Spinnaker Resorts


Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge – 4 Things to Do

Crossing the bridge to Hilton Head Island there is a sign that says, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Have you ever stopped or just wondered what you can do on the island? Pinckney Island NWR, established on December 4, 1975, is a 4,053 acre refuge that includes Pinckney Island, Corn Island, Big and Little Harry Islands, Buzzard Island and numerous small hammocks. Pinckney Island is the largest and the only one open to the public.

Here are the top four things you can do on the island during your visit.

Trails to hike or bike:

While 2/3 of the refuge is salt marsh and tidal creeks, there is enough dryland for over 14 miles of hiking and bicycling trails to explore. The main trail that runs through the refuge is gravel. All other trails are wide grass paths, large enough to drive refuge vehicles through when necessary, and are kept fairly well-mowed through the year. White Point, on the north end of the island, is just under 8 miles from the parking lot. As park guides like to say, you do not have to make the walk there but if you do, you DO have to walk back. Trail guides are available at the trailhead adjacent to the parking area and online.

Bird Watching:

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the department that manages the area, the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is an important link in the chain of wildlife refuges along the Atlantic Flyway, attracting thousands of migratory birds annually. Surrounded by salt water, Pinckney Islands’ freshwater ponds and 38 acres of freshwater habitat, support a wide range of bird and plant life. The Ibis Pond is an easy 1 mile trek down the gravel path from the parking lot. This freshwater pond provides a nesting habitat, called a rookery, for wading birds such as ibis, egrets, and herons. Benches located at several viewing spots around the Ibis Pond are accessible by grass paths during the spring and early summer.

Saltwater Fishing:

Saltwater fishing is permitted year-round in the waters adjacent to the refuge but no freshwater fishing or fishing in any of the ponds on Pinckney Island is permitted. Make sure you have either a South Carolina Resident or 14 Day Guest Fishing License. Fishing licenses can be purchased online and downloaded to your device the same day through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources website.


As the saying goes, “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” Whether you use the camera on your mobile phone or a full-size camera, Pinckney Island is full of pictures waiting to be taken anywhere you look. Keep in mind that in the month of August, the State of South Carolina holds their Coastal Photography Contest. The SC DHEC is looking for coastal South Carolina scenes including marshes, beaches, or wildlife. You can find more information on the SC DHEC website.

Some things to remember when you go:

  • Admission and parking is free which makes this one of the best deals in Beaufort County.
  • The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset daily; no overnight use is allowed. The entrance gate is scheduled to automatically close approximately 30 minutes after sunset.
  • Drinking water and restrooms are not available on the refuge.
Photo courtesy of USFWS