Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

#7 in Best Things To Do in Hilton Head
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge picture
Teresa Kopec/Getty Images

Price & Hours



Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
  • 5.0Value
  • 1.0Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

Hilton Head doesn't have a zoo, but that doesn't mean it's lacking in wildlife. To catch a glimpse of some of the island's longtime residents in their natural habitat, head to the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Spread out across 4,053 acres, the refuge comprises Pinckney Island, Corn Island, Big and Little Harry Islands, Buzzard Island and many small hammocks. It's important to know that Pinckney Island is the only island open for public use, though there's no shortage of things to do. On Pinckney, visitors are treated to 14 miles of scenic hiking and biking trails that weave through freshwater ponds, salt marshes and maritime forest. While here, you'll likely spot a variety of birds (the refuge houses 250 species) as well as alligators, turtles and deer, among other wildlife. While here, be on the lookout for the White Ibis, and if you're visiting during the summer, the multicolored Painting Bunt, the latter of which is a species at risk of endangerment. 

Whether or not you're an animal person, travelers highly recommended a visit to the refuge, saying it's the perfect place to get some R&R with Hilton Head's beautiful natural surroundings. Travelers were delighted at the lack of crowds, nothing that even during the busy summer season, the refuge felt completely empty. Many were also keen to note though that there is only one entrance to the wildlife refuge, so if you venture on a trail, you have to come all the way back too. Another important thing to keep in mind is that there is minimal shade in the refuge, so come equipped with a hat and slathered in sunscreen.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is located about 10 miles north of downtown Hilton Head. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset; the entrance gate closes approximately 30 minutes after sunset. Keep in mind: There is no vehicle access into the refuge, other than to the free parking area about a quarter of a mile from the entrance. From there, visitors are only permitted to walk or bike. Trail guides are available at the trailhead adjacent to the parking area. Alligators, stinging insects, poison ivy and snakes are prevalent throughout the refuge. Remember to pack insect repellent and never feed or harass the animals that call the refuge home. Since overgrowth on some trails can conceal some of the refuge's more dangerous critters, keep your guard up and tread carefully. There's no drinking water available at the refuge nor are there restrooms inside the refuge. Entrance to the refuge is free of charge. For more information on Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge, visit the attraction's website

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Coligny Beach
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#1 Coligny Beach

Coligny Beach is by far the most popular beach in Hilton Head. The shoreline is scenic as can be and the adjacent beach park features a wealth of amenities perfect for beachgoers of all ages. Not only are there restrooms and showers but also separate changing rooms, plenty of benches and gazebos with swings to shade yourself from the sun. There's also loads of eateries just a stone's throw from the sand (think: coffee shops, ice cream shops and seafood restaurants) and should you forget an umbrella, you can rent that here in addition to beach chairs. What's more, parking is free.

Recent visitors, especially those traveling with families, love Coligny Beach. Along with the beautiful Carolinian coastal scenery, visitors praise the beach's clean facilities and nearby amenities. And although the beach is known to get pretty crowded during summer, some travelers note that if you walk long enough down the shore, away from the beach park, you can find fewer people taking up spots in the sand. If you are visiting during the summer though, be very wary of jellyfish. Sea Nettle jellyfish permeate the beach's waters from June to August or September. While lifeguards are equipped to deal with jellyfish injuries on the spot, it's stingray stings that are much more severe and often lead to a trip to the emergency room. Before getting in the water, ask lifeguards about conditions to avoid injury. 

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Courtesy of the Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau
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