Bald Head Island, a roughly 5 square mile southern North Carolina barrier island that extends into the Atlantic Ocean, may be a small and secluded island destination, but it makes up for its size with a world of exclusive and elite vacation style.

Beautiful home on Bald Head Island

Comprising mainly of decadent rental homes and estates, with a handful of local clubs, marinas, and natural attractions, this sparsely populated but beloved beach retreat has been making waves as one of the most pristine, natural, and altogether accommodating vacation destinations along North Carolina. Well known as a peaceful getaway for visitors who want to enjoy undeveloped shorelines but still have access to the finer things, this island is basically a five star resort with an abundance of natural beauty and scenic oceanfront views around every small paved path.

Golf carts get elaborate here

The resort town of Bald Head Island is unique for a variety of reasons, but most notable is its transportation both to and around the island. To access Bald head Island, visitors must take a privately run passenger ferry that departs Southport on the hour, and which glides across the Cape Fear River on a 20 minute trip to the northern portion of the island. Once ashore, visitors will need to rent a golf cart or reserve a tram reservation to get to their destination, as except for a couple of maintenance trucks manned by the local clubs and realty companies, there are no vehicles allowed on the isle. This makes the landscape a peaceful and unpopulated destination, where thick clusters of maritime forest, elite estates, and pristine oceanfront beaches combine to create a completely relaxing setting.

Bald Head Island is a cart-only community.No cars here.

The Island borders the Cape Fear River to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the north, a locale which makes it dangerously close to the notorious Frying Pan Shoals. A potential hazard for mariners, the shoals are a series of sand bars that can seasonally appear and then disappear with a passing storm or climate change. These dangerous maritime formations, in addition to the island's proximity to the Cape Fear River, helped shape the landscape, the initial development, and the future of Bald Head Island.

A golf country club on Bald Head Island NC

The region was first documented in the 1520s by Spanish Explorer Pedro de Quexos, and nearly a hundred years later, English colonists would pass through the area on an expedition deemedthe "Adventures about Cape Fayre." At the time, virtually all barrier islands and barely-inland communities of the area were known simply as "Cape Fear," and several settlement attempts were made during the late 1600s along Bald Head Island, and the region in general.

Playing Croquet on Bald Head Island, NC

Though Bald Head Island never became a thriving port town like its Wilmington and Southport neighbors, it was home to an acclaimed lifesaving service station, the Cape Fear Station, in addition to a squat but distinctive lighthouse guarding the Cape Fear Riverfront, known affectionately by locals as "Old Baldy." The lighthouse still stands today, and is in fact the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina, as well as one of the island's most visited attractions.

Cart bridge on Bald Head Island, NC

The island would also play a small but important role in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. During the Revolutionary War, Bald Head Island was home to a small British Fort, Fort George, and during the Civil War it was a Confederate home base for shipping and smuggling items of need past the blockade.

A relaxing boat ride at Bald Head Island, NC

Except for these occasional landmarks in history, however, the town was not officially incorporated until 1985, when it began to grow a reputation as a secluded beach vacation destination, and development first started to blossom throughout the beaches and wooded terrain. Today, while less than 200 year-round residents call Bald Head Island home, the island is a popular summertime retreat that attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Lounging on the beach. Bald Head Island NC

While the island is home to a collection of marinas for maritime travelers who simply need to drop anchor, as well as a renowned local inn the "Marsh Harbor Inn" which is conveniently located next the northern waterfront and ferry docks, the predominant means of accommodations in this region are the vacation rental homes. The homes range from small coastal cottages to stunning oceanfront estates, complete with private pools, elevators, game rooms, hot tubs, and direct beach access, and several vacation rental companies manage the properties available in this area. Homes are generally rented on a weekly basis via a local property management company, and must be booked well in advance to secure a retreat on the island, especially during the summer months when accommodations tend to fill up fast. Many homes have their own golf carts available to ride around town, as well as a number of other on-site amenities to keep visitors entertained.

Oceanfront Homes on Bald Head Island

In Bald Head Island's great outdoors, visitors will find no shortage of entertainment options, including boating, kayaking, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, shelling, and enjoying any and all natural pursuits. The Bald Head Woods State Reserve is an ideal undeveloped parcel of maritime forest where visitors can explore the island's rich wildlife, while the Common at Cape Fear Station is a smaller, but no less scenic park filled with walking trails and easy access to the surrounding neighborhoods. Nature lovers will be treated to exceptional bird watching, in addition to sightings of foxes, deer, squirrels, and a variety of reptiles and amphibians, and are advised to always be on the lookout for the famous local alligator, an island icon and beloved resident for frequent Bald Head Island visitors and year-round residents alike.

Bike rentals are popular on Bald Head Island, NC

Other area attractions include the gorgeously charming Bald Head Island Chapel, the Smith Island Museum of History, and a number of clubs, including the Shoals Watch Club and the Bald Head Country Club, which are both open to annual and seasonal, or guest, members.

Golf cart rentals are very popular on Bald Head Island, NC

As for dining, visitors will find a number of options located close to the ferry terminal, as well as within the stately clubs that are scattered throughout the waterfront terrain. Featuring ice cold cocktails and fresh local seafood, these eateries are among the best in the Cape Fear region, and are worth a stop for any hungry day-tripper or weeklong vacationer.

A beautiful grocery store on Bald Head Island

For frequent visitors, Bald Head is truly an island paradise, complete with a limited population, plenty of world class amenities, and some of the cleanest and most secluded beaches along southern North Carolina. Known throughout the country as a reclusive but exclusively elite retreat, this barrier island is an ideal getaway for coastal lovers who want to get away from it all, but still have access to all the facilities and services that make a great vacation truly luxurious.

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The streets of Bald Head Island

The Bald Head Island Ferry runs often

The Chapel on Bald Head Island

Homes line the harbor on Bald Head Island, NC

Surf fishing on Bald Head Island, NC

Golf carts pass each other on Bald Head Island, NC

A custom golf cart on Bald Head Island, NC

Several golf carts on the streets of Bald Head Island, NC

 

Cape Fear Scenic Spots

Cape Fear Scenic Spots

Drafting a full list of all the scenic spots in the Cape Fear region can be a daunting task. This corner of coastal North Carolina features miles of stunning terrain to admire, which is accented with a collection of public parks, local fishing piers, hiking trails, and everything in between. Suffice it to say, regardless of where a visitor lands for their Cape Fear vacation, chances are that there’s an enticing scenic spot or two in the neighborhood that’s perfect for a leisurely outing. Pack along the camera, and be sure that these favorite area destinations are on your agenda if you want to admire and experience the best views that the Cape Fear region has to offer.

Cape Fear Museums

Cape Fear Museums

From the historic homes of Wilmington’s famed residents to coastal destinations that highlight the life of vacationers past, there’s a lot to uncover when it comes to the Cape Fear area’s many enticing museums. Spend a cloudy day learning something new, or start a vacation off right by uncovering the region in rich detail by ensuring that a trip to these local museums are on your vacation itinerary.

Freeman Park

Freeman Park

The northernmost coastal region of Carolina Beach is home to the Freeman Park Recreation Area, a stretch of shoreline that is well known to adventurous, beach-loving 4WD truck owners. Unlike other stretches of the barrier islands off the coast of Wilmington, this park is special because it is completely undeveloped, and allows beach driving to off-roaders who like to cruise along the sand.

Cape Fear Fishing Guide

Cape Fear Fishing Guide

Whether a visitor lands in the inland regions of Wilmington and mainland New Hanover County, or the coastal vacation hotspots of Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach, fishing is always readily available – and celebrated – in the Cape Fear area. A favorite activity for locals and visitors alike, the sheer variety of waters and terrain ensures that anglers of all tastes will never be too far away from a local fishing hole or a full-fledged fishing adventure.

Airlie Gardens

Airlie Gardens

Arlie Gardens is home to a stunning collection of natural gardens and eye-catching artworks which continually impresses visitors to the Wilmington area. Established in 1901, and originally used as a private garden for the wealthy Pembroke family, the garden has since been transformed into a public attraction that’s dotted with thousands of camellias, magnolias, wisteria, azaleas, and other southern blooms that thrive in the warm coastal climate. The azaleas are arguably the star of the show, as there are more than 100,000 red, white, and magenta hued-azaleas to admire.

Kure Beach

Kure Beach

Sandwiched in between the hopping beach town of Carolina Beach and the quiet shorelines of Fort Fisher and the Zeke’s Island Reserve, Kure Beach is a picturesque beach vacation destination that offers a little bit of everything to visitors. Famed for sunny beaches, a quiet atmosphere, and easy proximity to a wealth of attractions and things to do, Kure Beach represents the best of all worlds when it comes to coastal Cape Fear vacations.