A bike, hike, beach getaway to Hilton Head

Off-season means no crowds, plenty to do

We planned to stay home this month to rest, play catch up and prepare for the holidays. Turns out we don’t stay home all that well and the desire to wander struck again.

We do several major trips a year, but in between we do a lot of three- and four-night getaways. They tend to be spontaneous and adventure finds us once we get there. So off we headed for Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The plan was to hang out on the beach and be low key. We each had a book to read. I had illusions of culling and organizing 1,650 photos from our United Kingdom trip.

Coligny Beach Park
Coligny Beach Park
Hilton Head Island 100 miles trail
Hilton Head Island includes more than 100 miles of trail for bikers and walkers
Hilton Head Island includes hundreds of acres of parks

The first thing that struck us on arrival was how many people were out on bicycles. The town maintains 60 miles of mixed-use pathways for cycling, plus there’s 50 more miles within the island’s private communities. Kiosks throughout mean you’ll never be lost. Frequent road crossings and sharing the paths with pedestrians means you won’t be pounding out the miles at breakneck speed, but Hilton Head is one of the prettiest places we’ve seen to tootle (enjoy a slow, scenic ride).

Once we hit the trails, we quickly forgot our plans to read and relax and sought places to pedal.

Harbour Town Lighthouse Hilton Head
Harbour Town Lighthouse
Stoney-Baynard ruins
Stoney-Baynard ruins

Biking Sea Pines

The Sea Pines community was recommended by a local as a great place to bike. Along its 15 miles of trail we visited the iconic Harbour Town, home to the lighthouse most often associated with Hilton Head and scene of the PGA’s annual RBC Heritage golf tournament. After visiting a few shops we sought out island history and discovered Stoney-Baynard ruins, a self-guided walk through the ruins of an antebellum plantation and the 605-acre Forest Preserve. We hoped to see the 4,000-year-old Indian Shell Ring but that area was closed due to debris from last year’s hurricane. So impressive that this piece of wilderness exists in the middle of one of America’s favorite tourist destinations.

Subaru bike trip
Biking became hiking after our bicycle rack was damaged.
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Hiking at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Biking (oops, hiking) Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

While biking the Forest Preserve, we chatted with a local woman out riding her horse. She recommended we bicycle Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge for 14 miles of gravel and grass trail and the chance to see the low country how it looked before development. The island is comprised of salt marsh, forests and freshwater ponds that are home to a diverse population of birds and plants (plus the occasional alligator and snake).

This could be a hot and buggy place at the wrong time of year, but our visit in November was the perfect time.

We saved Pinckney for our last day, planning to pack the car, bike and leave directly from the island to head home. The day went slightly off course when we discovered that our bike rack was hit by a car overnight at our hotel and damaged beyond use. We determined our only option to was get everything inside the car for the trip home. We had a “love our Subaru” moment once we successfully loaded the back end with two bicycles, a damaged bike rack, two suitcases, two backpacks, two beach chairs, one beach tent, one cooler and a beach bag. Whew.

That was the good news. The bad news was to get our bikes out of the car at Pinckney we would have to remove most of the above-mentioned baggage. So biking the refuge became hiking the refuge. It was a great day but we want to go back and bike.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge hike
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful place to hike and see wildlife
Pinckney Island salt marsh
Pinckney Island salt marsh
14 miles of trail take visitors to forests, freshwater ponds and salt marsh

Things we love about Hilton Head Island

  • We stayed at Coligny Beach. This could be a traffic logjam in summer, but in late fall it was the perfect location as we could walk and bike anywhere we wanted to go on the island.
  • Skillets Café & Grill was our breakfast spot the first day. We liked it so much we returned here all three days and enjoyed omelettes, skillets (think potatoes, eggs, meat and veggies all combined in a skillet), benedicts and French toast.
  • Skull Creek Boathouse was our favorite for dinner. We opted to have drinks and watch sunset in their Marker 13 Buoy Bar on the banks of Skull Creek. The vibe was all Key West laid back. The selection of 100 wines, signature cocktails and extensive menu attract locals and visitors. Travel and Leisure Magazine named Marker 13 one of the Top 30 Outdoor Bars in America.
  • Hilton Head’s 12 miles of beach are beautiful to walk, bike or just hang out. Low tide brings tide pools, great places for the grandkids to play and maybe spot small fish and other tide pool curiosities.
  • Savannah is only 30 miles from Hilton Head Island. This trip was too short to venture over but we will next time. Savannah’s history and dining are a great compliment to any Hilton Head stay.

Planning for our next visit

Our brief off-season adventure to Hilton Head was a big hit. We want to come back and spend several weeks off-season. And we want to come here with the grandkids. With its beach, walking and biking this is our kind of place. Hilton Head has a large enough permanent population that most everything stays open year round, a problem at other beaches where many things close down for winter.

Funny we didn’t mention playing golf or tennis – two of the major Hilton Head attractions. They are on our bucket list of things to pursue in retirement. Maybe next time, when there is more time.

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