Geography of Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island is a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina, located about 30 highway miles north of Savannah, GA.  At seven miles in width and fourteen in length, it is the second largest Atlantic coast barrier island after Long Island, NY.

It is shaped roughly like a high top tennis sneaker, with the ''toe" known as the south end, the ''ball" of the foot is Forest Beach, and the ''top" is the north end.

Hilton Head Island is almost bisected by  Broad Creek, which is navigable for most of its length and is home to several marinas.

The island is separated from the mainland by the Calibogue sound, the Intracoastal Waterway and Port Royal sound. Between Hilton Head and the mainland are two islands.  Daufuskie island is accessible only by water and is partly wild and partly developed for tourism. Pinckney island is accessible from the bridge linking Hilton Head to the mainland, and it is a National Wildlife Refuge popular among bird watchers.

On Hilton Head are several ''plantations", which are private, gated communities with restricted access.  All beaches on Hilton Head are public, though access from the interior may be restricted.  There are many miles of beach, making it easy to get away from crowded ''hot spots".  Dunes separate the beach from the interior, and provide protection against storm surges.  The ecological balance of the dunes is very delicate, so crossing them is permitted only at boardwalk-like walkovers.  The width of the beach is affected by tides, which commonly run eight feet.  Keep this in mind when you leave a towel or shoes at low tide - eight feet of tide translates to many yards of beach.  The beach slopes very gradually into the ocean, which limits waves to less than surfing size.  There are some areas of beach that can have treacherous currents during tidal changes. No motor vehicles are permitted on the beaches.

A four lane highway, US 278, (William Hilton Parkway) runs the length of Hilton Head, from the bridge to the south end.  The cross island expressway is a toll road that provides a shortcut from the north end to the south end.  The $1.25  toll is well worth the 12 traffic lights and four miles it cuts out (you'll save that in gasoline). US 278 ends at Sea Pines circle, the same place you will end up if you use the expressway. From the circle Pope Avenue takes you to the beach at Coligny circle, and South Forest Beach Drive runs along the ocean from there.

There is no ''downtown" on Hilton Head.  Shopping and activities are spread throughout, although more heavily concentrated on the south end of the island. We have no malls, but on the approach to the island on the mainland are two Tanger outlets.

Weather in Hilton Head is semi-tropical.  In winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing.  In the summer it can get quite hot, with July and August highs occasionally reaching 100 degrees.  On hot summer days, tropical afternoon thundershowers are common, though not long lasting.  They are usually accompanied by potentially dangerous lightning.  If you are caught outside get off the beach and stay away from tall trees. Visitors are sometimes surprised by the intensity of the sun and have their vacation spoiled by sunburn.  Please be cautious - it's no fun spending part of your vacation in your room in discomfort.

Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.
Franklin P. Jones

This page Updated 07/25/2019



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