Bald Head Island Vacation Guide

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Bald Head Island is where we’ve been taking our family of 6 every summer – making next week’s getaway our 8th trip! Does that make me an expert vacationer yet?

If you are looking for a jam packed beach vacation with mini golf, crowds and outlet shopping – this is not the place for you. Bald Head is a take it slow, get away from the hustle and just chill type of place!

Our Bald Head Island Summer Vacations

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There is something enchanting about the slow paced island life. Its’ uncrowded beaches are unlike any other. I really should be telling you it’s terrible – stay away – instead of blasting the secrets of BHI out onto the internet!

This is your guide on what to do for a day trip to Bald Head Island, where to stay for a longer vacation, where to eat, where to swim, and what fun things you can do on the island!

Where Is Bald Head Island?

Bald Head, NC is a small and remote village on a barrier island, located on the southeastern tip of North Carolina’s coast. The island is a seasonal retreat that sits just two miles across the Cape Fear River. There is no bridge to the island.

a map of North Carolina

How To Get To Bald Head Island

If you need to travel by air, you will want to fly into Wilmington NC airport. Otherwise, leave the ol’ minivan (and your worries) at the ferry parking lot in Southport, NC, because the island is only reachable by the BHI ferry – or private yacht – or perhaps even by a 4 wheeler if you dare from Fort Fisher- but never by car!

a bald head island ferry
Image courtesy of BaldheadIsland.com

There are no cars on the island. Don’t worry- getting around is half the fun! Make reservations in advance for the 15 minute ferry ride to Bald Head Island.

Upon arrival at the island, a tram (also reserved ahead of time) takes us, our dog, and all our luggage to our rental home. After that, we will be scooting around on golf carts and bikes for the week!

If you’re just visiting for a day – walk from the ferry right over to the Golf Cart rental so you can get around. Golf carts start at $75/day.

a family on bald head island

What Is Bald Head Island Like?

Bald Head is made up of long pristine coastlines, a private golf course, beautiful vacation homes, large portions of wetlands, and a lush nature preserve called the “maritime forest”. The forest is filled with old, sprawling oak trees, with Spanish moss hanging down over their branches providing dense shade.

You can count the number of restaurants on the island on one hand. There is no nightlife other than wildlife! But there are two private clubs that offer pools, water slides, dining, and fun. And there is also, of course, the Bald Head Island golf course.

From A Mom’s Perspective…

With the lack of cars, I have less worries letting my older kids bike around! In more recent years I started trusting my oldest to make small grocery runs for us on his bike. Let me tell you – that’s a game changer!

Way back when we first started coming here, one of the first things I noticed was that most people leave their keys in their golf carts when parked. Although I don’t ever want to be naive, it feels comforting and good to know that strangers can be (somewhat) trusted on this little island.

Where We Stay

Plenty of people come on the ferry just for the day and rent golf carts or bikes to get around. But to really get to know the island you need to stay for a few days!

There are no hotels or big chains on the island. You’ll be renting out houses – most likely on VRBO or airbnb.

For the past decade we’ve been renting out a friend’s beach house a block off the beach. Houses are either on / near the beach, or within the island forest. We prefer the ocean view, and zipping over in the golf cart to the beach.

Most homes come with golf carts, beach chairs, umbrellas, even bikes, etc. (although of course check with your host).

The Bald Head Island Beach

There are 14 miles of beaches on Bald Head. South and East beach are the best areas for swimming. 

 

South Beach

 

a family on the beach
Our 2020 Bald Head beach trip

Our usual and favorite place to swim is South Beach. Expansive stretches of white sand meet calm and mild waves here. With no crowds at all, even in the height of summer – sometimes we are lucky enough to have the entire beach to ourselves!

Can you imagine? It’s the middle of July, the beach is white, clean and PERFECT, and we’re the only ones there. It’s really incredible.

a bald head island beach with umbrellas

We stopped using those flimsy watermelon umbrellas. Last summer we discovered the BeachBub umbrella which is sooo easy to put in the sand and stands up to all our wind problems! Those 1200 reviewers are correct- I highly recommend!

Dog lovers enjoy the off leash okay rule for dogs (except during the turtle nesting season). Public beach accesses are frequent.

One magical October we went down for a (still warm!) swim during low tide and found sand dollars all over the ocean floor – we were scooping several up each time we put our hand down! (Make sure you don’t take sand dollars home – it is actually illegal! They are important to ocean life… and they can feel pain when they die!)

sand dollar found on bald head island

East Beach

Each summer we take the golf cart up to East Beach just for a day, simply to have a different sort of beach day. East Beach offers three miles of larger waves and surf – perfect for vacationers who like surfing or want more action than the calmer South Beach offers.

Although it isn’t ever crowded, there are typically more people here. The waves and surf are decidedly stronger here as well. Lucky vacationers who stay with ocean views on East Beach will get the sunrises each morning.

The Frying Pan Shoals

a family on east beach bald head island
standing on the shoals at the tip of Bald Head Island

The Frying Pan Shoals is a series of shifting sandbars extending 20-30 miles offshore. This is a fun shallow place to walk, and ideal for fishing, sunset walks or finding giant or unique seashells.

The shoals is of course where Bald Head Island’s Shoals Club is located! The club offers a number of amenities, along with a private beach with rented chairs and umbrellas. This is a major game changer if you’re able to score a guest pass membership!

the shoals club
image courtesy of The Shoals Club

What To Do On Bald Head Island?

Besides the beach? Or are you coming for the day, and want to fill your time and wondering what there is to do on Bald Head Island?

Bald Head is great for fishing, kayaking, crabbing, boating, and golfing. You can rent kayaks or even a reserve full out guided fishing tour.boy in a kayak on bald head island

It’s tradition for our family to climb to the top the lighthouse, Old Baldy, for an amazing full view of the island, followed by ice cream or sodas.

family outside old baldy lighthouse on bald head island

old baldy lighthouse

We spend a significant amount of time in the multiple pools and water slides offered at the BHI Club when our family is tired of the beach and sand.

We look for the alligators that lurk in the marshes, and are lucky enough (or unlucky?) to see them on most trips. Be careful around the marshes near the golf course – they will come out on the lawn. There is also a dedicated deck to see one of the island’s alligators safely.

Pull your cart over and take one of the many 15 minute hikes through the nature preserve. These are easy trails with everything from hermit crab finding to bird watching.

the nature preserve on bald head

 

 

During turtle nesting season you can watch the sea turtles hatch out of their nests and scramble towards the ocean. It’s amazing how the baby turtles leave their nest to race straight towards the ocean immediately. How do they even know where to go?

 

 

a baby sea turtle on bald head island
a baby sea turtle fresh out of the nest, ready to run into the ocean

Go site seeing (on your cart or bike) for ocean views and ogle at the pretty beach homes. Bald Head is actually home to the 2017 Southern Living Idea House – and is where the movie Weekend at Bernies was filmed.

The island is small enough to easily get to know the lay of the land and bike around!

 

Head to the Frying Pan Shoals, the extended sandbar that goes for miles and makes an ideal spot for fishing, long walks or shelling.

Be careful to watch the tides here! We had to hustle half a mile back to land after looking for seashells on the shoals one evening- the tide comes up on some places over the shoals quickly and can catch you if you are far out!

 

large amounts of seashells laying on sand

 

 

We even found a message in a bottle here one summer. (Totally anticlimactic- it was from a couple in Kure beach, about 10 miles away! Womp, womp).

Is there anything to do at Bald Head in the off-season? The island is at its’ best in the summer months, but we have visited as late as the end of October and had perfect beach days with warm swimming.

Where To Eat On Bald Head Island

The island grocery store may be a lot more adorable than your typical grocery store, but you will pay for it! We bring some food with us from home, because the mark up cost at the Maritime Market adds up quickly. I would prefer the annoyance of hefting crates of food onto the ferry than having to buy everything at a high price on the island.

The market also offers a deli, where you can pick up a pizza for your family. In the mornings my husband will take the golf cart over and pick us up iced coffee and bacon egg and cheeses (the best after a night where wine was flowing!).

Aside from the grocery store- if you are wondering where to eat on Bald Head Island, there are only a few restaurants.

We take advantage of what they offer though – we like to sit outside at Jules Salty Grub and eat right on marina, enjoying the sunset and view of all the yachts and the ferry. It’s a great way to end a full beach day!

 

a father and son eating at bald head island

A few times we’ve come with my parents. My husband and I will bike down to the marina for lunch while they stay with the kids. This has always been memorable. (Especially the time my husband’s bike got a flat and he had to call my Dad for a ride home. I don’t know if it was the wine at lunch or the heat, but I could not stop laughing at this situation and him trying to ride that flat tire uphill.)

family at the marina on bald head island

I love that we are not only slowing life down together on Bald Head Island, but we are creating memories with the kids, over and over throughout their childhood.

If you are looking for a quieter, relaxing beach vacation where you can unwind and see less of people – go ahead and book your ferry!

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