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Located on the southern tip of the Cape Fear coastline, and jetting out into the ocean like a jewel of green land in a sea of blue, Bald Head Island is a beach vacation destination that is truly unique for its geography, history, and distinctive character.
Isolated from the rest of the world, but wonderfully accommodating with plenty of vacation homes and attractions, this tiny island is a paradise for nature fans, mariners, and beach lovers of all varieties.
About Bald Head Island
Though this tiny island measures just 5.8 miles in area, (which includes 1.9 miles of water), it has a lengthy history that dates back centuries before America was founded. Originally occupied by Native Americans, the island was pinpointed by multiple “New World” explorers in the 1500s and 1600s, and would later serve two important roles during two major American wars – as the site of a British Fort during the American Revolution, and as the site of a Confederate base during the Civil War.
The island would also be an essential point for mariners heading up the Cape Fear River to the busy port town of Wilmington, as it was the home of several lighthouses since the late 1700s that helped to guide the way.
Despite this notable role in national history, Bald Head Island didn’t really come to regional or national prominence until the 1980s, when the island started to become developed as a tourism destination.
Today, the island has several hundred vacation rental homes and lodging options, but is wholly unique on the Cape Fear coastline for several reasons. For one thing, it can only be reached by a passenger ferry that departs from Southport, and for another, there are no vehicles on the island. Essentially, visitors cruise around the island via golf carts or bicycles, and because of the small area, it’s actually quite easy to get around without a car.
Though most of the island is nicely isolated and quiet, a slight hub of activity can be found close to the ferry docks, next to the main harbor. This is where several inns can be found, as well as restaurants, watersports companies, gift stores and boutiques, and other shops where visitors can stock up on everything they need.
Truly in a world all its own, Bald Head Island is one of the more distinctive vacation destinations because of its isolation, natural terrain, and laid-back lifestyle where summertime traffic is never a problem.
Staying in Bald Head Island
There are several inns and several resorts on Bald Head Island, but the primary means of accommodations are vacation rental homes. These properties can range from 2-3 bedroom cottages to six bedroom or more sandcastles, and are located throughout the island from wooded settings to oceanfront locations.
Vacation rentals can be reserved through the local property management company on a weekly basis, and visitors are advised to book as early as possible as accommodations can fill up fast. Ferry reservations for the date of departure are also required in advance, and should be made at or around the same time as a vacation rental reservation.
Attractions in Bald Head Island
Old Baldy lighthouse and Smith Island Museum of History – The Old Baldy lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina, and is a favorite attraction for Bald Head Island visitors. Built in 1817, visitors can enjoy a climb to the top of the lighthouse for stunning views, and can learn all about its roots – and the island’s roots – at the Smith Island Museum of History, which is found within the adjacent 1850s light keepers’ quarters
Bald Head Woods – Bald Head Woods is a 191-acre nature reserve which is found in the heart of the island. The site features multiple walking and hiking trails, and incredible vantage points to admire the local wildlife and birds. The interpretive trail leads through coastal maritime forest and marshes, and a portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible.
Bald Head Island Club – Bald Head Island Club is home to the island’s 18-hole championship course which extends for 6,855 yards, and which features freshwater lagoons, maritime woods, and sandy dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The club also has a number of amenities for members and guests, including a pool, tennis courts, fitness center, and banquet / special event facilities.
Bald Head Island Beaches – The beaches are literally and figuratively the largest attraction within Bald Head Island, and there are miles of shoreline to go around. Noted for their isolation and undeveloped nature, the beaches are ideal for surfing and swimming, beachcombing and shelling, fishing, and just lounging on the sand.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting Bald Head Island
- The passenger ferry is a fee-based ferry, with extra costs for bringing over luggage, watersports equipment, and other bulky items. Make reservations as far in advance as possible, as the ferry can fill up quickly, especially on summer weekends.
- Vacationers and day-trippers will find options to rent everything they need for their vacation once on the island, from stand-up paddle boards or surfboards, to golf carts and beach chairs. Peruse the rental shops and kiosks close to the ferry terminal for an array of options.
- Kayaking is popular in Bald Head Island, and visitors will find an array of scenic albeit wild trails in the northern section of the island. Featuring multiple small channels that stem from the Cape Fear River, this network of paddling trails is perfect for an on-the-water exploration.
- A number of boat tours and cruises are available for an up-close look of Bald Head Island without boarding the ferry. Check out the options in sunny Southport, which is a charming coastal destination in its own right.
- There are a number of special events held in Bald Head Island throughout the year, which can include everything from guided birding walks or fishing expeditions, to annual Independence Day celebrations by the water. Check out the local events calendars for a host of fun things to do while on vacation.
Bald Head Island is truly a world all its own, with a slower pace of life that will appeal to beach purists everywhere. With stunning natural scenery and ample ways to enjoy the great outdoors, Bald Head Island is a vacation destination that’s as distinctive as it is wildly charming.