Sandwiched in between the towns of Shallotte, Ocean Isle Beach, and Holden Beach, the Shallotte River and the Shallotte Inlet are popular attractions for water lovers who want to explore the local watery terrain outside the Atlantic Ocean.
Renowned for great fishing, boating, and incredible scenery throughout, enjoying this relatively large area of saltwater is an easy feat. And after a kayaking or beachcombing adventure, visitors will surely agree that the local Shallotte River and Shallotte Inlet adds a new perspective of North Carolina’s inherent love of life by the waterfront.
About the Shallotte River / Shallotte Inlet
Though literally connected, the Shallotte River and Shallotte Inlet are two distinctive bodies of water which each have their own draws to fishermen, mariners, beachcombers, and anyone who appreciates a wild coastal landscape.
The Shallotte River
The Shallotte River is a tidal river that’s located in the heart of Brunswick County in the southern region of North Carolina. Spanning roughly 8 miles from the sea to the heart of the town of Shallotte, the water within the river flows from the Green Swamp near the town borders, all the way to Shallotte Inlet, before intersecting with the Atlantic Ocean. The river also connects with the Intracoastal Waterway, which separates the local beach communities of Ocean Isle, Sunset Beach, and Holden Beach from the mainland, and is therefore a fun “side trip” for travelers who want to explore the collection of inner marshes and towns found in this southernmost corner of North Carolina.
The name Shallotte River dates back nearly 300 years, and was first coined in 1734 by the first settlers and residents in the coastal NC area. Originally called the "Charlotte River" by a traveler to the area, the name eventually morphed into Shallotte, and would be adopted by the local town and inlet as well.
Because of its proximity to the ocean and the inlet of the same name, the Shallotte River is heavily influenced by tides, and many mariners may find portions of the creeks and channels that spider-web from the main channel of the river unnavigable when the tide is low. As such, caution is recommended when exploring this unique river in the heart of the Brunswick shoreline.
The Shallotte Inlet
The Shallotte Inlet links the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean, while separating the distinctive coastal towns of Holden Beach and Ocean Island Beach. The inlet measures roughly .2 miles at its narrowest point, and is located approximately 19 miles west of the Cape Fear River. The bar channel is subject to continual change from both storms and weather events, as well as regular tides, and the buoys for mariners marking the best path shift frequently throughout the year to indicate the best water. As such, the inlet is typically used by local fishermen and charter vessels, as it can be difficult for newcomers who are unfamiliar with the waters and local terrain to make an easy passage through.
The inlet is bordered by relatively undeveloped beaches on both sides, with a sprinkling of vacation rental homes in both of the towns that connect with Shallotte Inlet. As such, visitors who explore the nearby beaches will find ample room to roam, (which may depend on the tide), and lots of privacy in virtually every direction.
Accessing the Shallotte River and Shallotte Inlet
Visitors who want to reach the river and inlet waters via a boat or kayak will find ample options for launching into the local waters. Start your explorations by heading to these public boat ramps that are located directly along the river or inlet, or are just an easy cruise away.
1921 Bricklanding Rd. Shallotte, NC
This boat launch site is located less than a mile away from both the river and the inlet, and is stationed alongside the Intracoastal Waterway in the barely-inland town of Shallotte. The site features 28 parking spaces as well as launching areas for vessels of all sizes, (including kayaks and canoes.)
103 South Shore Drive, Supply, Holden Beach, NC
This popular launch site in the heart of Holden Beach is just a few miles east of the Shallotte River and Shallotte Inlet, which are both easy to access thanks to the boat ramp’s locale along the Intracoastal Waterway. The launch site which is found right next to the bridge to Holden Beach features 15 parking spaces, and can accommodate both motorized vessels and kayaks / canoes.
Ocean Isle Beach
67 Causeway Dr., Ocean Isle Beach, NC
This launch site is found to the west of the Shallotte River, and is situated just across the bridge that leads to Ocean Island Beach. From this starting point, visitors can easily follow the Intracoastal Waterway until they reach the inlet and river waters. The site can accommodate kayaks as well as motorized vessels, and features an impressive 58 parking spaces for vehicles with trailers.
Accessing Shallotte Inlet on Foot
Visitors who want to access the Shallotte Inlet on-foot will find several options for reaching the beach as well.
In Ocean Isle Beach, visitors will wind a small trail or walking path close to the end of East 4th Street on the eastern edge of the island that leads directly to the water. A handful of parking spaces, (for roughly 10 vehicles or golf carts at most), are located nearby.
A path to the inlet-bordering beach is also located on the “Holden Beach” side of the inlet, which is found at the end of Ocean Blvd., although parking is harder to come by. Visitors will likely want to book a vacation rental home on the western edge of Holden Beach in order to ensure easy access without a relatively long trek along the shoreline.
Things to Do Near the Shallotte River and Shallotte Inlet
Visitors who are new to the region will find that there are a myriad of ways to explore – and enjoy – the Shallotte Inlet and River waters. Enjoy the local landscape by embarking on these activities which tend to be popular with locals and visitors alike.
Fishing – Both the river and inlet waters are exceptional for fishing, thanks to the array of species that arrive with the tide. Inland anglers will want to be on the lookout for sheapshead, trout, mullet, and drum, while inlet anglers can expect to target a wide array of ocean species, including mackerel, flounder, bluefish, pompano, and even cobia. Just be sure you get a Saltwater/Coastal Recreational Fishing License (CRFL) before you drop a line, as required by North Carolina law for all bodies of saltwater.
Kayaking – Shallotte River features a myriad of rugged paddling trails that can range from saltmarshes and tidal flats, to skinny creeks and channels, to wide waters that connect with the Intracoastal Waterway. For the most scenic and private expeditions, head inland where the river narrows, and the local terrain is relatively easy to navigate. Several local kayak companies and guide services are found in the region as well, to make exploring a breeze.
Boating – Shallotte River is just off the Intracoastal Waterway, which means that it’s relatively easy for mariners – especially those commandeering smaller vessels – to take a detour off the main drag and go exploring. Several marinas are also found in the immediate area, such as Hughes Marina in South Brunswick, which makes it easy for mariners to drop anchor and relax after a day of exploring.
Shelling – Beachcombers know that the best finds are often found near inlet waters, where shells have an easy time reaching the beach from miles away. Shallotte Inlet is no different, and intrepid shell seekers who make the trek may be rewarded for their efforts with a variety of NC treasures, such as sand dollars, olive shells, whelks, calico and bay scallops, and many more varieties. Try to time a trip a day or two after a storm, or around low tide, for the best results.
Birdwatching – The creeks and canals of Shallotte River are a fine destination to discover water birds such as egrets, ibises, and herons, while the local beaches can be popular stomping grounds for pelicans, least terns, skimmers, oyster catchers, and even plover. Plan a kayaking, boat trip, or on-foot expedition accordingly to spot a wide variety of species that love the salty waters.
Photography – From the edge of Shallotte Inlet, photography buffs can get a wide array of panoramic shots that capture the Intracoastal Waterway, the Atlantic Ocean, and the miles of wild terrain and waters in between. Try to plan a trip around sunrise or sunset for incredible pics where the water and skies above are truly a rainbow of colors.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting the Shallotte River and Shallotte Inlet
- There are a number of inshore fishing businesses and guides that can help pave the way for newcomers who want to explore the local waters. Nicely convenient and relatively inexpensive, an inshore fishing trip or tour is a great way to see everything the local inlet and river has to offer.
- Stay tuned for some cool new developments on the Shallotte River – literally! The Town of Shallotte is undertaking a massive project to construct a Riverfront Town Center on 20 acres of prime waterfront land. The ensuing 400,000’ square feet project is expected to include retail, multi-family, office and hospitality components, and will be a way for visitors to explore the riverfront landscape in style.
- Inexperienced mariners who haven’t cruised through the Shallotte River before will want to use extreme caution. The routes through the best waters can be hard to determine, causing vessels to run aground, so a little guidance is key to make the journey to and from the Atlantic Ocean safely.
- Want the best conditions for fishing and shelling? Plan a fall trip. The fall months are arguably when these two pastimes are at their best in southern North Carolina, and best of all, the weather is still warm enough for beach-loving visitors.
Shallotte River and Shallotte Inlet are two of the best undiscovered treasures in the southern North Carolina region. Often overshadowed by the Atlantic beaches, abundant golf courses, and other coastal attractions, these destinations are nevertheless a paradise for visitors who adore natural landscapes and room to move.
Plan an inshore fishing trip or a kayak tour of the region, and uncover the great fishing, birdwatching, and photo opts that these waters have to offer. With lots of natural terrain to go around, (and cool projects on the horizon to make the waters even more accessible), Shallotte River and Inlet are natural attractions that are worth discovering.