A Traveler’s Guide to Waties Island, SC

A short half-hour drive from the North Myrtle Beach area, you’ll find the untouched sanctuary archipelago, Waties Island, situated just above the nearby town of Cherry Grove.

Looking to take a day trip from your Grand Strand vacation home rental? If you didn’t know it was there, you might just continue driving right on past this undeveloped island, but stopping for a mini adventure to the pristine protected paradise of Waties Island may be just what the doctor ordered for your next South Carolina vacation.

North Myrtle Beach has something for everyone: all of the sand and sun you could want, delicious restaurants and beach bars, music and food festivals, and even local hidden gems in the form of islands that are unspoiled paradises just waiting to be explored.

Here is your guide to getting to and exploring Waties Island, South Carolina.

About Waties Island

Photo Credit: webb.heather via Flickr CC2.0

Waties Island, often also called “Waites Island,” is one of the last remaining undeveloped barrier islands located along the Grand Strand. It is considered the most northern point on the South Carolina coast before you hit North Carolina. This three mile long barrier island is brimming with ecological diversity in the form of saltwater marshes, maritime forests, and shorelines.

Originally, the island was home to the Native American Waccamaw Tribe before being claimed by William Waites and then sold to a man named Horace Tilghman back in the 1900s.

Once Tilghman passed away, the land was granted to the Coastal Educational Foundation, now Coastal Carolina University (CCU), as a gift, provided the land continued to remain undeveloped and used for ecological research. In fact, the island itself has been part of a conservation easement under The Nature Conservancy, which has prevented it from being marred by the development that has overtaken the surrounding areas.

Recently, however, a small portion of the island was sold to the Open Spaces Institute with the intent of preserving the natural habitats that are home to many animals and other species of life on the island.

Getting to Waties Island

Since it is completely undeveloped land, largely consisting of salt marsh and beach, Waties Island is a motor-free zone and, thus, is not reachable by car or boat. Therefore, getting to this beachfront paradise definitely requires some pre-planning before you head out.

There are several ways to reach the island, including horseback riding, kayaking, and paddleboard.

Waites Island by Horseback

Photo Credit: Piotr Zajda

One unique way to begin your trek on this island is by saddling up. That’s right; you’re in for a horseback ride using the mode of transportation the Native Americans took when the island was first explored!

Inlet Point Plantation Stables run tours of various lengths to Waties Island. This is a fantastic way to get out of your comfort zone and experience something your family will remember forever from your vacation along the South Carolina coast.

Waties Island Via Kayak or Paddleboard

Photo Credit: Dudarev Mikhail

The “no motors” rule for this undeveloped barrier island holds true for boats, too. As such, your only two other options for getting to this coveted land are via kayak or paddleboard.

Many outfitters and tour companies, like Glass Bottom Kayak and Great Escapes Kayak Expeditions, run both public and private daily boat and paddleboard excursions to Waties Island.

This is absolutely the most adventurous way to experience this unique South Carolina wonder, so grab a paddle and prepare for an exciting tour!

What to Do on Waites Island

Waites Island’s unmarred landscape is worth a trip during your stay around the Grand Strand. It offers such a stark contrast to the developing areas and bustling beaches along the coast.

Instead, enjoy oceanfront views, fresh air off the saltwater marshes, and a stunning array of local wildlife.

Explore Animal Habitats

Photo Credit: Gregory Johnston

There is a multitude of species that make their homes on Waties Island.

An afternoon exploring here could lead to you seeing countless rare birds, including blue herons, bald eagles, osprey, and various types of ducks and hens.

If you’re not in awe of the feathered friends you’ll find here, you’ll be pleased to know that sea turtles and loggerhead turtles frequent the pristine beaches, often making their nests in the area.

Finally, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the horizon, scanning for the elusive yet magnificent bottlenose dolphins of the Atlantic Ocean.

Go Horseback Riding

Photo Credit: Leo Arce via Flickr CC2.0

There is something magical about exploring unadulterated sands and wild nature as far as the eye can see on horseback.

Head down to Inlet Point Plantation and choose your own adventure. Their most popular tour, a one-hour island beachfront ride, lets riders explore the oceanfront paradise of Waites Island.

For an even more memorable experience, take this journey at sunset. Watch the colors change over the Intracoastal Waterway and take in the beautiful surroundings of the unparalleled natural scenery.

Planning to Propose During Your Vacation? They even offer private horseback excursions specifically for that special moment! Enjoy a romantic journey on horseback to the secluded Waties Island, complete with photos to remember forever.

This company runs scheduled one-hour tours along the oceanfront Monday through Saturday, with pre-booking required. They also have a sunset addition with a minimum age of seven years old.

Stroll the Beach

The serene and silent beach on Waites Island is what dreams are made of. Here, you can kick back, lay out, relax, and enjoy a peaceful afternoon at the oceanfront, where you can actually hear only the water lapping up onto the sand.

Let the lull of the South Carolina waves lull you to sleep as you drift away, finding a truly tranquil space on the untouched shore.

Take a Kayak Tour

Since you might have to get to Waites Island by kayak, why not take a tour to explore while you’re there?

Glass Bottom Kayak Tours in North Myrtle Beach offers incredible trips from the Cherry Grove Beach area. Their 4-hour private tour will take you on a journey you’ll never forget.

Embark on a half-hour trek via kayak to the island. On your way, look down and marvel at the scenery underneath your glass bottom kayak, seeing the world and the marine life below.

Once you’re on Waites Island, you can opt for a nature tour of the habitats and see wildlife on the island, including deer, sea turtles, egrets, and osprey. Or meander around the shoreline, where you’ll find the perfect environment for shell identification experts!

Pro Tip: If you’re in the area during nesting season, Glass Bottom Kayak Tours also runs a family-friendly tour that is a hit with kids— it will take you to see active nesting grounds for protected loggerhead sea turtles!

Explore Waties Island

Kicking back and relaxing at your North Myrtle Beach vacation rental is a fantastic way to spend your time away, but when you’re ready for a little secluded adventure, head to Waties Island.

The untouched and breathtaking scenery and diverse ecosystems of Waties Island in Horry County are well worth exploring during your time in North Myrtle Beach and the surrounding area of the Grand Strand.