A Private Island Experience

Bulls Island, Cape Romain NWR


We’re going to take a break today from the Utah adventures of months past. We will occasionally be taking breaks from the big trips to talk about our day and weekend trips closer to home. We live very near the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina, but had never visited. It is only accessible by personal boat or by Coastal Expeditions. The boat trip leaves from Garris Landing near the small community of Awendaw. The trip only takes about 30 minutes and the boat only carries 45 passengers. Coastal Expeditions is a small environmental education-focused company that ferries visitors to the refuge. They also lead kayak tours, hikes, and they also run the small Inn on the island.

The ferry travels through a maze of estuaries on its way to Bulls Island. We were greeted by nobody. It was great! As we exited the boat and made our way on shore, we quickly separated ourselves from the other 43 passengers. Most of them stopped at the bathroom and the rest we were able to over take on the trail. It didn’t take long for it to seem like we were on our own private island.

From the boat dock it is a 1.5 mile hike through the coastal forest and marshes to the beach. We were the first on the beach for the day. Not only were there no other people within sight, but no footprints. No evidence of people. It was wonderful.

We decided earlier that we would head north to an area called Boneyard Beach and walk, hike, or wade around the northern tip of the island. High tide was at 12:30, so it was important to get around the point before the wading became swimming and we would have to retreat into the dense forest. We walked among, over, under, and around the dead driftwood remains of oaks and pines that lay upright and on their sides as they get pounded by the surf. A few times the “bones” get thick and the surf a little rough so we had to find our way into the forest, only to quickly return to the beach.  A pod of dolphins were our only other companions as we waded.

As we got to the northern point of Bulls Island we were greeted by a large, broad beach with a few of our companions from the ferry in the distance (there is an expansive trail system on the island leading you to several points of interest). This section of the island was teeming with life. Conch shells everywhere. Blue crabs, hermit crabs, sand dollars, jellyfish and dolphins. The refuge is also a bird lovers paradise. During our visit we saw bald eagles, osprey, coots, buffleheads, oyster catchers, flycatchers, turnstones, herons, egrets and many many others.


We explored this section of beach studying the marine life and collecting a few shells (all empty, of course) when it was time to slowly make our way back to the dock. The plan was to take a series of trails through the forest and marshland. We were a little uncertain of our location on the map, but we soon oriented ourselves, left the beach and entered the marsh and woods, which is home to gnats, mosquitoes, and biting flies. The swarms became so unbearable that I had to cover my legs with my rain pants on a perfectly sunny and pleasant day. We fought through the bugs with the occasional respite courtesy of a breeze. I can only assume that in the heat of the summer this section of the island being worse.

We made it back to the dock with plenty of time to spare. So much time in fact that we walked back out to the beach for a bit. It had gotten much more crowded than it was earlier in the day. There were about 4 people within sight! Accessibility limits the number of visitors who can visit the area and this is what makes it so special. If you’re looking for that deserted island without having to travel halfway around the world, check out Bulls Island within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

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