Best Things To Do on Bald Head Island: A NC Hidden Gem

Aerial image of Bald Head Island lighthouse. Called "Old Baldy" for short.

Just off of North Carolina’s stunning coast lies a hidden oasis only accessible by ferry or boat. Bald Head Island is a beach lover’s paradise, where the sounds of waves and birds overhead are unspoiled by vehicle noise – the only way to get around the island is by electric golf cart, bicycle, or on foot! With some of the best beaches in the country and few distractions, Bald Head Island can be a wonderful and rejuvenating retreat where you can escape into nature. This is a complete guide to the perfect day trip to Bald Head Island Head, including how to get there and great things to do during your visit to this magical place!

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. 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 to North Carolina’s vibrant coast.

How To Get To Bald Head Island

Looking back at the Fort Fisher, NC ferry point on our way to Southport, NC. This ferry carries vehicles as well as people!
Our journey from Carolina Beach took us on two ferries. The Fort Fisher Ferry to Southport and then the Bald Island Ferry!

Bald Head Island is accessible by public passenger ferry or private boat. A mesmerizing 20-minute ride across the Cape Fear River from Southport whisks you away from the hustle and bustle of your typical day-to-day life toward a destination where you can unplug and get lost in all that this coastal paradise has to offer.

Here’s exactly how to catch a ferry and travel to Bald Head Island:

Ferry & Fees

The only ferry option to take 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.

The ferry is first come, first served! Summer is peak season, and we would recommend arriving early to give yourself time to park and reserve tickets for your desired departure time.

Bald Head Island Ferry Cost:

  • $23 round trip for adults
  • $12 for children ages 3-12

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 and check the ferry status here.

The Southport Ferry Terminal at Deep Point Marina is convenient to other great 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 Bald Head Island and were able to access the ferry via the Fort Fisher Ferry.

Here is how you can access 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

Walking to Bald Head Island

Believe it or not, you can also technically walk to Bald Head 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 really connect with nature 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, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. These are the best things to do on Bald Head Island, North Carolina:


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!

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

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

Coastal Urge offers kayaking, paddleboarding, and beach rentals as well as surfing lessons on Bald Head island!

Sail Shop offers surfboard and boogie board rentals

Bald Head Island Lighthouse

Female sitting in front of the orange door marking the entrance into the Old Baldy Lighthouse on Bald Head Island
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

Refuel For Your Adventures at Bald Head Island’s Great Restaurants

Bald Head Island 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!

Delphina Cantina: Latin cuisine in the harbor, close to the ferry landing

Jules Salty Grub & Island Pub: Marina front dining

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

Sandpiper Ice Cream & Coffee: Coffee, Espresso, and sweet treats near the harbor

Bald Head Island Restaurant Map:

Local Tours

The foundation of the Cape Fear Lighthouse next to the BHI Conservancy on Bald Head Island North Carolina
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

Bald Head Island Conservancy Tours: Year-round nature and bird tours to connect with the island’s ecosystem in an effort to enjoy, appreciate, and conserve


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:

  • 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.

If you are new to hiking and want to learn more, read about our best beginner hiking tips!

Getting Around On Bald Head Island

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. Explore more mindfully by leaning into the opportunity to experience a slower pace for a while. 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.

Golf Cart Rentals

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.

Bike Rentals

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 Bald Head Island Ferry Landing

Cost: Bike rentals start at $12 for 2 hours with a regular bike

Bald Head Island Weather: When To Visit

Bald Head Island is open to visitors throughout the year! We took our day trip to Bald Head 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, but we can easily see just how magical the island would be during the warmer summer months as well! Peak season falls between Memorial Day and Labor day, but you can count on mild or warm weather from April to November most years!

Whether you would prefer to swim and explore in shorts and t-shirts with a few more people around, or would prefer to walk the beaches and explore an island when it feels like you have the whole place to yourself, you can plan a truly special visit or day trip to Bald Head Island all throughout the year.

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 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 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.

Bald Head Island Map

Fulfilling Travel Tips

Aerial drone shot of Bald Head Island Village, Bald Head Island Marina and Old Baldy, set against the deep blue of the Cape Fear River
Bald Head Island Village and “Old Baldy” from above

Bald Head Island is a great example of a place you can go to reap the benefits of being truly connected to nature. With 10,000 acres of nature preserves and no cars on the island, it becomes that much easier to slow down and enjoy the little things.

Often the most fulfilling adventures are those that allow you to experience places more deeply, learn something new, and have opportunities for growth and reflection. During your day trip to Bald Head Island, here are a couple of ways to foster fulfillment and support your well-being:

  • Learn something new! Take time to read the signs and learn about the island’s plant life and history. By diving deeper and learning more about Bald Head Island you can be more present and connected to your surroundings
  • Take time to just be: You want to make the most of your day, but don’t let the day pass you by while zipping around from place to place! Set some intentional time to slow down, take a few quiet moments and deep breaths, and just enjoy the special qualities of this magical place.
A woman on the east beach of Bald Head Island admiring shells set atop a lone tree stump

Bald Head Island 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. Here you can unwind, unplug to connect with the natural world, and reconnect with yourself on a true hidden gem of the east coast!


The Ferry

Remember, you can’t reserve a spot on the ferry as it is first come first served. They typically depart on the hour, so try to arrive 30-40 minutes in advance to park ($12/day), purchase your ticket ($23/roundtrip), and secure your spot out of Deep Point Marina and over to Bald Head Island.

Where To Stay On Bald Head Island:

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 resources linked to Bald Head 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)
  • (for properties on the island or nearby on the mainland)

Tour & Rentals

If you are interested in other great North Carolina island retreats with laid-back atmospheres, read more to see if Shackleford Banks (where wild horses roam free), Cape Lookout, or Ocracoke Island might be worthy of your travel bucket list!

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