Several miles north of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina is the small fishing town of Awendaw and Garris Landing, the departure point for the Bulls Island Ferry. Bulls Island, ranked a Class 1 Wilderness, is only accessible via the ferry or a kayak. I’ve wanted to visit the island for a while now, and I finally made it over Veteran’s Day weekend!
The Bulls Island Ferry skimmed across the water to the island dock. The sun was shining in the blue sky and the temperature was in the 70’s. It was perfect for photographing birds and viewing the sea grass islands. Our captain was very knowledgeable and stopped frequently to show us the birds and the estuary. I couldn’t have asked for a better day! However if it were any hotter or colder, it would be a very different story. Take time to research when you’d like to visit. There are a lot of animals, alligators and birds in particular, to see on the island.
Since I was going to be on the island for several hours before going back to the mainland, I tried to be super prepared. Someone joked about mosquitos being the state bird in SC. They really weren’t joking! The mosquitos are so numerous and gigantic they almost carried me off, never to be seen again. I took bug spray with me, thankfully, A LOT of bug spray. And applied it liberally. The Sewee Outpost sells drinks, sandwiches with Boar’s Head meat, and snacks so I stopped there before heading to the dock. It’s a great option if you’re visiting the area and staying in a nearby hotel. Of course I grabbed my camera in hopes of getting some wildlife shots and my phone.
I spent the day walking the island, taking in the scenery, the animals, and getting sucked dry of every ounce of blood by the mosquitos and black flies. There are numerous alligators on the island, passerine birds, and once you reach Boneyard Beach there are shore birds and cormorants. The Boneyard Beach is the place to visit. I recommend starting off your visit by going towards the Summerhouse Pond first. This is where, if the sun is shining, you’ll see lots and lots of alligators working on their tans. The photo ops are fantastic, but you must keep in mind that alligators and fast and you don’t want to get between them and the water. And if they look like they’re interested in you, you should keep your distance. However, seeing them in person only a few feet away is incredible and unlike anything you’ve experienced in nature.
After spending time watching gators, you’ll probably want to meander back towards the picnic area for some snacks or sammies, some water or other beverage, and to hit the restroom. The picnic area is located in the middle of the island, more or less, so it’s a good place to start and come back to before trekking around the rest of the island. I took a nice little break and ate my sandwich before walking towards Boneyard Beach on one of the loooong paths. The island trails all together are several miles long so wear comfy shoes because you’re gonna do some walkin’!
My favorite place was Boneyard Beach. This beach area is a graveyard of dead trees. Remnants of an old maritime forest, these trees erupt from the smooth sand and guard over the beach. The island is a barrier island, which by nature, moves over time. During high tide the ocean waters roll over the beach area, leaving shells in its wake. I found many sand dollars while walking along the shore. Several of the trees were loaded with cormorants and little shorebirds were fishing from the fallen trees as the waves rolled by them.
The boat leaves for the mainland at noon and at four. I stayed until four. We gathered near the dock waiting for the rest of the party to meet back at the boat. Once everyone was present, we hopped on the boat for the ride back. On the way our captain stopped for a bald eagle, various other birds such as curlews, and to show us the oyster bed regeneration projects along the sea grass islands. We also saw dolphins hunting along the island shore, their fins cutting the water as they swam by the boat.
Bulls Island is a beautiful, natural sanctuary on the coast of South Carolina. It is off the beaten path and worth taking the time to get back to nature. I took my camera to take photos, but unplugged from technology, although I had my cell phone and got great signal. It was refreshing to get out of civilization and spend time in such raw surroundings. Aside from the mosquitos and black flies eating me, the trip was such a positive experience! The Bulls Island Ferry staff were friendly and knowledgable and made the trip even more fantastic. If you’re going to the Charleston area in the near future, you should consider taking a trip off the beaten path to Bulls Island. You won’t be disappointed!