Club, where there’s fun for the whole family, including the clubhouse, pool, and boardwalk extending to South Beach. The club also hosts special events such as scavenger hunts and outdoor movie nights.

Beachcombing is best on South Beach, which runs east and west. It also is the site of a special wintertime spectacle. You can watch the sun rise, glide low across the southern sky and set from the same spot. Fishing and crabbing are popular beach activities. Take a swim or try surfing with a rental and lesson from The Sail Shop or a stand-up paddleboard from Coastal Urge.

Bald Head Island Shoals Club

photo credit: Bald Head Island Limited

The Shoals Club is one of two clubs on the island, each offering great amenities

Between the beach and the lighthouse is Bald Head Island Club. Play its tennis courts, croquet course or golf course, which recently underwent a $4 million renovation. The redesign incorporates many island inspired elements such as sand dunes and freshwater lagoons. It even helps your score – the fairways were widened to compensate for cross breezes from the ocean, which you can see from seven tees.

Schedule the tram to return you and your belongings to the landing when it’s time for your Bald Head Island trip to end. If you’re leaving anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day, sit on the ferry’s upper deck, where you can savor the ocean and island views one more time.

Written by Pete M. Anderson for, in partnership with Bald Head Island.

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