Family weekend trip to Bald Head Island

27 June 2024

Visiting the North Carolina coast on Father’s Day weekend has become one of our favorite family traditions. It helps that three years in, the weather has been pretty darn perfect each time (there must be something about that weekend in June!). Perfect weather or not, it’s a delight to discover new corners of this state we love in honor of our favorite dad.

This year’s trip was to Bald Head Island – come take a peek, if you’d like!

Longtime readers may remember that John and I have been to Bald Head Island just once before – almost 10 years ago, when I was pregnant with June! BHI is accessible only by ferry, and the only civilian vehicles on the island are golf carts, which makes it relatively inaccessible but delightfully relaxing. We left on Sunday afternoon after church and headed home around noon on Wednesday. It was the perfect amount of time to explore the island!

The first order of business when planning our trip was deciding where to stay. While there are lovely homes on the island, most rentals are for a week. Since we were staying just a few days, we opted for the Marsh Harbor Inn, which is an easy walk from the ferry. We stayed in one of the Shipwatch Suites. While the free-flowing popcorn in the dining room, the Fruit Loops every morning (a continental breakfast was included with our room), and the golf cart (also included with our room) were all highlights, the kids were UTTERLY ENTRANCED by their accommodations: three built-in bunk beds in the tiniest nook of a room. This was Annie’s first time sleeping outside of a crib or pack and play, and she was in heaven.

As for our itinerary, it was quite laidback. We arrived on the 4pm ferry and took the tram, which is included with your ferry ticket, to the Inn with our luggage. We got things sorted (and had a major squeal-fest over the bunk beds), then took the golf cart out to East Beach, on the far side of the island.

Almost everyone had gone home for the day, so we had the sand pretty much to ourselves to run and play.

We had dinner at Jailhouse Provisions (our first of several visits over our short stay!) then cruised home at sunset to watch the Olympic swimming trials. It’s funny how random things get associated with particular trips – the swimming trials will definitely be linked with this one!

Monday was a beach day – we headed back to East Beach and set up our Shibumi amongst 25+ others (!). While the waves and undertow were fairly serious, the shifting tide created the most perfect “ocean swimming pool.” It lasted all day and made going in the water much more accessible, especially for Annie (2). For lunch, we ate snacks from Maritime Market – cheese, salami, crackers, and pickled veggies.

We headed back to the harbor in the late afternoon, then cleaned up and walked over to the marina park where there was a kid-friendly DJ, hula hoops, and corn hole set out on the grass. Dinner was burgers, dogs, and pizza from Will O’ the Wisp. (I was not overly impressed with the pizza.) We walked over the dunes to West Beach to watch the sunset before turning in for more swimming trials. Here’s John in vacation mode at dinner :)

Every time we crossed over the marsh bridge in our golf cart Annie would shout “hey, Baldy!!” and Tuesday morning was her chance to go inside! Old Baldy is the lighthouse on Bald Head Island (the oldest in NC!), and we all bought tickets to climb the 108 stairs and peek out the top.

I’ve now proudly crossed three NC lighthouses off my bucket list – Currituck, Cape Lookout, and Old Baldy!

We also toured the small attached museum (including some Coast Guard history!) and spent a few minutes inside the beautiful Village Chapel right next door.

Then, in classic dad fashion, John led us on a few short hikes off North Bald Head Wynd (the main road). It was hot, but shaded, and we saw some impressive live oaks for our trouble. We also discovered the BHI Conservancy’s scavenger hunt, which June and Shep enjoyed completing over the next 24 hours.

After lunch at Jailhouse and stocking up on more snacks at Maritime Market, we set up camp at East Beach once again. More sandcastles, more wave hopping, more swimming in the giant tide pool, more beach reading.

Then back home for showers, dinner at Jailhouse (yes, twice in one day – we all agreed to choose a different meal than at lunch, ha!), and ice cream while cruising home in the golf cart.

Before we called it a night, we saw two beautiful things: one, a sunset over the tidal creek, with towering pink-tinged clouds. (All weekend, John and I debated whether our hypothetical BHI home would be on the creek, in the maritime forest, or on the beach; seeing this creek sunset clinched John’s choice.)

We also stopped by the wildlife overlook off Stede Bonnet Wynd and came upon an other-worldly scene: dozens (hundreds?) of snowy ibis and egrets roosting for the night in the trees ringing the pond. Everyone watching was hushed; it was just magical.

We took advantage of our last few hours with a golf cart on Wednesday morning by collecting the final scavenger hunt clues and turning in our sheets for small prizes. After our luggage was picked up by the tram, we walked around the harbor and watched the boat traffic coming and going before it was time to hop on the ferry ourselves and wave goodbye to another wonder of the North Carolina coast.

I’m feeling grateful, friends. These years with our kids (8, 5, and 2) are just incredibly sweet, and I’m savoring them. Thanks for letting me share!

P.S. Where should we go next?! Any NC coast recommendations you think we’d love? Please share!

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June 27, 2024 7:36 am

I’m so glad you enjoyed this magical island! What a wonderful trip! Love that hair blowing from the wind tunnel in Old Baldy!

June 27, 2024 12:11 pm


June 27, 2024 12:54 pm

The Village Chapel is one of my favorite places on Bald Head! (Should we have a future Camp Clurb on the island??) As for future trips, I think you should plan them so you can see all of NC’s lighthouses! We did this (kind of unintentionally) growing up and it was so fun. Ocracoke has a lighthouse and the island has a similar laidback (though far less fancy) vibe to BHI.

June 28, 2024 9:42 am

I love that you share these recaps! I always come away adding a new destination to my list of family friendly vacation spots. Your nature photos on this particular recap are stunning – I can only imagine the beauty in person!

Kristen M
June 28, 2024 1:28 pm

This looks magical! Bookmarking the Marsh Harbour Inn now for a future trip!

July 10, 2024 10:00 pm

Hi Emily! Reading your recap reminded me of this fantastic picture book that my grandmother got me as a child and I love reading to my kids today. It’s called “An Island Scrapbook” by Virginia Wright-Frierson. It’s about a mother and daughter exploring and capturing the beauty of nature on a NC barrier island. The pictures are beautiful and the story is so lovely! There’s a scene in the book very similar to your experience with the egrets 😊