The beautiful southern state of South Carolina has 187 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, known as the Low Country. Just off the coast is one of the most striking parts of the state – its Sea Islands, a long chain of barrier and tidal islands that are constantly changing with the tides and currents, rich in history and spectacularly beautiful. Most islands are famous for magnificent long and wide sandy beaches that attract thousands of tourists. Residents are devoted to preserving the islands’ fragile ecosystems, and large tracts of land on the islands are protected in parks or wildlife refuges and are full of birds. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
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Kiawah Island is a barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean, about 21 miles from Charleston, South Carolina, and is mostly operated as a gated private golf and resort island. This lush, green island has 10 miles of magnificent wide sandy beaches, 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, 123 acres of parks, and first-class golf courses. The best way to see the true beauty of the island is from the Marsh Island Lookout Tower in Marsh Island Park. You will be able to see the Kiawah River, vast saltwater marshes, and a scattering of island hammocks. The Heron Park Nature Center offers nature tours, butterfly walks, birding walks, and alligator walks. The great egret rookery is home to dozens of these beautiful white birds, which you can see perched in trees in the lagoon. Beachwalker Park has a wide boardwalk winding through oaks, palmettos, and pines. Things to Do on Kiawah Island
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Daufuskie Island is located between Savannah and Hilton Head Island and is the southernmost inhabited South Carolina Sea Island. It covers only about 8 square miles but it has 3 miles of beachfront. It has very few paved roads and its ancient oaks give it a timeless feel of a place lost in the past. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Calibogue Sound, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Daufuskie Island is only accessible by ferry or boat, and has a population of only about 400 people. The island offers a fascinating cultural experience with old Gullah houses, environmental preserves, art galleries, and private communities. The entire island has been declared a Historic District. The northeast part of the island is the private residential club Haig Point Club. The western part is unincorporated land. Haig Point is a great place to stay, offering a choice of vacation activities and dining options.
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Bear Island is only an hour from Charleston but a world away from civilization. This undeveloped 12,021-acre South Carolina Sea Island near the village of Benetts Point is part of an estuarine reserve and a Wildlife Management Area popular for biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, and bird watching. Serene and completely undeveloped, the island was once a rice plantation but the old rice fields are now left to the birds and wildlife, including the roughly 50 species of birds that make Bear Island their home. The rice was grown at water level, since most of the island is a wetland. Hikers can pass by some of the magnificent old plantation houses that are now being reclaimed by nature. The island is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
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Callawassie Island is located about 17 miles from Beaufort, South Carolina, one of hundreds of South Carolina’s barrier Sea Islands in the coastal plain. The island is located in the estuary of the Port Royal Sound, about 10 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and completely surrounded by tidal creeks and salt marshes. There is a half-mile-long causeway that connects the island to the mainland, but it can also be reached by boat through the deep Colleton River waters. The island covers 880 acres between the Callawassie Creek and the Okatie, Little Chechessee, and Colleton Rivers. The island has about 5 miles of waterfront on the Port Royal Sound Basin salt marshes. It was designated a Community Wildlife Habitat with more than 200 residences certified as Backyard Wildlife Habitats. The residents, the owners of 717 homes on the island, enjoy private access to 33 lagoons, one butterfly garden, three parks, and three rookeries. There is also a 27-hole golf course.
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5.Barrier Island SC: Capers Island
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Capers Island is a quaint, undeveloped South Carolina barrier island about 15 miles from Charleston, located between the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and Dewees Island, almost 3 miles from the mainland. About 3 miles long, it is accessible only by boat. It includes 214 acres of beach, 850 acres of maritime uplands, 1,090 acres of salt marsh, and more than 100 acres of brackish water land. The island is part of the 60-mile-long stretch of the coast that is protected from any type of development and owned by the state or federal government. The island is famous for a beach called the “bone-yard” because of the old tree stumps and skeletons that have bleached by the sun. The beach is a popular destination for photographers and beach combers. The island is full of wildlife, such as deer, raccoons, and loggerhead turtles, and there is an abundance of birds that thrive in the unspoiled and untouched wilderness.
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6.Island off South Carolina: Deveaux Bank
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Deveaux Bank is a 215-acre bird sanctuary on a sandy horseshoe-shaped sand island at the entrance to the North Edisto River in South Carolina's Charleston County. It is located between Edisto and Seabrook Islands off the Atlantic coast. It is very low, with an average elevation of only 3 feet. It has almost 3 miles of sandy beaches on its three sides and on the fourth side is a tidal lagoon, facing the mainland. The island’s shape constantly changes with the currents and tides. It is home to thousands of birds and is managed and protected by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The island is very popular with kayakers, since it is common to encounter bottlenose dolphins, bonnethead sharks, and blue crabs while cruising around the island. Camping is not allowed.
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7.Island off South Carolina: Dewees Island
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Dewees Island is a small barrier island located about 11 miles from Charleston. The island is privately owned and consists of residential properties and a wildlife preserve. It can only be accessed by private boat or ferry. The owners of the properties are naturalists and environmentally conscious people who take care of protecting and preserving the sensitive environment of the barrier island. There are only 150 homesites, and the building codes are very strict. The island has no paved roads and all houses are built to fit into the island’s forests. There is no development on the 3-mile-long beachfront, which is left untouched, offering spectacular views. The Dewees Island Nature Preserve is home to many shorebirds, turtles, raccoons, and white-tailed deer. Things to Do in Charleston SC
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Dreher Island is part of the state park that includes three islands. Together, they cover 348 acres and offer access to almost 12 miles of shoreline on Lake Murray. The park is located about 30 miles from the state's capital, Columbia. The lake is a reservoir of the Saluda River, created as a result of building the Dreher Shals Dam. Dreher Island is covered by dense woods and is a popular destination for tourists who love to explore its hiking trails and fishermen looking for large-mouth bass in addition to boaters and campers. The only access to the island is a bridge located on its north side.
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Edisto Island is one of South Carolina's Sea Islands, located about 42 miles from Charleston. Edisto Island was inhabited by the native Edisto people for centuries before white plantation owners started using it in the 1700s for timber, hunting, and growing indigo, rice, and cotton. Most of the labor was done by African slaves. Since the 20th century, the island has been developed as a resort and tourist destination, while there are still some private plantations. The island is the location of Edisto Beach, the Wyndham Ocean Ridge resort, and Edisto Island State Park. The park has a playground, an education center, a ranger station, and wonderful campsites on the beachfront with a view of the ocean.
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10.Barrier Island SC: Folly Island
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Folly Island is a barrier island, one of the South Carolina Sea Islands, in Charleston County, South Carolina. The 7-square-mile island was used during the American Civil War by the Union Army as an important staging area for attacking Confederate soldiers in the Charleston area. The largest town on the Island is Folly Beach. Folly Beach County Park is a popular tourist destination and the access point for the best beach on the island. The park is located at the west end of the island and has 2,500 feet of ocean front, boogie boarding and picnic areas as well as umbrella, chair, and bike rentals. Visitors can encounter loggerhead turtles and dolphins in the waters around the island and bald eagles in the sky. The Folly Beach Fishing Pier is perfect for fishing and bird and dolphin watching.
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11.Barrier Island SC: Fripp Island
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Fripp Island is a 6.5-square-mile barrier island located about 21 miles from Beaufort along the Atlantic coast of South Carolina. The island is a popular residential vacation resort, but it also has several hundred permanent residents. It is the most seaward of all the South Carolina Sea Islands and is known for its great resort amenities and careful natural conservation of the island’s fragile environment and resident wildlife. Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort offers 3.5 miles of sandy beach, tennis courts, two golf courses, kayaking, a water park with a kiddy pool, alligator slides, and a frog fountain. Most guests get around in a golf cart.
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Located between Mt. Pleasant and Isle of Palms on the Intracoastal Waterway, Goat Island is one of the smallest islands in this region of South Carolina. The island got its name thanks to the goats that local celebrity Bubba Love and his friends bring to the island and let lose. There are some peacocks there now as well. Watching goats from the Marsh Walk, a boardwalk overlooking the marsh, is a popular tourist pastime. The island was once home to a reclusive couple, Blanche and Henry Holloway, who lived here to escape civilization. Many years later, the island still has the same vibe – a sanctuary for those seeking peace and tranquility. Mostly marshland, the island offers very rustic amenities and is accessible only by boat.
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One of the Carolina Sea Islands, Harbor Island is a tiny private resort island about 14 miles from Beaufort. Most of the island is covered in tidal marsh, but about 800 acres of land on the northeast end of the island are upland. The island was an uninhabited hunting ground until the late 1930s. With the construction of the swing drawbridge across the Harbor River, which connected Harbor Island with Saint Helena Island, development began slowly until the Fripp company turned the island into a gated resort and residential community. The island is famous for the massive sand dunes covered in coastal grasses and sea oats as well as its 3 miles of pristine sandy beaches. Harbor Island is part of the important bird area of the Beaufort Barrier Islands.
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Hunting Island is a secluded 5,000-acre semitropical barrier island about 15 miles from Beaufort, South Carolina. The island was declared a state park in 1935 and is part of the ACE Basin Estuarine Reserve. It is the most popular state park in South Carolina as well as one of the last undeveloped Sea Islands in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The most interesting feature in the park is the 19th century lighthouse, but what brings most visitors to the island is its spectacular sandy beach, listed as one of the best beaches in the country.
15.Isle of Palms
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About 12 miles from downtown Charleston, the Isle of Palms is a small barrier island surrounded by pristine sand beaches and intersected by a network of marsh creeks. The island has been popular vacation destination since the 19th century, but it became much more attractive after a bridge was constructed in 1929. The town of Isle of Palms is located on a narrow strip of land along the beach, with the Intracoastal Waterway separating it from the mainland. The island of today is an affluent community with large oceanfront homes, high class resorts, and gourmet restaurants. The island is known for its beach volleyball tournaments, the Wild Dunes Resort, and the turtles that lay eggs on the beach every year.
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16.Barrier Island SC: Johns Island
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Johns Island is the largest island in South Carolina. It is a barrier island off the coast of Charleston County, surrounded by Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, James Island, and Wadmalaw Island. The Stono River, a part of the Intracoastal Waterway, separates Johns Island from the mainland. The island’s most famous feature is the ancient Angel Oak, a live oak tree believed to be up to 500 years old. The 65-feet-tall tree provides massive shade to a 17,000-square-foot area. There is a small park around the tree with a visitors’ center operated by the City of Charleston. The first settlers on Johns Island came from Barbados and named the island after the Saint John Parish in Barbados.
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Lady's Island is one of South Carolina’s Sea Islands, located north of Port Royal and Beaufort. Today predominantly residential, the island was agricultural and rural during most of its history. A bridge, constructed in the 1920s, brought more rapid development, turning former indigo plantations into residential subdivisions. A second bridge was constructed in 1980 and the two bridges offer the most spectacular views of the entire island, greeting visitors before they arrive. The island has miles of beautiful waterfront and easily accessible boat ramps. Many of the homes are built on large pieces of land, with equestrian farms and maritime forests.
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18.Barrier Island SC: Morgan Island
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Morgan Island is one of the South Carolina Sea Islands, a barrier island located just north of Beaufort, between the Coosaw and Morgan Rivers. It borders Parrot Creek and Saint Helena Sound. This uninhabited island is popularly called Monkey Island because it is home to a colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys. The colony was established in 1979 and is owned by the US Food and Drug Administration. The monkeys, of which there are more than 3,000, are part of a colony that was once used for testing and biomedical research. Morgan Island is covered by 4,489 acres of marshland and 635 acres of upland. The 370-acre part of the island’s upland is covered by a semi-tropical maritime forest, which offers a home to the resident monkeys.
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Morris Island is an uninhabited 840-acre island in the outer reaches of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina and is only accessible by boat. It is part of the cities of Folly Beach and Charleston, in Charleston County. The island played a strategic role in the American Civil War due to its location and was heavily fortified in order to defend Charleston Harbor, particularly around Fort Wagner. Of the island’s four forts, the forces of erosion have destroyed most, including parts of Fort Wagner. The island’s other attractions are two lighthouses. The more famous of the two is the Morris Island Light, on the southern side of the Charleston Harbor entrance, just north of Folly Beach. There are number of tour boats that take visitors to the island.
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Pinckney Island is located between Hilton Head Island and the mainland in Beaufort County, South Carolina. The island is home to the 4,053-acre Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which was established to protect and preserve the island’s forest and other environments. The refuge also includes the Big Harry and Little Harry Islands, Corn Island, Buzzard Island, and many small hammocks. The largest of the islands in the refuge, Pinckney is the only one open to the public. Most of the refuge is covered by salt marsh and a number of tidal creeks, and Pinckney Island includes more salt marsh, brushland, fallow fields, forestland, and freshwater ponds. These diverse habitats support a large number of birds. There are 115 prehistoric and historic sites on the island. It is popular with nature enthusiasts for hiking, biking, nature photography, and enjoying wildlife. There are 10 miles of hiking trails in the refuge.
21.Port Royal Island
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Port Royal Island is a Sea Island in the South Carolina’s Lowcountry region, located in Beaufort County. It is the most populated island in the county and also contains the Naval Hospital Beaufort and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The island has historically been agricultural, with a number of large plantations in the antebellum era. Since the early 1960s, the island has been developed to become predominantly residential and commercial, although the western parts of the island still have a quaint rural character. The town of Port Royal is the largest on the island, attracting large numbers of tourists with great boating, fishing, bird watching, hiking, and relaxing opportunities. The historical downtown streets are lovely, with well-preserved antebellum mansions and ancient live oaks draped in moss. There are beautiful views of Battery Creek and Beaufort River wherever you look.
22.Saint Helena Island
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Saint Helena Island is an inland Sea Island in South Carolina’s Beaufort County, connected to Beaufort by U.S. Highway 21, only a few miles from Beaufort. It is part of the Beaufort Sea Islands. The island covers about 64 square miles and has a population of 8,763. The island is known for its quaint rural Lowcountry vibe and is a major culture and language center of the African American Gullah people. Saint Helena Island does not front the Atlantic Ocean and is surrounded by vast marshes, especially along the southeastern part of the island. The island is divided into different communities, each with a very distinct identity. The two most established are Lands End and Frogmore. Visitors to Saint Helena can enjoy the real glimpse into traditional Lowcountry rural life. Downtown Frogmore is delightful, with colorful art galleries, shops, and restaurants serving local dishes.
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Spring Island is a 3,000-acre South Carolina coastal Sea Island covered by a dense forest of live oaks, nicely blended with upscale waterfront homes, the Colleton and Chechessee Nature Preserves, and a residential community. The residents enjoy a range of luxury amenities such as two clubhouses, restaurants, golf courses, an equestrian center, deep water docks, 300 hiking trails, a sports complex, swimming pools, and much more. Spring Island’s unique coastal topography has created a rare mix of habitats with more than 600 species of plants. The species range from those inhabiting ancient hardwood bottomland swamp to others that normally live in mountain regions and salt marshes.
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Wadmalaw Island is located southwest of Johns Island and is pretty much encircled by it. It is bordered by Church Creek, Bohicket Creek, and the North Edisto River. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge over Church Creek. The island, which is about 10 miles long and 6 miles wide, has a population of 2,611. From 1960 until 1987, Wadmalaw Island was the location of the Lipton Tea Company’s experimental tea farm. While it has changed hands a few times, the tea farm still exists on the island and is the only one of its kind in the country.
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Waties Island is an almost untouched, undeveloped barrier island located off South Carolina’s eastern coast. The island is primarily used as an educational research facility by the Coastal Carolina University. Before the Europeans arrived, the island was inhabited by the Waccamaw Indians, who left a number of artifacts, ceramics, and burial mounds. The island was given to the university by Horace Tilghman, who bought it in 1920. Waties Island was deliberately left undeveloped by its prior private owners and is one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on the coast of South Carolina.
25 of the Most Beautiful South Carolina Islands
- Kiawah Island, Photo: Courtesy of kmm7553 - Fotolia.com
- Daufuskie Island, Photo: Courtesy of chrt2hrt - Fotolia.com
- Bear Island, Photo: Courtesy of kmm7553 - Fotolia.com
- Callawassie Island, Photo: Courtesy of preechasua - Fotolia.com
- Barrier Island SC: Capers Island, Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
- Island off South Carolina: Deveaux Bank, Photo: Courtesy of Ross - Fotolia.com
- Island off South Carolina: Dewees Island, Photo: Courtesy of Matt - Fotolia.com
- Dreher Island, Photo: Courtesy of molotok289 - Fotolia.com
- Edisto Island, Photo: Courtesy of tobyanna - Fotolia.com
- Barrier Island SC: Folly Island, Photo: Courtesy of James Deitsch - Fotolia.com
- Barrier Island SC: Fripp Island, Photo: Courtesy of Dusty's Box - Fotolia.com
- Goat Island, Photo: Courtesy of Double Image Studio - Fotolia.com
- Harbor Island, Photo: Courtesy of Tsvetelin Dobrev - Fotolia.com
- Hunting Island, Photo: Courtesy of trailfan - Fotolia.com
- Isle of Palms, Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hinkle - Fotolia.com
- Barrier Island SC: Johns Island, Photo: Courtesy of skiserge1 - Fotolia.com
- Lady's Island, Photo: Courtesy of Kagenmi - Fotolia.com
- Barrier Island SC: Morgan Island, Photo: Courtesy of skiserge1 - Fotolia.com
- Morris Island, Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
- Pinckney Island, Photo: Courtesy of maggier89 - Fotolia.com
- Port Royal Island, Photo: Courtesy of dmsphoto - Fotolia.com
- Saint Helena Island, Photo: Courtesy of sbgoodwin - Fotolia.com
- Spring Island, Photo: Courtesy of Pakphipat - Fotolia.com
- Wadmalaw Island, Photo: Courtesy of ThierryDehove - Fotolia.com
- Waties Island, Photo: Courtesy of kmm7553 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
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