On Hilton Head Island, there is always more than meets the eye, as many treasures hide deep in secret beaches off the beaten path. To get to these secret destinations, you must take the back roads and, with a spirit of adventure, turn off Highway 278 to find some of Hilton Head Island’s most secluded beaches. Locals favor these underrated and hidden beaches, where seashells, seclusion and historical significance can be found—not to mention the great parks nearby. Don’t let the quiet side of this Island deter you; sit in the sand, wade in the calmer waters and walk the shores of these secret Hilton Head beaches.
Fish Haul & Mitchelville Beach
Driving down the winding Beach City Road parallel to the Hilton Head Airport, there is seldom any traffic. This northern area of the Island deters tourists because of the quieter approach to beach life and the lack of signs that point towards the ocean, but locals love it that way. Mitchelville Freedom Park, a town created post-Civil War by the nation’s first freedmen’s colony, embodies the Gullah traditions of the Island. For history buffs and those seeking neat treasures, make sure to read the markers and explore the old structures still standing and new exhibits, including Toni Morrison’s Bench by the Road overlooking the water, on the way down to Fish Haul Beach.
Mitchelville Beach Park itself is found even further off the beaten path; on the other side of Beach City down a winding dirt road comes a park full of free public parking, fewer people and a small trail through a clearing with the ocean in sight. Once you reach the beach and you take in the surroundings, you will find out why Mitchelville is so special to locals: its quiet inlets and mix of sand, trees and Spartina grasses blowing in the breeze. The only things you’ll need to have once there are your friends, a couple of beach towels and a great picnic. Something that all the locals know, though, is to pay attention to tide charts: if caught at high tide, there is little sand left at Mitchelville Beach, but at low tide the water goes farther out than any other beach on the Island.
Top secret: Locals flock to the beach for the large number of shark’s teeth found seaside!
If you are looking for a beach with more of a resort feel without the compromise of space and peace, head to Burkes Beach. Finding parking at Burkes is no problem, as Chaplin Community Park—the sign to look for on 278 indicating you have made it to Burkes—has a large parking area. (Insiders Tip: Chaplin Park is where some great locally-played soccer games can be found, and heard, every weekend!)
Heading to Burkes Beach is more of a workout than Mitchelville, as you must trudge through the sand to get to the beach on the other side of the protected dune line. Once you have a view of the open beach and ocean, you will see the hike was worth it. With sandy shores that go on for miles both ways, dunes with billowing Spartina grasses and locals out for a peaceful day, you can find the easy vibe lulling you to take your time. The best time of day to venture to Burkes Beach is during the evening; bring a great picnic, as this is a beach without the easy access to restaurants. Don’t forget to bring a blanket and your camera as you sit and watch the view. As the sun sets and the colors fill the horizon, you will find Hilton Head Island never looked so good.
Top Secret: Burkes Beach has a beach and an inlet where, during low tide, you can cross to the white sandy shores and run after the fiddler crabs!