I’ve been traveling to Bald Head Island my entire life! It’s a magical place! Since there are no cars allowed and you must arrive by ferry, getting there isn’t as simple as parking the car. Here are my tips for getting to BHI and how to be prepared for your visit!
Tips For Traveling To Bald Head Island
If you haven’t been to Bald Head Island before, you’re in for a magical visit! There are no cars allowed on the island (except for service vehicles) and you must arrive by ferry. Once you’re there, you’ll never get stuck in traffic (unless you’re there for the 4th of July parade!) Compared to popular mainland beaches, the BHI beaches are relatively crowd-free with plenty of room to spread out.
Tell me about the ferry!
The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes and is very pleasant and fun! Kids love it, as do dogs.
The ferry itself is first-come-first-serve for boarding so you don’t need a reservation. You’ll buy tickets when you get there, which are about $25 round trip per person (small kids are free).
Ferry times vary by season, but generally there are departures on the hour and half hour – check the schedule here to be sure. If you get there by 40 minutes past the hour, you’ll probably make the hourly ferry if you move quickly.
The ferry terminal is mostly open air, although there is an inside area with bathrooms that can offer shelter if it’s raining or freezing. They have snacks too, but usually just in the summer. You’ll want to start lining up about 15 minutes ahead of departure.
What are “trams?”
While you don’t need a ferry reservation, you DO want to make a tram reservation to get you and your luggage from the harbor to your rental house. You can make those reservations here. Note for popular holiday weekends the tram reservations fill up FAST, so make them well in advance! Don’t forget a tip for your tram driver and ferry staff who help you with your luggage.
What do I do with my luggage and car?
There is easy parking (that will cost you about $8 a day) just like at an airport. You’ll pull up to the departures area and unload your luggage from your car and onto the ferry platform. Ferry attendants will then load it onto carts. (We give them a tip so bring a little cash.) We usually delegate one person to get the luggage onto the platform, buy tickets, and hang with the kids (Kath) while the other person goes to park the car (Thomas).
How to pack
Packing for the ferry is a bit of a headache, but it’s worth it once you are on “island time” on the other side. Ferry luggage must be sealed and labeled with your name and rental home address.
You can put things in a suitcase, a big plastic tub, or even a shipping box taped up. Put food in coolers, clothes in suitcases, and all your bits and bobs (diapers, sunscreen, Goldfish) in a big tub. While everything needs to be labeled with your name and destination, it’s way more lax than an airport.
You are allowed to carry on bags and strollers, and I always carry on our big beach bag with our personal items like computers, snacks, and water bottles.
Note there is an extra fee for bikes and oversized things like kayaks. Golf clubs are not considered oversized, but they do need to be in a travel bag so the clubs don’t fall out.
What to pack
As you might imagine, groceries on the island are expensive. The Maritime Market is the one and only grocery store. While they do have most anything you might need, it is on the small side (probably the size of the whole produce department at Whole Foods!) and most things are a bit more expensive than you’d find on the mainland. The more you can bring over in tubs, the better off you’ll be, especially because sometimes they do run out of things.
What we usually bring over:
- All the kid foods: Goldfish, applesauce, squeeze pouches, cereal
- Breakfast + lunch things: Whole-wheat bread, peanut butter, jam, tortillas, shredded cheese, yogurts (sometimes)
- Staples: Good coffee, some half and half for the first morning, ketchup, mustard, mayo
- Some snacks and happy hour supplies: Pretzels, crackers, cheeses
- A starter set of wine and beer (if we run out we buy more)
- Ingredients to cook a meal: noodles for spaghetti and sauce, an all-in-one Blue Apron meal, burger buns, a lasagna for the first night, taco shells, olive oil, seasonings
- Household materials: trash bags, laundry powder, dishwasher pods, hand soap, etc.
What we buy there:
- Any seafood or meats we cook (although we have brought ground beef for burgers before)
- Fresh produce (salad greens, fruit)
- Sandwich meat and cheese
- Chips (too hard to pack without crushing)
- Ice cream
How big is the island?
The whole island is five square miles, but most of that is preserved marsh land. The developed part of Bald Head is about three miles wide and half a mile deep. You can see a great interactive map here. While you certainly can walk places, you’ll want a set of wheels to get around.
If there are no cars, how do you get around Bald Head Island?
You’ll want to get around by golf cart (which most rentals come with) or bike (don’t worry – it’s mostly flat). Your rental house will come with a golf cart and likely some bikes, but if you’re visiting BHI for the day you can rent a golf cart from Cary Cart Company or a bike from Riverside Adventure Company
Note that island police are very strict about the golf cart rules. You must have a driver’s license to operate one, and you definitely can’t have a beer in your hand while driving. You can get a DUI just like in a car, so don’t drink and drive (not that you should be anyways!).
What to see and do
There are plenty of outdoor activities!
The Bald Head Island Conservancy
The BHI Conservancy is a non-profit founded to protect and conserve the beauty of the island. In addition to doing conservation work and research, they have lots of activities and programs for kids, including summer camp days. Mazen did a few days of camp one summer and had a great time! There is a classroom with animals to see and activities you can register for, like fishing trips and nature hikes. See them here.
Bald Head is an important nesting ground for loggerhead turtles. The Sea Turtle Protection Program supports the success of nests and babies, you’ll see areas of the beach fenced off for turtles. They also have programs throughout the year to learn more, and if you’re lucky, see the turtles live.
What are the restaurant options?
There are several restaurants in the harbor.
Jules Salty Grub – Low country food with lots of outdoor seating and great views of the harbor. No reservations taken, and can have a long wait!
Lulu’s BBQ – Open in the summer only, we’ve gotten take-out BBQ a few times and it’s been good!
Maritime Market Family Meals – We have LOVED these meals the past two summers. You do have to order 24 hours in advance, but it’s a great way to feed a crowd and the food has been good! We loved the shrimp and grits.
All of the restaurants are currently doing take-out options that we found very delicious and convenient as a family with kids!
The Shoals Club and The Bald Head Island Club
These two big private clubs have the island’s only “fine dining.” You do need to be a member to get into these clubs, but many of the house rentals come with a temporary membership during your stay. If you’re debating between two houses, definitely go with the one that comes with a membership!
Both clubs have poolside bars for adult bevs open seasonally and casual restaurants open by the pool for lunches and snacks. These vary by the season, so definitely check ahead to see when they’re open.
Each club puts on lots of events and activities, so check their websites to see what might be happening during your visit.
The Bald Head Island Club
The bigger and older of the two, the Bald Head Island Club, includes the golf course, which Thomas loves (of course.) There’s also a driving range, fitness room (they are getting two Peloton bikes!), tennis courts, croquet, playground, and a variety of dining options.
Plus a HUGE new family-friendly pool complex with a splash pad, water slides, fenced in kiddie pool, zero-entry HEATED leisure pool, and a full member adult-only pool.
The kiddie pool
BHI Club Dining
Horizons Restaurant, which is relatively new and our favorite dining option at the club, has a nice menu and gorgeous views from its second-level terrace. We enjoyed take-out and dining in, although it was hard to get a reservation outside during COVID.
The Shoals Club
Newer and more of a beach club than a golf club, the Shoals Club has beautiful views of the Frying Pan Shoals point.
The pool is beautiful, although it’s a little better for older kids since it lacks a true shallow end. But there is a large, fenced-in baby pool area with seating and shade.
You can also have beach chairs and an umbrella set up for you on the beach in front of the club. There are great tide pools for wading!
In addition to the poolside Sandbar Grill, Aqua is the formal restaurant. It has beautiful views and is the fanciest restaurant on the island. It’s better suited for a date night than going out with a gaggle of children. (We can only go accompanied by one of my parents, who are members, so we don’t even get date nights there often!).
Attached to Aqua is Latitudes bar, and there are apps and small plates you can share. We often eat outside there with the gorgeous views for an early happy hour dinner with the kids.
Fun fact: my sister had her wedding reception there!
Where to stay
There are a variety of choices for rentals: beach front, harbor houses, marsh front, forest, and ocean front. The beaches along South Beach have calmer waves, and the homes are a little older, whereas East Beach is the big bad ocean with big waves and (million-dollar homes).
Tide pools at The Point
Smaller waves at South Beach
Finding a house
Our favorite rental company is Wendy Wilmont. The service has been excellent, and her houses are beautifully decorated.
One last thing: watch out for alligators!
While the alligators mostly stay hidden, they are there, especially in and around the golf course. Thomas and Mazen saw this monster at hole 3. Beware!!
Blog posts from some of our travels to BHI