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A Day (Not) at the Beach on Hilton Head Island

We all know Hilton Head Island has an abundance of amazing beaches. Now let's explore the other fun activities you can dive into on family vacation.

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Photo: GettyImages/ideabug

Make Some Nature Discoveries

Hilton Head is literally dripping with nature. You saw the Spanish Moss adorning the oak trees, right? You’ll want to visit the 69-acre Coastal Discovery Museum to interact with all the island ecosystems. This Smithsonian affiliate has trails and gardens and low country animals galore — like frogs and lizards, an American alligator named Lawrence, a couple of resident horses and a seasonal butterfly enclosure. It also has a popular Kids Zone with toys, games and costumes. Thursday's Discovery Night at the Museum is an opportunity for some hands-on education — taking a stab at a local craft or learning about a particular animal. Portions of the museum are open only certain days or times so call in advance or check the website for the schedule of what's on.

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Photo: GettyImages/Rayanne Piraino for EyeEm

Hike Around a Wildlife Refuge

Throw on the backpack and spend a few hours hiking around Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Just a few minutes' drive from HGTV Dream Home 2020, this 4,000-acre preserve features 14 miles of wilderness trails. You'll share your serenity with white-tailed deer, red fox, bald eagles — probably some bobcat, definitely American alligators — but, ooh, wait, is that a painted bunting? Ok, let's just focus on the 250 bird species found here! The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service offers eight suggested walks, ranging in length from the short jaunt to Ibis Pond (1.2 miles round-trip) to the longer excursion across the refuge to White Point (7.8 miles round-trip). The first is a paradise for wildlife photographers and a doable trek for kids. The second offers wild isolation with views of neighboring islands from a small beach. Make your own way around the refuge or take one of the Coastal Discovery Museum's weekly tours. Note: There are no concessions or restrooms, so this activity is especially great for families with older kids and good walkers.

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Photo: Courtesy of the Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau

Bike the Island

Hilton Head consistently tops lists as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. Playground, park, restaurant, shop or beach — its 60+ miles of dedicated bike lanes and multiuse pathways lead to all the popular island destinations. Biking will wind up being your preferred way to get around in general, but why not first take one of the self-guided tours on the city's website to get a sense of all Hilton Head is and has to offer. The 10-mile Island History Pathway Route takes you from Fish Haul Beach Park to Mitchelville Freedom Park, past hundreds of years of island history. There's also a 7-mile Beach Route, where you can preview the potential spots to stake your umbrella later. Bikes are welcome in the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge too. (And they'll certainly make that trek to White Point feel a little shorter!) Bring your own wheels or rent them on the island and brush up on the rules of the road before you head out.

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Photo: Courtesy of the Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau

Take a Wildlife Tour in a Kayak

If you prefer paddles to pedals, rent a couple of kayaks and take the family out on the water to see Hilton Head from the water bird perspective. Depending on the time of year and the route you explore, you'll find something (or someone!) different. Broad Creek is a great place to spot egrets and herons. Visit Calibogue Sound to encounter bottlenose dolphins and manatees. Jarvis Creek is a wonderful place for kids to learn the basics and for you to find your paddle arms! Guide yourself or hire one of the many island guides to show you the secret spots. Between the creeks and marshes, lagoons and marinas, there is no shortage of water for exploration. And from loggerhead sea turtles to otters — you never know who will join you on your journey.

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