The Best Things To Do in Bald Head Island North Carolina in 2024

Just off of North Carolina’s stunning coast lies a hidden oasis only accessible by ferry or boat.

We were blown away on our first trip to Bald Head Island, a beach lover’s paradise, where the sounds of waves and birds overhead are unspoiled by vehicle noise.

An island where the only way to get is by electric golf cart, bicycle, or on foot is the perfect escape retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing day trip or a longer vacation, we are breaking down the best things to do in Bald Head Island North Carolina.

Use this guide to make your trip planning a breeze!

Where Is Bald Head Island?

Bald Head Island, previously called Smith Island, is a barrier island with an area of just under 6 square miles located on the east side of the Cape Fear River along the coast of North Carolina.

To the west of the Island are other popular North Carolina destinations including Oak Island, Caswell Beach, and Southport. On Bald Head Island’s eastern shores, bright sandy beaches lined with stunning homes meet the Atlantic Ocean and uninhibited views out to the horizon.

Known for its picturesque features (it’s even been the filming location for a few movies), Bald Head Island is the perfect retreat for a peaceful weekend or a stunning day trip while visiting nearby destinations such as Wilmington or Carolina Beach.

Bald Head Island Map

To give you a sense of where this tiny island is located off North Carolina’s coast:

How To Get To Bald Head Island

A white ferry boat making its way across the water off the coast of North Carolina with birds flying above and a lighthouse out in the distance

Bald Head Island is only accessible by public passenger ferry or private boat.

The ferry is a mesmerizing 20-minute ride across the Cape Fear River from Southport that whisks you away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life toward a destination where you can unplug and recharge.

Here’s exactly how to take the ferry to Bald Head Island:

About The Bald Head Island Ferry

The only ferry option that takes you directly to Bald Head Island originates in Southport, North Carolina at Deep Point Marina.

Typically, ferries will leave Deep Point Marina on the hour and leave the island to head back to Southport on the half hour.

Ferry and tram tickets are now reservable online through the new booking portal (linked below):

Important things to know about reserving the Bald Head Island Ferry:

  • Ferry and tram tickets should be reserved at least 3 hours before your desired travel time
  • You must arrive at least 40 minutes prior to your scheduled ferry departure time
  • If you are using the tram service, luggage must be ready for pickup 45 minutes before your ferry departure time from the island

Bald Head Island Ferry Cost:

  • $23 round trip for adults
  • $12 for children ages 3-12
  • No frills same day round trip with no luggage or tram service: $14

Deep Point Marina Parking Cost:

  • If you drive to the ferry terminal, it will cost you $12/day to park in the general lot

You can check the ferry schedule for the day of your trip on baldheadislandferry.com/schedule and check the ferry status here.

The Southport Ferry Terminal at Deep Point Marina is convenient to other great North Carolina cities if you are taking a day trip from somewhere nearby:

  • 30 miles from Wilmington, NC
  • 60 miles from Myrtle Beach, SC

In addition, a day trip to Bald Head Island can be a great addition to your visit to Carolina Beach or Kure Beach. During our camping trip at Carolina Beach State Park, we took a day to visit the island and were able to access the ferry via the Fort Fisher Ferry.

A couple smiling aboard a small ferry from Fort Fisher to Southport North Carolina

Here is how to get to Bald Head Island via Fort Fisher:

  • At the Fort Fisher Ferry Terminal, you can choose to walk on the ferry as a pedestrian ($1/person) or drive your vehicle on for ($7).
  • The ferry will be about a 25-minute ride to Southport, where you can then take the short walk or drive over to the Bald Head Island Ferry Terminal
  • You can view the Fort Fisher Ferry schedule here

If you plan to take a day trip to Bald Head Island via Fort Fisher we recommend walking on the ferry. This will save you money on the Fort Fisher Ferry, as well as save you from the $12/day parking fee at the Deep Point Marina in Southport.

Remember, you can’t bring your vehicle to Bald Head Island, so the only reason to bring your car is if you plan to explore Southport during your trip as well.

Walking to Bald Head Island

Believe it or not, you can also technically walk to the island if you would like! It would be an 18-mile trek across the beach from Fort Fisher, but it is doable if you are looking for a great way to explore the coastline and get off the beaten path.

Best Things To Do On Bald Head Island

While Bald Head Island may be small, there is no shortage of things to do or ways to create a fulfilling trip to this unique destination.

From miles of beach and a one-of-a-kind lighthouse to interesting wildlife and tree-lined trails, there are plenty of ways to fill your time on this car-free island.

These are the best things to do in Bald Head Island, North Carolina:

Explore The Beaches

Bald Head Island's East Beach with white caps on the waves crashing to shore and houses lining the beach's coast

Bald Head Island has 14 miles of pristine beaches ready to explore. Here you can relax in the sun, find a quiet place to journal or reflect next to the soothing waves, take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, work on your photography, hunt for shells, or appreciate the many species of birds and other wildlife that flock to the shores.

Keep an eye out for dolphins!

Beaches cover the eastern, western, and southern sides of the island:

  • South Beach: Calm waters are great for relaxing or slowing down
  • West Beach: perfect for watching ferries and boats or taking a leisurely stroll
  • East Beach: perfect for surfing or boogie boarding

Feeling adventurous? You can also find rentals for water sports including kayaking, paddle boarding, and surfing on the island.

  • Coastal Urge offers kayaking, paddleboarding, and beach rentals as well as surfing lessons
  • Sail Shop offers surfboard and boogie board rentals

Tour The Bald Head Island Lighthouse

A woman sitting on the steps of Old Baldy, a stone lighthouse on Bald Head Island that is the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina
During peak season you can climb to the top of Old Baldy for a great view of the island!

Bald Head Island is home to North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, “Old Baldy.” This historic landmark dates back to 1817 and the iconic structure offers breathtaking views of the island from the top.

We visited during the off-season and were only able to enjoy the sights through our drone, but climbing to the top would be a real treat!

Be sure to visit the lighthouse’s museum, which provides insight into the island’s rich maritime history.

Tickets to the Old Baldy Lighthouse grounds and Smith Museum of History can be purchased in the keeper’s cottage.

Old Baldy Lighthouse Cost:

  • $8/adults
  • $5/youth ages 3-12

Eat At One Of Bald Head Island’s Restaurants

BHI offers a variety of dining options ranging from laid back to upscale, perfect for whatever you might want during your day on island time!

Some restaurants are seasonal, but there were several options during our visit in late February.

Jailhouse Provisions: Burgers, sandwiches, baskets, and a full bar with great outside dining. We had a wonderful meal here!

Jules Salty Grub & Island Pub: Bald Head Island’s only waterfront dining experience located in the heart of the island’s marina with a pet-friendly deck

Maritime Market Cafe: Breakfast and lunch spot inside the local grocery store

Midway Coffee: Coffee, Acai Bowls, and ice cream! We enjoyed a sweet treat here before returning home on the ferry

Mike’s Bites: Hot dogs, sandwiches, snacks, and Italian ice located at the BHI Conservancy campus

Sandpiper Ice Cream & Coffee: Coffee, Espresso, and sweet treats near the harbor (operates seasonally)

Restaurant Map:

Take A Tour

A remnant stone foundation of a historic lighthouse on Bald Head Island sitting among bricks in front of palm trees and small buildings
The foundation of the Cape Fear Lighthouse sits next to the BHI Conservancy

Interested in guided experiences that allow you to dive deeper and learn more about the Island from local experts?

There are a few great tour options on the island as well:

  • Bald Head Island Historical Tour: 2-hour tour about the island’s history aboard a golf cart! Offered Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:30pm-1pm; $30/adult, $20/youth

Hike The Island Trails

A long boardwalk leading from East Beach on North Carolina's Bald Head Island

Bald Head Island is home not only to beaches, but also marsh and maritime forests.

In fact, 10,000 of the 12,000 acres of the island are in fact preserved! They are perfect for hiking adventures throughout the year.

Here are a couple of BHI trails to check out during your visit:

  • M. Kent Mitchell Nature Trail: Provides sweeping views of the marsh, the opportunity to learn about local vegetation, and the chance to see fiddler crabs. (Located on Federal Road near the Maritime Market)
  • Bald Head Woods Maritime Forest Preserve: Several trailheads along both sides of Federal Road. Cool off in the woods beneath the shade of a romantic canopy of endless trees that seemingly take you worlds away from the coastal landscapes.

Find a great Bald Head Island rental or place to stay for the perfect getaway!

Get Around With A Bald Head Island Golf Cart Rental

Part of the biggest draw of spending time on Bald Head Island is enjoying the serenity of an island with no cars.

No honking, no fumes, no street lights.

To experience all that the island has to offer, the best way to get around will be by golf cart or bike.

There are rental agencies for both right in the Bald Head Island Village, only steps away from the Bald Head Island Marina where the ferry will drop you off.

Two visitors to Bald Head Island exploring by golf cart while on a day trip to the island.

The perfect way to make your way around the island, while enjoying the salty breeze in your hair and wind on your face.

  • Cary Cart Company: Convenient to the Ferry Landing and easy to reserve quickly by phone. If you are visiting during busier months, consider reserving in advance to secure your spot!
  • Cost: $86.50/day for a 4-passenger cart; $121/day for a 6-passenger cart. Additional fees for luxury or enclosed carts.

Or Consider A Bald Head Island Bike Rental

Prefer to power yourself around the island?

Biking is another great way to explore, which allows you to get in some exercise for an additional serotonin boost!

  • Riverside Outdoor Recreation: This rental agency offers regular and specialty bike rentals in addition to e-bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, and beach equipment. The bike office is located next to the golf cart rentals just steps from the island ferry landing
  • Cost: Bike rentals start at $12 for 2 hours with a regular bike

When is the Best Time To Visit?

A woman in blue jeans and a beige jacket with backpack looking at shells on an old tree stump on the beach on Bald Head Island

Bald Head Island is open to visitors throughout the year!

The best time to visit for beach adventures and summer weather will be between late May and early September.

We took our day trip to the island in late February and enjoyed a perfect sunny day that required only a light jacket and was suitable for dining outside and strolling along the beautiful beaches.

We loved exploring in the off-season with much smaller crowds, but we can easily see just how magical the island would be during the warmer summer months as well!

Peak season on Bald Head Island falls between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but you can count on mild or warm weather from April to November most years!

View of Old Baldy from the sand and long grass on West Beach of Bald Head Island
We had blue skies and sunshine during our visit in late February! It felt like we had the island all to ourselves

Bald Head Island Day Trip Itinerary

Oak island lighthouse as seen from the Cape Fear River on the ferry from Southport to Bald Head Island
You will see Oak Island Lighthouse during your ferry ride to Bald Head Island

MORNING FERRY: Start your day bright and early with a ferry ride to Bald Head Island, departing from the charming town of Southport, NC. Enjoy the endlessly beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean during the ride and keep your eyes peeled for the Oak Island Lighthouse during your journey!

GRAB A GOLF CART OR BIKE RENTAL: Once you arrive on the island, rent a golf cart or bicycle from one of the rental companies near the ferry landing. The island does not allow cars, making these forms of transportation the best way to explore its natural beauty.

EXPLORE OLD BALDY: Tour the lighthouse and romantic grounds, and check out the museum to learn more about the island’s history

REFUEL AT A LOCAL RESTAURANT: Pick a spot to enjoy a meal outside while listening to the sounds of a destination living in harmony with nature all around

HEAD TO THE BEACH: Walk, surf, and explore shells and wildlife along some of the island’s 14 miles of beaches that have been ranked some of the best in the country

WALK A TRAIL: Trade in the sand for marsh or maritime forest while immersing yourself on one of the island’s many well-preserved trails

CHECK OUT THE BHI CONSERVANCY:  A non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the island’s natural habitats. The Conservancy offers a variety of educational programs and tours, including a sunset beach walk, which is a must-do for any visitor to the island.

ENJOY A SWEET TREAT: Grab an ice cream at Sandpipers or Midway Coffee to savor after a day of learning and exploring

GRAB THE FERRY HOME: Take a leisurely stroll back to the ferry landing, taking in the island’s natural beauty one last time. As you board the ferry, reflect on the perfect day trip you’ve just experienced, and express some gratitude for a day well spent slowing down and immersing in nature.

Map of Bald Head Island Things To Do

A complete map of the main points of interest on the island, including trails, beaches, and the local rental companies!

BHI is unique and one of the few destinations in the U.S. that you can visit and feel like you have truly stepped away from the noises and distractions of modern life into a serene nature-scape free from vehicle noise!

Bald Head Island Lighthouse from above with views of greenery and blue waterways cutting their way through the island

Here you can unwind, unplug to connect with the natural world, and reconnect with yourself on a true hidden gem off the East Coast of North Carolina.

We hope this guide helps you discover the best things to do on Bald Head Island and makes planning your trip a bit easier!

PLAN YOUR TRIP TO BALD HEAD ISLAND

The Ferry

Purchase your ferry ticket and secure your spot out of Deep Point Marina and over to Bald Head Island.

Where To Stay:

If you are looking to extend your day trip to spend more time on Bald Island there are several great rental homes you can choose from for your stay!

With nature all around, whether it be beachfront views or nestled in trees, you are sure to have a great retreat on this quaint and quiet getaway.

Here are two great resources linked to island properties to help you compare prices and availability to find the stay you are looking for:

  • VRBO (stunning vacation rentals all over the island – this is probably your best bet for finding homes on the island to stay in)
  • Booking.com (to compare prices on private rentals and hotel stays in the area)

Reserve Tours & Rentals

Looking for other great trips along the North Carolina Coast? Check out these amazing destinations:

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