Weekend Getaway

Boating in Puget Sound

Seattle to Gig Harbor, Poulsbo and Port Townsend

By
Mark
Bunzel

Seattle has a reputation for being a rainy city. In truth, there are on average 152 sunny days per year, and most of those are in the prime summer months. On clear days the views are incredible, with snow-capped Mount Rainier towering over the Seattle skyline to the southeast, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains stretching along Puget Sound to the west, and snow-capped Mount Baker to the north. With all the protected waters of the Puget Sound, the Salish Sea and the Inside Passage which goes all the way through British Columbia to Alaska you can cruise for days and days.

There are many options for boating right in Seattle, and each has its own flavor with distinct neighborhood restaurants, shops and museums to explore. On the saltwater side are Elliot Bay Marina, in the Elliot Bay area, and Bell Harbor, located downtown just below Pike Place Market. Shilshole Bay Marina is set at the opening to the Lake Washington ship canal, and if you transit through the Hiram M. Chittenden locks there are several marinas on the canal that leads to Lake Union.

You don't have to travel far from Seattle to find an outstanding harbor. With so many quaint towns, beautiful views, and protected waters, the area is a boater's delight and has an endless array of options for cruising and exploration.

Day 1: Seattle to Gig Harbor

Distance: 21 Miles

Crossing Puget Sound is a scenic contrast: behind you, the Seattle skyline with its iconic Space Needle dominates the northern side of the city; in front of you, green and white Washington State ferries cruise back and forth between Seattle and Bainbridge and Vashon islands. Just a few miles beyond that are the harbor towns of the west side of Puget Sound.

Historic Gig Harbor's roots go back to the mid-1800s, when its natural harbor made it the area's center for commercial fishing and boat building. Enter the well-protected harbor with the sand spit and the red light in the small lighthouse to starboard as you approach. On shore, the town wraps around the harbor. You have the choice of anchoring in the center of the harbor or mooring at Jerisich Dock or Arabella's Landing Marina. During July and August, moorage can be tight at this popular destination.

Tides Tavern, just to port as you enter the harbor, has onsite dockage and is a perfect place to stop for lunch. Explore the town's specialty stores, vintage shops, bookstores, restaurants and Harbor History Museum. On the western end of the harbor, walk through the Finholm District and follow the signs to the Finholm View Climb it's a 98-step hike up for stunning views of the harbor and beyond.Gig Harbor features many summer events at Skansie Brothers Park on the water. Don't miss the Gig Harbor Summer Arts Festival (July 16-17), Gig Wine and Food Festival (July 21-23), and the weekly Summer Sounds live music event every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. from June until August.

Day 2: Gig Harbor to Poulsbo

Distance: 29 Miles

Colvos Passage, past Blake Island Marine State Park and then up Rich Passage to Liberty Bay, where you'll find Poulsbo. Dock at Poulsbo Marina, which offers 130 slips and shower and laundry facilities just a stone's throw from town.Poulsbo's Scandinavian heritage is evident throughout the town, from wall murals to statues of Viking warriors in the shops to the delicious bakeries. The First Lutheran Church, built in 1886, sits on a hill overlooking the town. Poulsbo celebrates its heritage on the third weekend of May each year with the three-day Viking Fest.In addition to the charming shops, don't miss the Marine Science Center, a popular destination for kids and adults alike, located just above the marina. There are all kinds of exhibits showing the diversity of marine life in Puget Sound, including touch tanks. Another must-see is the Marina Market, which features a selection of 350 different chocolates, more than 350 kinds of licorice and more than 500 craft beers. They also have many Scandinavian food items and gifts (think wooden clogs), as well as general grocery items.

Day 3: Poulsbo to Port Townsend

Distance: 29 Miles

From Poulsbo, pass north through Agate Pass and up Admiralty Inlet. Transit the Port Townsend Canal and up the bay to the Victorian town of Port Townsend, full of historic brick buildings, interesting shops and fantastic restaurants. Dock at the Port Townsend Boat Haven a modern full-service marina for vessels up to 100 feet. Within the marina are a brew pub, the excellent Key City Fish Company market and numerous eateries. Worth noting is the Blue Moose Café, which opens early and offers excellent breakfasts. Check out the Wooden Boat Chandlery's thrift store for an intriguing selection of used nautical items. Across the roadfrom the Blue Moose, the Western Flyer the famous boat used by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts to explore the Sea of Cortez is open for tours. The Boat Haven area also has a Safeway supermarket, local food co-op, hardware store, two chandleries and even a coffee roasting company.

Another docking option is Port Hudson Marina, home to the Northwest Maritime Center, which hosts the annual Wooden Boat Festival (Sept. 9-11). You can register for classes to build a kayak or canoe, hone your marine skills or visit the chandlery with its many new and old nautical items. The marina is located in the main part of this historic seaport town. A quick stroll will bring you past neighborhoods full of the Victorian homes that once housed the captains, crews and their families who earned their living on the sea. It is not unusual to see classic, restored sailing ships tied to the docks along the waterfront, just as they were hundreds of years ago. It all feels like a step back in time.

From Port Townsend, it is an interesting cruise back to Seattle down Admiralty Inlet, with large container ships and car carriers mixing it up with tugboats and barges and ferries. As you get closer to Seattle, float planes and jets overhead signal that you are back in this busy metropolis, a total contrast to the waterfront villages you've just visited a few miles away in Puget Sound. And about all those sunny days in Seattle for boating, please keep it a secret.

Related Articles
Spectacular Spans: A Tour of America's Great Bridges
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They come in all shapes and sizes, lengths and locations, ages and angles. For boaters, America’s coastal bridges are a fairly common sight, one that often goes unappreciated and undervalued, especially when most of us only get to see them up close from underneath — a unique perspective not often enjoyed by the general public.

Here are the stories of nine of our country’s famous bridges that span America’s frequently traveled waterways, along with fascinating facts that you can share as you sail under or drive over them.

Brooklyn Bridge

Perhaps the world’s most recognized span, this 139-year-old granddaddy of bridges took about 13 years to construct, linking Manhattan to Brooklyn and comprising the East River’s first fixed crossing. As the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1883, its main span measures 1,595 feet and deck rises 127 feet above the river’s surface.

Its building was a true family affair, designed by John Roebling who died unexpectedly after an injury he sustained in the early stages of the bridge’s construction. He was succeeded by his son, Washington who suffered a paralyzing caseof caisson disease. Unable to supervise construction in person, he directed the work from his nearby apartment using a telescope overlooking the site, while his wife Emily delivered handwritten instruction notes to the engineers.

Located between Piers 4 & 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on the East River is the new ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina with 100 slips for vessels up to 300+ feet. Estuary, the marina’s flagship restaurant, features new American cuisine, and the park is home to numerous restaurants, shops and cafes.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge (aka the Bay Bridge)

Soaring above Chesapeake Bay, this dual-span bridge connects Maryland’s densely populated Western Shore with the more rural Eastern Shore, running between Annapolis and Stevensville. The original two-way span opened in 1952; a parallel span was added in 1973 to alleviate congestion. It was only marginally successful.

Especially in summer, the bridge is often referred to as “the world’s tallest traffic jam,” packed bumper-to-bumper nearly 200 feet above the Bay. Because of its height, narrow spans, low guardrails and frequent high winds, the Bay Bridge is cited by some as one of the scariest crossings in America. But to west-bound travels, the sun setting over its tall towers and curved steel girders is a spectacular sight.

Located at the eastern base of the bridge on Kent Island is Bay Bridge Marina, which accommodates boats up to 70 feet. Sandy Point State Park Marina awaits on the westside for day use and fueling. Several other marinas are nearby.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT)

Hailed as one of the great engineering marvels in the world when it opened in 1964, the original CBBT required the construction of four artificial islands, two miles of causeway, nearly six miles of approach roads, two-mile-long tunnels, four high-level bridges and 12 miles of trestle. It crosses the Chesapeake Bay between Cape Charles on the Delmarva Peninsula and Virginia Beach on the mainland.

The CBBT crosses two key East Coast shipping lanes. High-level bridges were initially proposed to span these channels, but the U.S. Navy objected to a bridge over one of the channels, because a collapse could cut off the Norfolk Naval Station from the Atlantic.

Cape Charles Yacht Center and Cape Charles Harbor Marina on the west side of the Delmarva Peninsula put you in the middle of the quaint shoreside town of Cape Charles and its charming shops, restaurants and accommodations.

Florida Keys Seven Mile Bridge

Among the world’s longest bridges when it was built, Seven Mile Bridge connects Knight’s Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Actually two bridges, the newer span is open to vehicular traffic; the older is only for pedestrians and cyclists.

The older bridge was constructed in the early 1900s as part of the Key West Extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. After the Keys section of the railroad was damaged by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Flagler sold it to the U.S. government, which convert edit to automobile use. Unsupported sections were added in 1935 to widen it for vehicular traffic, and the railroad tracks were recycled, painted white and used as guardrails.

Near the center, the bridge rises, providing a 65-foot clearance for boat passage in Moser Channel on the ICW. The remainder of the bridge is considerably closer to the water’s surface. Several marinas are on the Marathon end of the bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

Named one of the Wonders of the Modern World by American Society of Civil Engineers, the 1.7-mile bridge was the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge when it opened in 1937. Originally designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in 1917, the final design was conceived by Leon Moisseiff, engineer of New York City’s Manhattan Bridge.

The relatively unknown residential architect Irving Morrow designed many of the bridge’s Art Deco features, but his most famous contribution was its unique color, international orange. Others preferred that it was painted aluminum, dull gray, and the U.S. Navy suggested black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility by passing ships.

The water under the bridge is often turbulent, given the clash of the silt-heavy Bay waters and the cold Pacific Ocean currents. Consequently, recreational and commercial traffic are carefully monitored and regulated. Looking to dock and dine nearby? Try the north end of the bridge. Le Garage at Schoonmaker Point Marina in Sausalito serves innovative French cuisine, and at the casual eatery, Fish, place an order at the counter and sit at one of the picnic tables overlooking Clipper Yacht Harbor.

Mackinac Bridge

The engineering marvel often called “Mighty Mac” is the longest suspension bridge with two towers between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere, with a shoreline-to-shoreline length of five miles. Opened in 1957, it took three and a half years to build, because Michigan’s harsh winters limited construction to the summer months. Engineers faced daunting challenges. The Great Lakes freeze during the winter, causing large icebergs to place enormous stress on the bridge’s base.

The total length of wire in the main cables is an amazing 42,000 miles, enough to wrap around the Earth nearly twice. Painting the bridge takes seven years; when workers finish, they immediately start again. Locals note that the current in the Straits of Mackinac frequently changes direction, and when combined with wind-blown waves, churn from passing freighters and rebound off the bridge pilings, boating under and near the bridge can be challenging.

St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula has a full-service public marina with 136 slips and is close to shops, cafes and restaurants, like the Mackinac Grille & Patio Bar.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

One of Florida’s most iconic sights, the current Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened in 1987 and is the second bridge of that name on this site. The striking cable-stayed span connects the St. Petersburg peninsula to Terra Ceia, just north of Bradenton. The original bridge opened in 1954. A similar structure was built parallel and to the west of it in 1969 to make it a four-lane bridge.

In 1980, the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with one of the bridge’s supports during a storm, causing the
southbound span to collapse and sending vehicles into Tampa Bay. After the disaster, the northbound span was converted to carry one lane in either direction until the current bridge opened.

If you’re headed into Tampa Bay, Terra Ceia Preserve State Park is on your starboard side, a 2,000-acre mangrove forest and wetlands offering kayaking, fishing and nine miles of hiking trails. At the St. Pete end of the bridge, check out O’Neill’s Marina near Maximo Park.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

The name Tacoma Narrows Bridge has been given to three different incarnations of this span connecting the city of Tacoma with the Kitsap Peninsula to the west. The original bridge opened in 1940 and spectacularly collapsed just four months later due to design flaws that resulted in what was termed “aeroelastic flutter.” It was replaced by the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1950, which is still used for westbound traffic. A third parallel span opened in 2007 to carry eastbound traffic.

The collapse of the original bridge — nicknamed Galloping Gertie — had a major impact on the field of bridge aerodynamics, which influenced the design of all the world’s long-span bridges built since 1940. The newsreel footage of the collapse can still be viewed on
YouTube today.

Just south of the bridge you find Narrows Marina with transient docks that offer 375 linear feet of three-hour complimentary
guest side ties and 13 overnight moorage slips. The Narrows Brewing Company and Boathouse 19 restaurant are steps away.

Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge

This massive suspension bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island opened in 1964 after decades of on-again off-again planning and five years of construction.
Each tower is made up of more than a million tons of metal, one million bolts and three million rivets. The four main suspension cables are 36 inches in diameter, and each is composed of 26,108 wires totaling 142,520 miles in length. Due to thermal expansion of the steel cables, the upper roadway’s height is 12 feet lower in summer than in winter.

The double-decker bridge carries 13 lanes of traffic, seven on the upper level and six on the lower level. Both the upper and lower roadways are supported by trusses that stiffen the bridge against vertical, torsional and lateral pressure — thanks to lessons learned from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940.

Fort Wadsworth, at the Staten Island end of the bridge, is one of the oldest military installations in America, built in the early 1800s to protect the Narrows. In 1994, the U.S. Navy turned Fort Wadsworth over to the National Park Service.

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Chesapeake Bay Calendar of Events
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Summer is here, and it’s time to soak up the sun, visit bustling beaches, learn about boating history and relish the small-town charm around the Chesapeake Bay. Read on for hidden gems and tried-and-true events along the Bay, all the way from Havre de Grace to Cape Charles. Whether you’re a fan of watersports, arts and crafts, street festivals, or coastal cuisine, you’ll find something worth docking for a while.

July

Yorktown Farmer's Market/ Tony Alter on Flcikr

Yorktown Market Days, Fun in the Sun Market

Yorktown, VA

July 16 - Fun in the Sun Market;

August 6 - National Farmers Market Week

Experience a coastal Hampton Roads market on the York River. Check out local produce, meats, seafood, gourmet dog treats, art and more every Saturday this summer, and stop by one of the dates above for a themed, family-friendly extended market.

Where to Dock: Riverwalk Landing

Spirit of America

Havre de Grace, MD

July 2

Enjoy this beautiful town through a mid-century Americana lens at the Independence Day festival. You won’t want to miss the Patriotic Pooch contest, 50s throwback entertainers and best of all, derby races on Pennington Avenue.

Where to Dock: Tidewater Marina

Sea Glass & Beach Crafts Market at Annmarie

Solomons, MD

July 2

Kick off the holiday weekend at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center’s annual beach-themed market. Browse all things crafty and sea glass at over 50 booths!

Where to Dock: Solomons Harbor Marina

Kent County Waterman’s Day

Rock Hall, MD

July 3

For the first time since 2019, stop by and celebrate watermen who dedicate their lives to working on the Chesapeake! Enjoy a day of family fun, including anchor tosses and a raffle, culminating in the infamous boat docking.

Where to Dock: Haven Harbor Marina Resorts

Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Association’s 49th Annual Show

Easton, MD

July 7-10

Calling all car, truck and train enthusiasts! This multi-day show will be packed with steam and gas engines; antique tractors, trucks and cars; live steam train models; and even a horse pull.

Where to Dock: Easton Point Marina

Chesapeake Stand Up Challenge

Annapolis, MD

July 9 

Sponsored by the Eastport Yacht Club, this open water race has something for all levels. Experienced paddlers can fight it out in the seven-mile Challenge, and recreational paddlers will enjoy the 3.5-mile Challenge or one-mile Just for Fun race.

Where to Dock: Eastport Yacht Center

Plein Air Easton Art Festival

Easton, MD

July 17-24

Plein air painters express their craft from life instead of the studio, so you’ll see artists from across the country painting all around town. Also attend lectures and workshops, and buy art and other goods downtown all week. 

Where to Dock: Easton Point Marina

14th Annual Hampton Heat

Hampton, VA

July 23

Dock at the transient slips in downtown Hampton, then join the landlubbers at Langley Speedway, one of NASCAR’s best weekly tracks, for the annual Hampton Heat races.

Where to Dock: Bluewater Yachting Center

Southern Maryland Boat Club Bash on the Bay

Leonardtown, MD

July 29-31

Since the Calvert Marine Museum opened an exhibit on the golden era of powerboat racing in 2013, this vintage boat club has put on several races a year. Make your way to the historic Leonardtown Wharf to see vintage powerboats in action.

Where to Dock: Combs Creek Marina

2022 Snakehead Summer Slam

July 30

Annapolis, MD

Things are sure to heat up at the fourth of five tournaments in the 2022 Snakehead Championship Series at Anglers Sport Center. Anglers in kayak/shoreline and boating divisions will be up for all kinds of prizes, including one from the Coastal Conservation Association Maryland’s Great Chesapeake Invasive Count.

Where to Dock: Podickory Point Marina

Annapolis Yacht Club Two Bridge Fiasco Race

Annapolis, MD

July 31

Cruise to the southern Chesapeake to witness this pursuit style race starting between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Severn River Bridge. Look out for all types of boats in the competition, and even a foiler or two if you’re lucky.

Where to Dock: Annapolis Yacht Club

August

Annual Chesapeake Bay Balloon Festival

Cordova, MD

August 5-7

Embrace the Eastern Shore summer lifestyle at this family-friendly festival. Feel the adrenaline rush of hot air balloon rides and keep the thrill going on the mechanical bull and bouncy house on land.

Where to Dock: Easton Point Marina

A Day of Celebration & Remembrance of Harriet Tubman

Cambridge, MD

August 6 

Celebrate Harriet Tubman’s life, bicentennial and antislavery activism on the Underground Railroad just miles from where she lived as a child. Join the commemorative parade through the streets of Cambridge and enjoy local vendors and entertainment at the festival.

Where to Dock: Cambridge Yacht Basin

Pirates & Wenches Weekend

Rock Hall, MD

August 12-14

Presented by Main Street Rock Hall, you can dock at a local bayfront marina ready for an immersive, family-friendly weekend. The whole family will love the marketplace on Main Street, pirate and mermaid performers, and costume contests, and there will be no shortage of grub and grog.

Where to Dock: Haven Harbor Marina Resorts

Solomons Dragon Boat Festival 2022

Solomons Island

August 13

Cruise to scenic Solomons Island to watch 30 dragon boat teams compete for glory on the Patuxent River and explore the local vendor village. Arrive the week before and you might catch a Dotting of the Eye Ceremony or even a flash mob.

Where to dock: Solomons Harbor Marina

Leo Wardrup Memorial Cape Charles Cup Regatta

Cape Charles, VA

August 20-21

Make your way to Virginia’s Eastern Shore for two days of racing on the Chesapeake. While you’re there, lounge on the Cape Charles town beach, stroll around the retail district and check out Victorian homes in the historic district.

Where to Dock: Cape Charles Yacht Center & Marine Services

7th Annual Coastal Craft Beer Festival

Virginia Beach, VA

August 27

Spend your Saturday at the waterfront Neptune’s Park, tasting your way through 60+ beers, ciders and seltzers from 30 breweries. Learn about all Virginia breweries have to offer or branch out with some regional or national craft brews.

Where to Dock: Rudee's Inlet Station Marina

September

The Waterfront Festival

Havre de Grace, MD

September 9-10

Cruise to the northern Bay to round out your summer with this annual festival, kicking off with a lighted boat parade. Enjoy fun for the whole family with fresh crab and seafood, beer gardens, live music, hot air balloons and a youth fishing derby!

Where to Dock: Tidewater Marina

2nd Annual Portsmouth Paddle Battle

Portsmouth, VA

September 10 

Whether you kayak or paddleboard as a novice or a pro, or enjoy waterfront live music, food and drink, there’s a place for you in the Paddle Battle on the Elizabeth River. Proceeds will support the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum and Lightship Portsmouth Museum.

Where to Dock: Tidewater Yacht Marina

TrawlerFest Baltimore

Baltimore, MD

September 27-October 1

Close out your summer season with Passagemaker’s annual boat show held at Harbor East Marina in the heart of downtown Baltimore. The show hosts impression in-water selections of new and pre-owned long-rang cruisers, coastal cruisers and of course, tons of trawlers. Free seminars and educational demonstrations are held throughout the weekend.

Where to Dock: Harbor East Marina

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Find a Heavenly Hideaway - Secluded Atlantic Beaches
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Some of the best summer getaways require only the bare essentials: a few towels, sunscreen, and a cooler of cold drinks and snacks. If venturing away from the crowds, unplugged and ready to unwind, is what you’re dreaming about, Marinalife has found idyllic places for you. The following beaches will help you reconnect with nature and discover your happy place in the sun.

DAMARISCOVE ISLAND, ME

As the first island to be inhabited by European fishermen in the 1600’s, Damariscove Island lies six miles from Boothbay Harbor. Because of nesting birds and a fragile ecosystem, the northern half of the 210-acre hourglass-shaped island is restricted. On the southern portion, trails wind along the water’s edge through coastal tundra. The freshwater pond, salt marsh and a cobble beach are perfect for picnicking.

At the head of the harbor, a small museum showcases Damariscove’s rich history. A stone pier on the working waterfront welcomes local fishermen. Tie-ups are not permitted here, but the tiny, protected harbor has two courtesy moorings.

BOSTON HARBOR ISLANDS, MA

Many of the three dozen islands spread over 50 square miles of the greater Boston Harbor basin were populated in the 1800s and later deserted during urban migration. Partial foundations and stone walls remain as relics of long-gone days.

Each spot of land has its own appeal. Anchor off Great Brewster Island and trek to the top of 100 foot bluffs for a view of lighthouses across the harbor. The rugged New England coastline and tidal pools of Grape Island, and gorgeous wildflowers on Rainsford Island make brag-worthy photos.

Four islands within the park offer moorings, but reserve a spot well in advance. Spectacle Island has a lifeguarded beach as well as breathtaking views from the top of North Drumlin. Graceful granite archways of Civil War era Fort Warren greet visitors to Georges Island. Peddocks Island is appealing for being off the beaten path. Once home to Native Americans, militiamen and prisoners of war, it was used for shooting scenes for the film Shutter Island.

FIRE ISLAND, NY

When cruising the Great South Bay, be sure to visit Fire Island, a thin slice of land off the south shore of Long Island. A home for diverse plants, animals and people for centuries, it has pristine beaches, ancient maritime forests, high dunes and frequent glimpses of wildlife.

Activities on this car-free beach haven include hiking the 40-acre maritime Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven, climbing 182 steps to the top of the Fire Island Lighthouse and soaking up nature on Fire Island National Seashore. Take care not to disturb the piping plover, an endangered migratory shorebird that burrows its nests in the sand of the park beaches. Anchor offshore and wade in, or tie up to the floating dock at Talisman (Barrett Beach). Sailors Haven and Watch Hill Marina are in the park itself.

ASSATEAGUE, MD

The 37 miles of Assateague Island on the Atlantic coastline is part of a barrier island chain extending from Maine to Texas. Assateague Island National Seashore has inviting miles of sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests and an inviting atmosphere, but the real draw is the wild ponies roaming free along the beaches.

The animals are thought to be descendants of horses brought to several remote islands in the late 17th century by mainland owners trying to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock. Assateague’s horses are tough enough to survive the scorching heat, exuberant mosquitoes, temperamental weather and poor-quality food on this remote, windswept barrier island. They are truly wild and best admired from afar.

SANDBRIDGE BEACH, VA

Just a few minutes south of Virginia Beach’s festive three-mile boardwalk is secluded Sandbridge Beach. A spectacular hideaway of pristine sand dunes and dancing sea oats, it’s perfect for unwinding with nature.

The beach sits near Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, home to sea turtles and various bird species, and False Cape State Park. Both have protected areas but welcome kayakers, hikers and fishermen.

MASONBORO ISLAND RESERVE, NC

Just south of the vibrant coastal town of Wrightsville Beach, one of the great hidden gems of the southeast is Masonboro Island, an essentially pristine barrier island and estuarine system. Masonboro Sound’s nutrient-rich waters are an important nursery area for fish including flounder, pompano, menhaden and bluefish.

The beaches along the north and south sound side of the island are the best landing spots for boats. Trails lead cross-island to the beach where visitors can trek along miles of undisturbed ocean shoreline. Inland on the dunes, grassy flats, marsh grass and eelgrass beds, use care that the vegetation and the habitat of nesting loggerhead and green sea turtles are not disturbed.

HAMMOCKS BEACH STATE PARK, NC

Hammocks Beach State Park, known locally as Bear Island, is an untouched beach area accessible only by boat. Try visiting in the late spring or early fall to avoid sweltering heat and overzealous mosquitoes.

The park rents kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards for exploring the Bear Island Water Trail or just meandering marshy waterways. There are no marked hiking paths, but wander through beautiful maritime forests, secret tide pools and endless mudflats. It’s a great place for shell hunters, bird watchers and dolphin lovers.

MORRIS ISLAND, SC

Morris Island’s secluded 840 acres embody the unique ecosystem of the Lowcountry. Located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor and accessible only by boat, the island is actively protected by naturalists and historians, but is constantly under threat of development.

Some deep drop offs in the channels between sandbars make for great shore fishing around the area. Weekend partiers prefer the northern end, while the southern part has hiking trails, peaceful beaches and prime views of the historic Morris Island Lighthouse.

Morris Island has a violent history. In the 1700s, marauding pirates used it as a hideout. And some of the most heroic and consequential battles of the Civil War took place here. Of all the ghost tales told here, it’s been said that some are whispered by the ghosts themselves.

CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, GA

Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island is located six miles east of St. Marys. Primal maritime forests, wide marshes and unspoiled beaches hum with the tales of previous residents. Indigenous tribes, missionaries, slaves and affluent tycoons have all passed through here.

Over 9,800 acres of Cumberland Island is designated wilderness. You’ll find more than 50 miles of trails for hiking and birdwatching, as well as 18 miles of beach for swimming and beachcombing. Rent a bike and pedal around the island with a stop at Dungeness Ruins, the remnants of steel magnate Thomas Carnegie’s mansion. The island is only accessible by boat. As the only commercial establishment on the island, Greyfield Inn offers access to 18 miles of beachfront and dockage to its guests.

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