Dolphins May Swim Up to Your Kayak on This Hilton Head Salt Marsh Tour

Posted on | No Comments

Kayak Hilton Head let us join one of their boat tours this summer for an amazing experience on the water. Kristina shares all about what to expect and why this particular place is excellent for your next family adventure on the coast.

Media tickets were given so we could write about Kayak Hilton Head.

For more family fun on Hilton Head, don’t miss our list of our favorite things to do on Hilton Head Island.

I grew up near the ocean but never got to see dolphins, or really any other cool wildlife, up close until I started visiting the South Carolina coast. And wow, the beaches in the state are just beautiful. But then I learned all about salt marshes and the uniqueness of this kind of environment and was blown away! I’ve done amazing dolphin cruises in Hilton Head Island but I am a huge fan of kayaking and wanted to get just a tad bit closer to the dolphins and birds and salt marshes. 

So I went on a two-hour kayak tour with Kayak Hilton Head. To say the experience was unforgettable is an understatement. If any of you followed our Instagram story on the kayak tour, you can plainly hear I lost my mind upon seeing dolphins up close. Sorry. I was excited. 

Experience Matters

Kayak Hilton Head is owned by a gracious and chill guy named Dave. He has been running the company for almost 20 years. And he used to work for Disney’s Hilton Head resort, so finding things to entertain kids comes naturally. That kind of experience is worth it when it comes to learning about the area, the salt marshes, and the incredible wildlife and creatures that inhabit it. 

The kayak tours take place at Broad Creek, a tidal creek that rises and falls with the tide. It’s a protected area far from the open ocean which means you likely won’t be dealing with high winds and waves – or big sharks. The salt marshes provide habitats for everything from dolphins to manatees to minks to vast oyster beds and all kinds of cool birds. We got to see a Rosa Spoonbill, a pink bird with a beak that looks like a spoon, which it uses to scoop out food from shallow waters. So cool. 

Our guide for the morning kayak tour we went on was Mary, a resident of the island. Mary not only provided an informative narrative tour as we were kayaking but answered our questions about literally everything from how the docks are built to the life cycle of oysters to the best restaurants on the island. She was awesome. My nine-year-old daughter and I did the tour together and I felt like we were on the best field trip ever – which I’m totally counting as homeschooling. 

We learned about the Loggerhead Turtles and how they travel the world but always come back home to lay their eggs (and how a teacher once tried to take a nest off the island – it didn’t end well). We learned about how stone crabs are harvested for their meat by taking off one claw and then letting the crab go free because the claw grows back, which is why, if you see a stone crab, they will almost always have lopsided claws. We learned about the harvesting and growth of oysters as well as the island’s history of being occupied during the Civil War by Union soldiers, who used the salt grass to wrap and preserve the fish they caught. 

And all of the learning was happening while we paddled along, with plenty of space between all of us in the group, in the beautiful water in the salt marsh. 

What We Saw

Yes, we got to see dolphins. And it was amazing. All throughout high school I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to swim with dolphins. I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. If it had to do with dolphins, I was in. While none of those paths were in my future, my love of dolphins remains and it’s such a ridiculous joy to see these creatures. 



One dolphin surfaced right between my kayak and our guide, Mary, surprising us for a second. She told us that many dolphins are recognizable by locals by their unique markings on their dorsal fins. Of course, I wanted to see all the dolphins and learn each one’s name. But we had run out of time on our tour. It went by fast!

As much as I loved the dolphins, I wasn’t expecting to be wow’d by all of the other wildlife we saw. As mentioned above, we got to see the pink Rosa Spoonbill. Mary was really excited to see that bird so I figured it must be extra special. 

We saw lots of little spider crabs, egrets, herons, and jumping minnows. And everything we learned from Mary was just fascinating. The paddling was leisurely as we glided peacefully through the water, just observing the world around us. 

It was easy to forget life for a while, to just enjoy the quiet morning and beauty that surrounded us.

What You Need to Know

We went on a kayak tour with Kayak Hilton Head during the COVID-19 pandemic and they handled everything with care and consideration. All employees were wearing masks and they sanitize the kayaks, life jackets, and paddles between each use. Kayaking is a natural social distancing activity. You’re on the water and outdoors controlling your own boat. Even if you have zero kayaking experience, it’s not hard to paddle away from someone if you want. 

If you’re looking for a good outdoor activity where social distancing is easy, this is it. 

Also, you are provided with a life jacket and paddle so no need to bring your own unless you want to. They have a basket on land to keep your keys (which I suggest you use – don’t want to lose your keys accidentally in the water). If you want to bring your phone or camera, maybe have a wet bag with you or something waterproof to put them in. I had no problems doing that in our kayak. 

And bring water. It’s hot out there and water is essential. My daughter and I both wore hats and sunscreen as well, which certainly helped us stay cooler and of course, prevent sunburn.

Kayak Hilton Head has both double and single kayaks, which is perfect for families. My daughter and I were in a double kayak together.  I own a sturdy sit on top kayak so I was a little nervous to use a sit-in kayak but I soon figured out my worrying was futile. Our kayak was a Wilderness double kayak, one of the best on the market. It was sturdy and solid and a really easy boat to paddle. 

Check-in is 30 minutes prior to your tour time, which gives you enough time to get your gear, use the restroom, and have a Paddle 101 lesson from your guide. We paddled with a cute family who had two little kids, a mom, and a grandma. This grandma had never paddled before in her life but she was a rock star five minutes into our tour. Don’t worry if you’ve never kayaked before.  If grandma can do it, so can you.

Booking a Tour

Kayak Hilton Head books tours all day every day during peak season in summer. Typically, summer kayak tours run at 8 am, 10:45 am, 2:30 pm, and 6 pm. Spring and fall tours are usually 9 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm. Reservations must be made in advance. 

Dave will tell you the best time to kayak is at 8 am. It’s relatively cooler at that time of day and you have a better chance of seeing dolphins. Seeing dolphins isn’t guaranteed on every tour though. They are wild animals and don’t have a schedule! 

If you reserve your tour online, the cost is $30/adult and $15/child (12 and under). If you don’t reserve online, it’s $45/adult and $30/child. 

Kayak Hilton Head does not have a minimum age to come on the tours and they leave it up to the parents. Just be aware that there is no place to stop on the kayak tour and jump out and stretch your legs or let the kids run around. They will be confined the whole time to your boat.

If you’re looking for other boat tours, Kayak Hilton Head has a shark fishing tour, a sunset cruise, and a beachcombing expedition. 

Kayak Hilton Head
18 Simmons Road, Hilton Head, SC
Kayak Hilton Head Website
Kayak Hilton Head Facebook

Would you go on a kayak dolphin tour?

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

Sign up for our email newsletter.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments