While Charleston’s inhabited sea islands are among the most-popular places to visit for both locals and tourists, the area has several uninhabited islands as well. Many of these islands are accessible by boat or kayak—and by boat or kayak only.
But, while getting to these islands requires effort, once you get there you will be well-rewarded. There is a good chance that you and your crew (if any) will have the island all to yourself. If someone else has made the trip, you will still have more than enough room to spread out and explore without anyone else around.
Now, there are a couple of exceptions. For example, Capers Island can attract a dozen or so boaters on a clear summer day, and Wolf Island is a popular inshore beach spot during the summer as well. But, get there early (or late) or go once temperatures start to drop, and there is a good chance that you will have these islands to yourself as well.
Inshore and Coastal Islands Accessible By Boat (or Kayak) in Charleston
So, what are the uninhabited islands you can visit by boat (or kayak) in Charleston? Here are 10 inshore and coastal islands that are only accessible by water:
1. Bird Key
Bird Key is only accessible during certain times of the year, and visitors are limited in where they can go on the island. This is because Bird Key is an established seabird sanctuary; and, as the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) explains, it has also been designated as “an ‘Important Bird Area’ in South Carolina.”
The rules for visiting Bird Key by boat or kayak are as follows:
“[Bird Key] is closed to public use from March 15 thru October 15. The area may be viewed from boats during these months and is accessible to the public below the high water tidal line from October 16 thru March 14.”
Bird Key is located on Charleston’s Atlantic coast between Folly Island and Kiawah Island. Kayakers and boaters can access the island from various points on the Kiawah River and Stono River (including the Kiawah Island Parkway kayak put-in and Sol Legare Public Boat Landing, as well as the Folly River Boat Ramp.
2. Bulls Island
Bulls Island is located just north of Capers Island—one of the most-popular islands on this list. But, aside from the Bulls Island Ferry, relatively few boaters make their way to Bulls Island. As a result, while Capers Island feels—and is—remote, Bulls Island feels even more remote; and as long as you avoid the ferry schedule, there is a very good chance that you will be able to enjoy Bulls Island’s famous boneyard beach in complete solitude.
Getting to Bulls Island from Charleston involves heading up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) or departing from the Buck Hall Boat Landing. Whichever option you choose, be sure to check the tides before you go, and keep a close eye on your depth finder as you approach Bulls Bay (unless you are in a kayak, in which case Bulls Bay’s shallow depth won’t be an issue. Despite how Bulls Bay looks on the map, it gets extremely shallow—down to just a foot or so in many areas at low tide.
3. Deveaux Bank
Like Bird Key, Deveaux Bank is a protected seabird sanctuary, and visiting the island is subject to various restrictions—although the restrictions here are not as strict as those on Bird Key. Deveaux Bank is also managed by SCDNR. According to SCDNR’s website, as of January 1, 2023:
“Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary is closed year-round above the high water line with the exception of areas designated by signs for limited recreational use. Seasonal closure of the intertidal zone (beach) for nesting coastal birds is from March 15 through October 15. Closed areas will be demarcated by symbolic fencing. The beaches on the ends of the island, facing inland, will continue to be open year round.”
As SCDNR also notes, “[d]ogs and camping are prohibited year-round.”
Deveaux Bank is located at the mouth of the North Edisto River between Seabrook Island and Edisto Island. Most boaters and kayakers who visit the island either depart from Bohicket Marina, the Dawhoo Boat Landing on the ICW just off of Route 174, or Steamboat Landing on Edisto Island. But, Deveaux Bank is also accessible from points farther north on the Wadmalaw River and Stono River, and some boaters choose to follow the coast up from Edisto Beach as well.
Due to its location and protected status, Deveaux Bank receives relatively few visitors, even during the summer months. If you go, just make sure to follow SCDNR’s rules, and leave any nesting shorebirds alone.
4. Cape Romain and Cape Island
Located north across Bulls Bay from Bulls Island is Cape Romain—with Cape Island just a bit farther north. While tours to the famous Cape Romain Lighthouse only run six times a year, boaters and kayakers can visit these islands year-round.
These are among the most remote islands on this list; and, as a result, there is a very good chance that you will have either one to yourself. From Charleston, the easiest way to get here is by departing from Buck Hall Boat Landing and taking the ICW north until you can start making your way east along Bulls Bay’s north coast. If you are boating, just be cautious of the tides—water levels can get quite low on this side of Bulls Bay as well.
5. Capers Island
As we mentioned above, Capers Island is quite possibly the most popular uninhabited island to visit by boat (or kayak) in Charleston. Capers Island is located on the Atlantic Ocean, and its pristine beach is a prime location for shelling and shark tooth hunting.
While it is possible to get to Capers Island by kayak if you depart from the Isle of Palms Marina (or any of the private docks on Isle of Palms or neighboring Goat Island), most visitors arrive by boat.
Visitors to Capers Island typically anchor on the island’s southern tip, across from Dewees Island (which is not only exclusively accessible by boat, but exclusively accessible by the island’s residents). Most make the trip up the ICW from various points on the Cooper and Wando Rivers. A few tours run to Capers Island as well.
Even though Capers Island is among Charleston’s most-popular uninhabited islands, it is still remote. So, before you go, make sure you are prepared for a long day out; and, when you get there, make sure your boat won’t get beached at low tide. The sand descends gradually off the island’s shore in some areas, and you can get stuck if you aren’t careful.
6. Cat Island
Unlike the uninhabited islands we’ve covered so far, Cat Island is not one of the Charleston area’s sea islands. Instead, it is located inshore, about 14 miles up the Wando River from the Charleston Harbor. While Cat Island is very small (once you are there, you can walk from one tip to the other in about a minute), it is known among locals as a popular shark tooth hunting destination.
7. Morgan Island
Morgan Island is the only island on this list where you are unable to disembark—and there is a very good reason why. While Morgan Island is uninhabited by people, it is home to a colony of about 4,000 rhesus monkeys. Morgan Island is federally protected, and setting foot on the beach (or attempting to disturb or feed the monkeys from your boat) is strictly prohibited.
Boaters can get to Morgan Island from various locations in and around Beaufort, and kayakers wishing to visit Morgan Island (or circumnavigate Morgan Island) have two main options. Kayakers can depart from Eddings Point Landing or Sam’s Point Boat Landing, both of which are about file miles from the beach on the western side of Morgan Island where the monkeys can be viewed.
8. Morris Island
Morris Island is located just north of Folly Beach, and is accessible by kayak or boat from the Folly River Boat Ramp. Boaters can also access Morris Island from the Charleston harbor. Morris Island is a popular shelling and shark tooth hunting destination as well, and visitors can get an up-close view of the decommissioned Morris Island Lighthouse at low tide.
For those who don’t have access to a boat or kayak, it is also possible to get a good view of the Morris Island Lighthouse from the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve at the northern tip of Folly Island. Park just outside the gate (or as close as you can), then make the short walk to the beach.
9. Otter Island
Located just beyond the southern tip of Edisto Island in the ACE Basin is Otter Island. It is accessible from The Marina at Edisto Beach, the Live Oak Boat Landing on Big Bay Creek, and various other points farther inland.
Along with its remoteness and beauty, one of the most-unique things about Otter Island is that camping is allowed from November 1 to March 31 with a permit from SCDNR. Those visiting Otter Island by boat or kayak can either cross the South Edisto River and head south along the island’s coast or avoid going offshore by taking the Ashepoo River.
10. Wolf Island
Like Cat Island, Wolf Island is an inshore island that is popular among boaters and kayakers. It is located on the Stono River at the mouth of the Rantowles Creek. Wolf Island has a small beach, and its interior has a canopy of live oaks. Boaters and kayakers can get to Wolf Island from the John P. Limehouse Landing, Bulow Landing, or various points on the Stono River.
Visiting Charleston on Vacation? Rent a Boat (or Kayak) or Take a Tour
While boating and kayaking to uninhabited islands are part of everyday outdoor life for many Charleston residents, for visitors, going to a beach on an uninhabited island can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, what are your options if you want to visit an uninhabited island in Charleston by boat or kayak on vacation?
Although visitors who don’t have their own boat or kayak do not have as many options as locals who regularly spend time on the water, those who are vacationing in Charleston still have a handful of options. Some examples of the options that are available include:
- Rent a kayak on Folly Island and take the Folly River to Bird Key (between October 16 thru March 14) or Morris Island.
- Take a guided tour to Bulls Island or Capers Island, departing from Buck Hall Boat Landing north of Isle of Palms.
- Take a guided tour to Otter Island, departing from The Marina at Edisto Beach.
Did you like this article? Subscribe to get notified of new articles via email.