From the parking area .6 miles along the walking and biking trail, see Pinckney Island map for exact location.
This easy, eight-mile (round-trip), out-and-back mountain bike ride offers beautiful vistas of pine forests, freshwater ponds, and broad Carolina salt marshes. Though it is not a technically challenging ride, the excellent surface and outstanding scenery make it appealing to most cyclists. It runs along the entire length of Island, from the parking area near Last End Point to the northern tip at White Point. Counting the grassy side trails, there are over 14 miles of nature trails available for hiking and bicycling at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Two of these trails lead out to the island’s eastern shore at Shell Point and Bull Point. From the shoreline you can see the marinas at Hilton Head Island across Skull Creek (the Intracoastal Waterway). The main ride follows a road of pale dirt and gravel that beckons mountain bikers to come along and see the sights of the refuge. And what sights there are to see!
Nearly 70 percent of this South Carolina Low Country refuge is salt marsh or tidal hammocks, which are actually just small islands. Tall marsh cordgrass gently sways in sea breezes that blow across the marsh. Sea ox-eye gives the landscape some color with its burrlike, yellow flowers. In autumn, marsh elder dresses up the causeways with its greenish-white blossoms.
During high tide, notice the salt marsh snails that cling to the stalks of these marsh plants; these air breathers would drown if they were covered by water for more than one hour. At low tide, the mudflats and shallow creeks create a smorgasbord for wading and shore birds. Just a few of the birds that you might find dining in the salt marsh are oystercatchers, terns, sandpipers, herons, snowy egrets, ibises, willets, and gulls. Excellent points from which to view the marshes as you ride include the tenuous isthmus of roadbed between the parking area and Ibis Pond, as well as a tidal creek crossing on the trail to White Point.
Hilton Head Island protects the refuge from destructive sea storms, thus creating a safe sanctuary for resident animals and migratory birds. This pristine habitat is a mecca for wildlife. Four species of animals federally listed as threatened or endangered have been recorded within the refuge boundaries: the Southern bald eagle, peregrine falcon, wood stork, and American alligator. The refuge personnel work diligently to preserve their habitat from degradation and to protect them from human predation.
There are other animals in the refuge that are also given a little man-made help. As you cycle along, look for nesting boxes that have been erected throughout some of the ponds for wood ducks. Near the salt marsh, you will see nesting platforms provided for roosting osprey. You are bound to notice the V-shaped hoofprints of white-tailed deer in the white sand; these wary creatures are prolific on the island. The refuge personnel maintain the deer herd by scheduling hunts as needed on a yearly basis, rather than establishing a hunting schedule and season in advance.
Pinckney Island has an undeniably rich natural history, but it is as interesting to historians as it is to naturalists. Archaeologists believe that prehistoric inhabitants — cavemen, if you will — lived on the island as long ago as 10,000 B.C. Coastal Indians later inhabited the island until the mid-1700s, when the Pinckney family acquired it.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney retired to the island and built a home near White Point, which was subsequently destroyed in 1824. As a Revolutionary War commander, signer of the U.S. Constitution, and candidate for president in the 1804 election, Pinckney was considered to be quite an accomplished fellow. He went on to develop a prosperous cotton plantation on 297 acres of Pinckney Island. Though he died in 1825, the plantation continued to thrive until 1861, when the island was invaded by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1862, South Carolina troops attacked the Third New Hampshire Infantry here, killing four Federal soldiers. The Pinckney property changed hands a few more times before it was finally donated in 1975 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be used as a nature and wildlife preserve.
Anhinga, Least Bittern, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Wood Stork, Gull-billed, Sandwich and Least Terms, Black Skimmer, Chuck-will’s-widow, Painted Bunting.
Resident herons and egrets nest at Ibis Pond. Green Heron and Least Bittern may be observed there. April-June shorebirds migrate through coastal South Carolina including Black-bellied Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper. American Oystercatcher may be seen on the shell rakes off the island. Painted Bunting arrives by mid-April to breed as does Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue Grosbeak and Summer Tanager. Spring migration may bring small numbers of warblers.
Least Bittern, Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Painted Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager.
Painted Bunting leaves early Fall. The fall migration can bring good numbers of warblers.
Common Loon, Scaup, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser and Horned Grebe are all fairly common in open waters, with Red-throated Loon and Scoters also present. Hooded Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, Blue-winged Teal and Bufflehead are typical on the freshwater ponds. Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, American Widgeon and Green-winged Teal are present but much harder to find. Painted Buntings are uncommon but have been observed. Pine Siskins may be seen in irruptive years. Eastern Phoebe. Several fields are managed to attract Sedge Wren, Henslow’s and Le Conte’s Sparrows, though sightings are rare.