Our Barrier Island Eco-Tours was the highlight of our week on the Isle of Palms even though it only lasted several hours. As a locally owned, affordable, family friendly excursion, the sunset dolphin cruise has a boat ride to Capers Island, a beach to explore, and animal watching all in one experience. They also offer school tours and other tour options so check it out online. This doesn’t mean that it is only appropriate for families with kids. This would be an excellent trip for people of all ages.
What: Barrier Island Eco-Tours
Where: Isle of Palms, 30 minute drive from Charleston, South Carolina
Mom score: 5/5 – Great experience for everyone!
Kid score: 5/5
Cost: $35 adult, $25 kids 3-12, under 2 free
Time: 2.5 hours
Best Part The naturalist guides and the natural learning experience. I love exposing my kids to adults who obviously love their job and have an enthusiasm to show it to others. How do we encourage our kids to grow up to be awesome adults? See an awesome adult in action.
Worst Part Not getting to explore the Capers Island for more than an hour. There will be a next time. The kids want to bring Daddy back because they loved it so much. Maybe we will try out the blue crab excursion and see if their taste buds can be enticed to try out a new crab boil experience. Or one of the longer trips.
Because it’s run by naturalists who love their job, the animals, and the land. Our guide patiently answered ALL their questions. Leaned in. Told them they have excellent questions. The kids (and their mom!) could have kept asking questions long after the tour was over. You will see dolphins, maybe a turtle or it’s nest, a natural island preserve, the coastline, and have a great time doing it.
To get to this undeveloped barrier island, a boat is the only way to do it, and you might as well do it while learning. And how did my kids feel about this “learning”? Enrapt.
As we headed out to the island, Moses the standard poodle made sure we knew where the dolphins were swimming. He would bark and alert us, and we would slow the to stop near by and watch. No loggerhead sea turtles were close-by on our trip but they do see them sometimes. These guides care so much about their ocean that they even circled the boat back around to pick up a bottle floating in the water. Can you ask for a better example for the kids than that?!
After watching the bald eagle perched high up on a pole, we were scrambling off the boat! On the barrier island, Capers Island, the slope of the beach is so gradual that the kids can walk way out but watch them! They just keep going! We grown-ups walked along amazed by the pieces of broken sand dollars and shells. The kids were grudgingly gathered up from the ocean to look at a protected sea turtle nest.
We headed back to the Isle of Palms after an hour on the beach, and our naturalist guide kept showing us her “murder scene” specimens on the boat. Holding the whelk in one hand, she showed us how the animal would have used the sharp edge to open up an oyster to eat. The perfectly drilled hole in the top of the shell had been caused by a snail as they drilled into the shell before eating out the living creature inside.
While we had been exploring the shore and boneyard beach of Capers Island, our boat captain had gone to check the crab traps and had for us living specimens. With these, we were able to see the difference between a pregnant stone crab with bright-orange developing eggs and an almost-ready-to-release momma with her belly of darker eggs. We learned how one crab claw is harvested to allow the other to grow, were shown the gender differences, and compared blue crabs to stone crabs before she released the ladies over the side of the boat. Our amazing guide continued to show us specimens until we were back to the dock in the dark. The kids had so much to talk about all the way home!
While the boat size usually holds about 50 people, every other bench of seats is roped off to allow groups to social distance. Additionally, the guides were very dedicated to wearing their masks anytime they were near guests. Masks were not required from the customers on the boat.
Leave all your stuff on the boat when you land at the barrier island. You don’t need anything other than camera and maybe your water bottle. We ended up setting our stuff down on the beach instead of carrying it along anyway. You might just get so busy exploring that you forget to grab stuff to get back on the boat.
You are not allowed to gather shells on the protected beach. Prepare your kids that, no matter what amazing finds they make, their treasures have to stay on the island. They can always save them to show to the naturalist so she can share them with everyone on the boat ride back.
Bring snacks or even your cooler bag onto the boat. There were some adult groups drinking beer, but it is not a party atmosphere. I wouldn’t plan to bring a whole picnic though because you are going to be too distracted looking to eat a full meal.
The boat meets at the harbor where there is a little store with bathrooms outside to use. There is also a bathroom accessible at the back of the boat. The store has a small restaurant and tables outside. We ate a yummy breakfast one morning.
There was a dog onboard both our boat and another in their company. Both were very friendly dogs and used to people. However, if your child (or you) are afraid on dogs, this might not be the trip for you.
Honestly, this is a great trip even if you know nothing going into the trip. The discussions are great from beginners up to those just learning more. It’s full, hands-on learning the whole time with lots of fun added in.
Pagoo by Holling C. Holling – This is an old one from 1957 but classic as it follows the growth of a hermit crab with lovely illustrations. Although a picture book, this book is lengthy with so much detail from a nature-loving, science writer. It will take several days to tackle this one.
A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle – Light hearted, this one is nothing but fun. My family still references it anytime hermit crabs come up in conversation.
Hermit Crabs LINE UP To Swap Shells! | Life Story | BBC Earth Kids
- What is a barrier island? What would happen if there wasn’t one?
- How is this preserved island look different than the other tourist islands you have visited?
- Why is it important to preserve the island? How do the animals benefit?
- How can we responsibly gather shells from the beach? What’s the harm?
- What is a blue crab? Stone crab? How can you tell the gender?
- How are the crabs caught? Why do you think they’re the color they are?
- How are crabs different than fish?
- Is the water the boat explored salty ocean water or fresh water?
- What kind of turtles are in this area? How are the eggs laid? Life cycle?
- What do naturalists study? Is that something you would like to do?
- What changes should we make in our life to help protect our environment better?
- Boone Plantation – A short car drive away, and you’ll be at a still-active plantation to tour the farm, learn at the slave quarters, wander the grounds, and visit the house. A great trip.
- Explore the Isle of Palms – It’s a small island. If you want a laid back beach day, park along the main road and head in. Go at low tide and gather whelk shells. We found more in five minutes than ever before at any other beach.
- South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston – Though we haven’t been yet, it’s on my radar! Go see the rescued sea turtles in their hospital and so much more.
- Charleston – It’s an amazing walkable town to see the old buildings and gardens. Discuss wartime, the slave market, and go see more dolphins on the way to Fort Sumter.
- Any Animal Excursions – Just go! They are the best investment I’ve found on trips and the most memorable for all of us.