Photo: Haig Point

Daufuskie Island Makes for the Most Fun Day-Trip From Hilton Head

South Carolina Travel Insider Guides
by Sarah Lamagna Mar 11, 2022

You might not have ever heard of Daufuskie, an island named after the Muscogee word for “sharp feather” which references its shape. It’s a tiny and quiet community just north of the Georgia/South Carolina border, often overshadowed by the larger and more popular tourist destination of Hilton Head Island. Unlike its northern island neighbor, though, Daufuskie is the dictionary definition of “island life.”

It’s affectionately called the “island with no bridges” since there are, unsurprisingly, no bridges to reach it. This means there are far fewer cars on the island (most visitors and locals drive golf carts) and life is, inherently, paced much slower. Electricity didn’t even come to the island until the 1950s and telephones not until 20 years after that. It is full of abundant wildlife, endless outdoor activities, and eclectic locals who know the true meaning of southern charm.

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Why take a day trip to Daufuskie Island

View of the coastline of Daufuskie Island from the air

Photo: Haig Point

The crowded beaches of Hilton Head Island might be too much for some visitors. Life on Daufuskie Island, whether visiting for the day or staying overnight, is quiet and goes on at a snail’s pace. After all, there are only between 200 and 500 permanent residents spread on 5,000 acres.

On top of the laid-back atmosphere and tranquility, there’s also plenty of history, art, and outdoor activities that can satisfy anyone’s tastes. Daufuskie Island has some of the best festivals in South Carolina including a Fourth of July fireworks show that even Hilton Head can’t beat.

How to get to Daufuskie Island: Ferry or water taxi

Ferry to Daufuskie Island arriving at night

Photo: Haig Point

The Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is the closest airport to Hilton Head Island (and therefore, Daufuskie) and the easiest place to start your trip if you’re coming from out of town. From the airport, you can rent a car for the most flexibility for your trip or get a taxi or ride-share to the ferries if you’re going straight to Daufuskie. If you’re staying on Hilton Head Island, however, avoid Interstate 95 if possible and take the more scenic route. This allows you to go through the quaint town of Bluffton which is a must-see when visiting this area.

Hilton Head offers a pedestrian ferry boat service (starting at $45 per passenger) that leaves from Buckingham Landing and sails through Calibogue (pronounced KAL-LAH-BOE-GHEE) Sound to Melrose Landing on Daufuskie. It runs four times a day between the two islands except on Fridays when a late-night option is added. Be mindful of the departure times because if you miss the last ferry, you’ll have to wait until the next day to hitch a ride and overnight accommodation isn’t always easy to find at the last minute on Daufuskie Island.

There are other options to get to Daufuskie including taking the scenic water taxi ride from Bluffton with May River Excursions ($150 for a minimum of three people) or the long ride from Savannah out of Bull River Marina ($50 per passenger). If you happen to be staying on Daufuskie at Haig Point Resort, a luxurious Cadillac Escalade will pick you up directly at the airport and transport you to the resort’s private ferry.

How to get around Daufuskie Island

Golf cart rentals on Daufuskie Island

Don’t be fooled by travel websites that advertise Daufuskie as the “island with no cars” because you will see cars. Despite there being no bridges to get to the island, you can bring cars over by freight. It’s expensive and isn’t usually done by visitors.

That said, golf carts are the transportation of choice for almost everyone who lives on and visits Daufuskie. Touring the island by golf cart is the easiest if you are traveling with others, including children. Most of the golf cart rental companies have both four- and six-person options. To rent a golf cart (all starting around $75 for a half-day rental) use Freeport Marina Rentals, Daufuskie Carts, Tour Daufuskie, or Daufuskie Life.

Getting around Daufuskie Island by bike

Bikes are a less popular option for both residents and visitors alike. Daufuskie is a small island, but the major attractions are spread throughout its 5,000 acres, so biking isn’t always the most efficient use of your time — especially if you’re only on a day trip to Daufuskie Island. You can rent electric bikes through Fuskie Bike Rentals (starting at $65 for a half-day rental) if you don’t want to save some time and effort. You can even add on a trailer for your four-legged friends. Fuskie Bikes also rents out beach cruisers (starting at $15 for a half-day rental) if you’re looking for an even slower paced option. Or you can always bring your own bike over to the island — most of the ferries will transport them free of charge.

Tours of Daufuskie Island

Another great way to view the island is by letting others do the work for you. Tour Daufuskie gives comprehensive guided trips with extremely knowledgeable local guides. They have every subject covered from history to art to nature of the local waterways.

Alternatively, you can take the Sallie Ann Gullah History Tour led by Miss Sallie Ann herself! Sallie Ann was born and raised on Daufuskie island and provides a distinct perspective on its history. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she’s got a lot of personality and spark too!

Things to do on Daufuskie Island

Take a lesson in Indigenous and Gullah history

Daufuskie Island is home to about 200-500 permanent residents. The true number is hard to gauge because many of the houses are summer homes for wealthy people. But where Daufuskie lacks in numbers it makes up for in rich history. Indigenous Peoples called Daufuskie home thousands of years ago prior to European colonization and you can still see the remnants of Native American culture throughout the entire island today.

The Bloody Point Lighthouse (which looks nothing like a typical lighthouse) houses a small museum full of arrowheads and pottery shards from the Indigenous people who inhabited the area long ago. Most recently, in 2021, a longboat was found in the marsh area on the southern side of the island and now sits just outside the lighthouse. If you take the historical tour with Tour Daufuskie (starting at $65 per person), you’ll learn about the battles that gave Bloody Point Lighthouse its name.

After the American Revolutionary War, white settlers tore down trees and built large plantations. The island is generally still split up by plantation border lines. Most locals will tell you where they live by saying what former plantation land their houses reside on. Enslaved people were brought over to Daufuskie Island to work the plantations’ crops of sea island cotton and indigo. The enslaved people were known as Gullah People.

For the best self-guided Gullah history tour, download the map for the Robert Kennedy Trail. This might be the best option for families since you can go at your own pace and take breaks as needed. The tour will take you to 20 historical landmarks on the island and should take you about three-and-a-half hours to complete (if traveling by golf cart). You’ll pass by countless Gullah houses which all have the same layout — a small cottage with one long hallway from the front door and two doors to each side. Many still have doors and windows painted blue to ward off witches and evil spirits as is the Gullah belief.

Tell the tales of Brer Rabbit to the kiddos in your party as you travel the roads. Hopefully they won’t be as clever as the rabbit in these Gullah tales because his wit often got him into trouble. Don’t forget that when you visit the historical places on the map, you need to come out the same door that you went in. The Gullah people believed that it was bad luck to go out a different door.

Patronize the talented artists and artisans of Daufuskie Island

Daufuskie Blues shop selling hand dyed items

Photo: Haig Point

If you’re an art buff, Daufuskie is filled with artists from every background.
One of the most famous artisans is Chase Allen who handcrafts metal sculptures. His Iron Fish Gallery and Studio on Daufuskie is a must-see. The artist is often in his studio welding new pieces for his gallery.

You can also visit Daufuskie Blues, an indigo-based art gallery. Since 2013, Rhonda and Leanne have been working with the blue dye that has a rich history on the island. Grab yourself a t-shirt, scarf, and more in their small shop housed in the historic Mary Fields School (the first school for Black children on the island).

Lastly, pop by Daufuskie Soap Co. to grab some body scrubs, soaps, and lip balms. Grab a bar of “Islander” soap which smells like coconut, lime, and verbena or a bar of “Nature’s Trail” which has hints of cyclamen flower and amber.

Partake in outdoor activities for adults and children on Daufuskie Island

people taking their paddleboards to the water on Daufuskie Island

Photo: Haig Point

There are outdoor activities for everyone on Daufuskie Island — even your pickiest of kids.

If you’re raising the next Tiger Woods, you can become a Golf Member for A Day at Haig Point — the only golf course on the island.

Or perhaps you want to take a relaxing horseback ride on the beach. Many of the horses you see at Daufuskie Island Trail Rides (rides starting at $150 per person) are of Iberian horse descent and hardy creatures who love to breathe in the salty air. (when the Spanish settled in the area in the 16th century, they brought over their Iberian breeds). Since those rides are usually people ten years of age or older, smaller kids can always take Nemo for a walk at Haig Point. He’s a miniature horse who doesn’t get enough exercise.

If it’s especially hot, you can also take to the water by kayaking or stand-up-paddle-boarding (rentals start at $80 per day). Take a tour with Outside Daufuskie (starting at $65 per child or $95 per adult) where kids under the age of 12 are welcome (in a tandem kayak).

You can also roam around the Daufuskie Community Farm (tours start at $20 for up to four people) which sits among the shade of the live oaks coated with Spanish moss. It’s a great option for kids who want to pet goats and watch the dozens of chickens that live on the farm.

Turn your day trip to Daufuskie into a wildlife viewing expedition

Kid petting a goat on Daufuskie Island

Photo: Haig Point

Grab your binoculars and bird identification guides when you head over to Daufuskie for the day. You’ll be greeted by dozens of bird species that either call Daufuskie home or use it as a stopover when flying south for the winter. You might even be lucky and run into resident expert birder Mike Loftus (also owner of Daufuskie Wine and Woodworks).

Daufuskie Island is also home to dolphins year-round. The nutrient-rich waters of Calibogue Sound are a healthy ecosystem for dolphins to thrive. On land, you’ll see fox squirrels (which look like lemurs), armadillos, possums, deer, and alligators.

Be a beach bum for a day

Sandy beaches are an easy way to entertain kids and keep parents relaxed. Luckily, there are several beaches throughout the island. If you’re staying at Haig Point, you are rewarded with pristine beaches that are devoid of tourists. But Daufuskie also has three miles of beaches that are open to the general public. If you don’t want to bring over all your beach accessories, simply select the “Fuskie Beach Package” from Fuskie Bikes which includes two beach chairs, a shade canopy, a cooler with bottled water, and your choice of Bocci or Giant Jenga (starting at $45 for a half-day rental).

The best restaurants on Daufuskie Island

Crab Company restaurant on Daufuskie Island

Photo: Haig Point

With Daufuskie Island being as tiny as it is, the food and drinking options are limited. You can grab a quick deli sandwich from D’fuskies Store and Eatery or a nice lunch on the shore at Bells at the Beach (seasonal). If you’re staying at Haig Point, the Calibogue Club has some of the best fine)dining options on the island. If you’re just on the island for the drinks, then head to Daufuskie Island Rum Distillery where they make seven types of rum, one bourbon, and two vodkas.

For the best dining experience, head over to Old Daufuskie Crab Company. If you’re especially lucky, you’ll have Nancy as your bartender. She’s a real sharpshooter who slings drinks and carries on multiple conversations while still making you feel special. Make sure to order a cup of Scrap Iron, the restaurant’s signature drink. It’s a concoction of moonshine and iced tea (along with a bunch of other stuff including a secret ingredient). The drink gets its name after the prohibition era when smugglers would put scraps of metal over the moonshine barrels to trick law enforcement. The restaurant’s patio is perfect for those with kids since the playground is across the dirt path. While you’re sipping your drinks, the kids can play on the tire swings.

Hotels, B&Bs, resorts, and Airbnbs on Daufuskie Island

Haig Point resort on Daufuskie Island

Photo: Haig Point

Part of Daufuskie Island’s charm is that there are no hotels or B&Bs on the island. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay overnight. Haig Point is the only resort you can stay at. You can choose between the Strachan Mansion (starting at $500 per night with double occupancy) or the 1873 Lighthouse (starting at $1200 per night based on four-person occupancy). While staying at the resort, you get the added bonus of being able to take advantage of its golf, dining options, and multitude of member benefits.

For much cheaper lodging options, there are various rentals through AirBnB including The Little Red Guesthouse (starting at $197/night) in the historic district; a tiny house called The Indigo Escape (starting at $220/night) which comes with a golf cart rental; or a coastal cottage only 200 yards to the beach.

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