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Where to see – and learn about – Hilton Head’s unique wildlife

alligator swimming in a swamp

Hilton Head Island is known for its abundant – and diverse – wildlife, making it a true animal lover’s paradise. We have sea turtles and dolphins, the occasional manatee, various crabs and stingrays, egrets and Blue Herons and of course -alligators. There’s so much wildlife to see! If you’re here for a short time, or just trying to find the best spots to see some of the more unique wildlife, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some of our favorite spots to watch wildlife on the island – and a few places to see animals that are a bit less “wild.”

Where to spot wildlife on Hilton Head Island

Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Our favorite spot to look for wildlife on the island is the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. The forest preserve has been a protected area since 1970, and now includes several paths and boardwalks through forested areas, lakes, marshes and lagoons. The whole area is teaming with wildlife – various species of birds, bull frogs, small mammals, deer … you can find pretty much all of the island’s favorite animals here (minus the sea creatures, of course). And it’s also one of the best places to spot an alligator on the island!
Just remember: It’s illegal to feed ANY wildlife, but especially alligators. As the local saying goes, “A fed alligator is a dead alligator.” If locals, or tourists, feed these creatures, they’re more likely to approach humans in the future, and could lead to an attack or the gator being put down. You should also maintain a safe distance from alligators at all times, and do not harass a gator in any way.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

While Pinckney Island technically isn’t ON Hilton Head Island, but it’s located in between Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. To get there: Exit the island via US 278 West, and the refuge entrance will be on your right in approximately 1/2 mile.

This is the spot to go if you like hiking or long bike rides – and want a chance to see EVERY type of animal you could possibly see in the Hilton Head area. The island has over 14 miles of trails, and the entire place is full of wildlife. Just make sure you bring bug spray and sunscreen! Like the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, you can see alligators, tons of birds, deer, red fox, the occasional bobcat … but if you make it all the way to the beach, you can also look for dolphins in the water and more creatures in the sand!

Mitchelville Beach

If you’re wanting to look for sea creatures, Mitchelville Beach is the place to go. This is one of the island’s less populated beach areas. The shore birds love it, and at low tide you can find a ton of different creatures: fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, starfish, oysters, clams … Depending on the season and the tides, you might also find washed up jellyfish or stingrays. And, of course, keep an eye on the water to look for dolphins!

All of the island’s beaches are great for looking for wildlife at low tide. Keep an eye out for tidal pools for a better chance of finding more live creatures. Docks are also a great place to get a better view of the water, and a good way to spot sea turtles, jellyfish or stingrays. The manatees like to hang out around docks, too Oust don’t feed or touch them!).

Learn about our wildlife

Are you interested in learning more about the island’s wildlife? Head to the Coastal Discovery Museum! The museum always has an itinerary of classes about marine life and other creatures you might find around the island, including alligators. They also have a “discovery lab” full of live animal exhibits!
The museum is great for children, with a ton of hands-on activities. They also offer various tours, lecture series and more.

Want to help save the sea turtles? Follow (and donate to) the Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island.

More activities for animal lovers

Visit Lawton Stables

If you love horses, book a trail ride at Lawton Stables! You can also take the little ones for a pony ride, or visit the animal farm – where you’ll find goats, cows, miniature donkeys, pot-bellied pigs, chickens, alpacas and a miniature horse.

Head to a beach during dog-friendly hours

You might not get up close and personal with any puppies, but it sure is fun to watch dogs frolic in the water and play in the sand! Check out the rules for pups on Hilton Head beaches here.

Go on a dolphin tour

There are many boat tour companies on and around the island that offer various wildlife tours – and you’re sure to see a dolphin or two! You might even get to witness the Lowcountry phenomena of strand feeding! Have little ones? Add a sense of adventure to your hunt for dolphins with a pirate experience or a mermaid encounter boat tour.

HHI Eagle Cam

Whether you’re a Hilton Head resident or just passing through, check on the island’s resident bald eagle’s nest – a live cam set up through Hilton Head Island Land and Trust. Click here to watch them from wherever you are.

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