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Wolf Island By Kayak: Paddling to One of Charleston’s Uninhabited Islands

Kayaking or boating to Wolf Island in Charleston, SC

Wolf Island is an uninhabited island in Charleston, SC that is accessible only by water. With its empty beach and live oak canopy, it is well worth the trip whether you come from the Rantowles Creek or make the short trip from the John P. Limehouse Landing.

While Charleston has many well-known boating and kayaking destinations, it also has several hidden gems. One of these is Wolf Island, located at the confluence of the Rantowles Creek and Stono River west of the peninsula.

The first time I visited Wolf Island I was blown away. I had recently moved to the area and was still early in my recreational kayaking career. The roughly three-and-a-half-mile paddle, which took about an hour, was one of my longest at the time. As a result, despite being within view of the Main Road bridge that connects West Ashley to Johns Island, once I stepped onto the beach at Wolf Island I felt very far away.

It helped that I was the only one there—as has been the case the majority of the other times I’ve visited Wolf Island by kayak in the years since. Plus, Wolf Island is far enough away from the bridge—about a mile—that you can’t hear the cars passing over it. Instead, all you hear are the palmetto fronds rustling in the wind and the small waves lapping on the shore.

Kayaking to Wolf Island on the Stono River in Charleston, SC
Even when it's not overcast, it's not uncommon to have Wolf Island all to yourself.

Kayaking from Bulow Landing on the Rantowles Creek

I started my trip at Bulow Landing, which is worth visiting on its own. I’ll occasionally see people fishing here, and in the evenings I’ve seen people set up chairs to have a picnic as the sun sets over the marsh farther up Rantowles Creek. It’s a beautiful spot, especially during the golden hour. The boat ramp has a shallow slope and there is more than enough room to swing around a trailer, so getting on the water at Bulow Landing is about as easy as it gets.

Paddling from Bulow landing, the first thing you do is pass through a narrow section of Rantowles Creek with two of the Charleston area’s most-pristine waterfront neighborhoods on either side. Bulow Plantation on the left is a small neighborhood consisting of only a dozen or so large homes, most of which have docks on the creek. On the right is The Preserve at Poplar Grove, a larger neighborhood with custom homes and miles of waterfront views.

Once you get through this narrow stretch, the creek opens up significantly. At high tide this section of the Rantowles Creek looks more like a lake than a creek, but at low tide you’ll see egrets, herons, and gulls standing around mud flats across almost the entire area. As a result, planning your route through the creek requires a certain level of precision—especially if you’re in a boat, but you can easily end up bottoming out your kayak in certain spots as well.

Luckily, I’ve never gotten stuck. I’m a bit of a planner, and on my first trip to Wolf Island I had planned my route and times my trip correctly. I left about an hour and a half before low tide, and stayed along the left side of the creek (heading southeast) in the deepest section. Even so, there were times when my paddles would still scoop up some pluff mud from the bottom.

Once you get through this wide section of the creek, you have two options depending on the tide (and your vessel). There is a small narrow that you can pass through on a kayak on all but the lowest of tides, or you can turn right and continue following the main creek. Either way, this can be a very shallow area as well, and once you’re through you’ll be nearing the Savannah Highway bridge. This also appears to be a good spot for kayak fishing, as I’ve seen anglers here on multiple occasions as well.

Pass under the bridge and pass the small new development of multi-million-dollar homes on the left, and once you follow the bend in the creek to the right you’ll start feeling like you are somewhere much more remote than you actually are. This is especially true in a kayak nearing low tide, as you’ll be down among the pluff mud and spartina, and unable to see much else of your surroundings. This isn’t a bad thing—I think the marsh is beautiful, and I’ve seen dolphins, ibises, and even roseate spoonbills along this stretch.

If you’re paddling at a casual pace, at this point you will have been going for between thirty minutes and an hour. If you need (or want) to stretch your legs, there are two sandbars here at low tide.

Avoid the Sandbars, or Don’t, Depending on If You Want to Stretch Your Legs

There’s a basic principle of water navigation that the outsides of the bends are always the deepest. This is where the water naturally flows, so this is where the water carves away the most ground beneath the surface.

This is readily apparent in this section of the Rantowles Creek. After following the bend past the bridge to the right, you’ll shortly come to a left-hand turn. This is where the second of the two sandbars is located. Here, the sandbar extends out about 100 feet toward the middle of the creek. You can get through on a kayak (though it may be easiest to get out and walk if you get beached), but I could easily see this being a place where boaters get stuck if they aren’t familiar with the area. On a kayak, it’s tempting to always take the shortest path possible, but this is an area in particular where this isn’t necessarily the wisest decision.

After turning left (and either taking a break or avoiding the sandbar), you’ll see the old railroad bridge in front of you. This bridge used to have a really unique mechanical lift system, but it fell into disrepair and was removed about a year ago. However, the bridge is still in use today; and, if you’re in the water as a train approaches, you’ll feel the entire creek rumble around you.

Once you pass under the train bridge on kayak (or boat), Wolf Island will be in view. At this point, you’ve got just about half a mile of paddling to go until you reach your destination.

Wolf Island: Sand, Shark Teeth, Live Oaks, and Endless Views

Based on Charleston County’s public records, it appears that Wolf Island is privately owned. The County’s real property database indicates that the island has been owned by the same investment company since 1960, with no prior owner identified. As a result, you won’t find any other “official” information about visiting or camping on Wolf Island online.

But, what I can say is that while I am often the only one on Wolf Island while I’m there, I am not the only one who visits. I’ve also been to Wolf Island on days when there were multiple boats anchored with their bows in the sand. I’ve also seen people camping on Wolf Island on multiple occasions, and there are disused fire rings and smatterings of litter that provide further evidence of the island’s public use.

I can also say that Wolf Island is an incredible place to visit. Anywhere but Charleston, a place like this would be extremely popular—we’re just fortunate to have miles of oceanfront beach and dozens of uninhabited sea islands a short drive, boat ride, or paddle away.

Arriving at Wolf Island by kayak, you’ll land on the beach before you reach the Stono River. If you’ve timed your paddle to ride the tide both ways, the tide should be just about all the way out when you get there. The tide station at the John P. Limehouse Landing is the nearest one, and low tide at Wolf Island comes about 15 minutes after low tide at the landing.

Live oak with Spanish moss on Wolf Island, SC.
A live oak covered in Spanish Moss on Wolf Island.

While the beach alone would be worth the trip, if you walk up the sand you’ll find yourself under a canopy of live oaks. Next to the Angel Oak and places like Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, this is one of the most spectacular places to view live oaks that I’ve visited in Charleston.

Live oaks on Wolf Island, visited by boat or kayak
More live oaks on Wolf Island.

Whether you’ve come for a picnic, to explore the island, take photos, hunt for shark teeth, or simply relax, if you’ve timed your trip to coincide with low tide you’ve got plenty of time until you need to head back. Of course, if you’re visiting Wolf Island by boat instead of kayak, then the timing really doesn’t matter—though you’ll need to be careful to anchor far enough out from the island to avoid getting beached.

Live oaks and beach on Wolf Island, SC
More live oaks on Wolf Island, facing toward the beach on the Rantowles Creek.

On my first trip to Wolf Island by kayak, the paddle back to Bulow Landing was just as enjoyable as the paddle to the island—and it has been this way ever since. The marsh is constantly changing; and, from the birds along the shoreline to changing colors in the sky as the sun comes up (or goes down), no two trips are ever exactly alike. This is one of the things I like most about getting on the water in Charleston. While it feels like home—and feels unmistakably Lowcountry—there is always something new to see.

Planning Your Trip: Visiting Wolf Island By Kayak or Boat

Trip Distance

Approximately seven miles round-trip from Bulow Landing, or about two miles round-trip from John P. Limehouse Landing on Johns Island.

Trip Duration

Plan for about three hours if you are kayaking to Wolf Island from Bulow Landing with the goal of getting to the island at slack tide. This will give you an hour to get there, an hour to spend on the island, and another hour to get back to the landing with the tide carrying you back home.

If you are paddling from John P. Limehouse Landing, you’ll want to plan for the tides as well, as the tide current can be a bit stronger on the Stono River. With favorable tides, plan for about 15 to 20 minutes of paddling each way.

Trip Scheduling

You can visit Wolf Island by boat or kayak any time of year. Although, if you go on a sunny day on the weekend, you are more likely to be sharing the island with others. If the tides align, the trip to Wolf Island is great as a sunrise paddle from Bulow Landing.

It is definitely possible to get to Wolf Island from Bulow Landing or John P. Limehouse Landing going against the tide, but this makes for a slower and more challenging trip. It can be especially challenging on windy days. For ideal timing, plan to leave Bulow Landing about an hour before low tide at John P. Limehouse Landing (which is the closest tide station to Wolf Island).

Launching Points for Kayaking or Boating to Wolf Island

There are two main launching points for kayaking or boating to Wolf Island. These are:

  • Bulow Landing – Bulow Landing Road, Ravenel, SC (drive to the end of the road)
  • John P. Limehouse Landing – 495 Main Road, Johns Island, SC

Tips and Advisories

If you are planning to kayak or boat to Wolf Island, be sure to check the tides. While you won’t get stuck on a kayak, there are spots where you can bottom out and need to either get out or push yourself through the mud with your paddle at low tide. You can avoid this by staying in the main navigable areas of the creek. If you are boating, bottoming out at low tide is a very real possibility in a couple of spots, so you will need to be cautious about watching your depth finder along your way. To have the best chance of having Wolf Island to yourself, plan a trip when the tides are favorable on a weekend morning or weekday.

As always, when kayaking, boating, or engaging in any other form of travel by water, bring all necessary safety gear, check the weather regularly, dress for the water temperature, and stay comfortably within your limits.


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