Easy Trip: Tybee Time
a weekend of activities on a barrier island
The author of this section is a year round resident of Tybee who has a cottage behind the old dune line (Officer’s Row) on the north end – close enough to hear the surf when it is storming. She swims almost daily and kayaks often.
Obviously I think Tybee is a pretty amazing place. It's odd and it's funky and there are some truly amazing experiences to be had here if you are looking and so informed. What you are about to read has been time tested on many friends brave enough to come so far off the beaten path to seek my company. Mind you, my spirit is adventurous and I will often seek out experiences which might highlight some of the more treacherous aspects of the 'low country'. The more jaded urbanites might want to minimize exposure to some of our more annoying elements (i.e. fire ants, jelly fish, red necks, sand spurs, oyster beds and the famous 'no see ems' (aka sand gnats). For my own guests, I like to display some of these necessary evils. This technique impresses how terribly brave I must be to have taken up residence in such a back water.
What is so unique about a barrier island like Tybee is the richness of bird life - when three ecosystems connect in one place! On Tybee, Little Tybee and Cockspur Islands you may find a pileated woodpecker - resident of the maritime forest, a great blue heron - the fisherman of the fresh water marsh, and a oystercatcher - one of our shore birds. Likewise you might see a great horned owl, an osprey and an pelican, each a representative of a their ecosystem.
When you live on a barrier island surrounded by the salt marsh and the sea you become aware of another rhythm of life – the clock of the tides which influences all. The moon communicates it presence with a twice daily inward and outward rush of water, millions of gallons that flow around Tybee into and out of the thousands of acres of salt marsh behind the island. The tides drive the movement of the shrimp and crabs and cigar minnows protected in the marsh – and twice a day the outgoing tide sucks them out of the marsh and into the creeks. Those higher in the food chain, the mullets, red fish, porpoise, gulls, terns, egrets, osprey and pelicans read this cycle and you can too. The range (6’ to 9’) and timing of our tides shifts (30 minutes) daily in resonance with the phases of our moon.
Beyond the cycle of the tides is the cycle of the seasons which has its own meaning here. The Arctic Tern visits on its way between the poles; the loggerhead sea turtles arrive in the spring to lay their eggs that mature in the warmth of the sand. Off shore migratory fish such as mackerel arrive and depart with the seasons; even manatees migrate north as the water warms in the summer. Those of us who live on Tybee learn to observe the subtle shifting of the color of the marsh grasses with the seasons and revel in how it are painted by the colors of the sunrise and the sunsets. Life on the coast is always changing – hourly, daily, monthly – so here it is possible to feel and know the rhythms of the life of the earth that operates entirely without being asked or told.
A summary of suggested Weekend Activities
Meander Rails to Trails (off hwy 80 on the way to Tybee)
To get a real feel for the salt marsh and riparian environs, stop off at the Rails to Trails on the left just after the Bull River bridge. This is the old rail bed that took passengers by steam engine out to Tybee up until the road was built. After you park and walk across the little bridge, you have an option of left or right. Taking the trail to the left (west) takes you out about 3 miles into the marsh. This is a wonderful place to see turtle, hare, raccoons, scores of fiddler crabs, marsh wren and sparrows, native plants and other wildlife. Depending on time of year and rainfall, the palette of marsh grass from electric green to somber purple is an ever changing feast for ones eyes. Whether you cycle, run or meander this trail gets you into the marsh without a boat.
If you are cycling you might want to do the 3 mile out and back and then continue the trail (east of the parking area). This part is another 3 miles which parallels hwy 80. At the end of the trail, cross the bridge to Peeper Island, the home of Fort Pulaski. Depending on the time of year, many a species of tern sit along the posts of this bridge.
The Island which houses Fort Pulaski affords many opportunities to walk or cycle along both marsh and river as well as in the forest. This was the original landing site of yet another religious dude that escaped persecution in England – John Wesley. You will find his monument along the short interpretive loop near the bunker. The picnic grounds on the west side of the island are a great place to sit in the shade of some very large pines and nourish oneself Don't be surprised if you come across families of white-tailed deer in the forest. I have even come across fox here at dusk. After the Fort closes for the day you can park near the toll booth, walk across the bridge and wander the roads and trails of Ft. Pulaski as the deer, raccoons and bats reclaim their territory.
As you wander about on the trails, check out the cannon-balled side of the fort from the eastern side of the island. It is stunning how far away the cannons were that sent these blows. The film at the visitor’s center is worth seeing. It gives some insight into the lives of the soldiers that inhabited these grounds as well as the historical significance of the Fort. Climbing up to the level where the cannons sit gives the vantage point of a good watchman and a super view of the Savannah River, Tybee, the ocean and the surrounding marshes.
Kayak Little Tybee
One of the best things to do at Tybee is to leave it. We’re not exactly kidding. This island is surrounded by a beautiful sound on the north, ocean front on the east, its western backside is gorgeous saltwater marshes and the Bull River lies to the south. All provide fantastic water for kayaking. One of the most magical places to head is the uninhabited barrier island just to the south known as little Tybee. Once you unload your kayaks at the boat ramp (If you rent them from Sea Kayak Georgia, they will land them there for you with all the necessary gear), it is a short paddle across the river. As close as it is, very few folks venture over so it will often feel that you are alone to explore. Depends on what you are up for as to your plan for the day. If you just want to head across and hang on the beach that is a fairly sedate plan. You can walk the entire front side of the island. From the beach you will have opportunities to spot migrating shorebirds (such as willets, sandpipers, ruddy turnstones, flocks of terns and skimmers), pods of dolphin, resident osprey, some amazing driftwood sculpture graveyards and traces of other wildlife. The sun, the breeze and the sound in the trees will slow even the most intent of explorers. Naps and packed lunches are two things I especially like to encounter while there.
If you are up for more of a kayaking adventure, get Dale at Sea Kayak Georgia to explain Jack's cut. This is more of a paddle through the marshes on the inside of Little Tybee that will make even the most difficult of mazes look like child's play. I still get lost in there. However, it is gorgeous. Make sure to check the tides. Not much water back in there at low tide. Then you might as well sit and have a mud bath while the gnats enjoy your presence. Providing you follow the cut out to the river you can then come back along the front of the island which can be full of waves and spray for a sea experience.
Little Tybee can be anywhere from an hour over to explore and back to an entire day. Most important things to consider are the weather and the tides. So check these out and have a blast.
North Beach Grill
After a day on the island, the entire gritty feeling won’t quite wash away with a warm shower. So it is probably a good night to check out the very casual North Beach Grill. The humble establishment is just under the old fort bunkers in front of the light house. The food can be exceptional and the warm breezes in the summer feel great after a day out when you just can't face being under a roof. Occasionally in the summer, they sport steel drum bands. The asparagus and crab appetizer is especially popular there.
Shark Teeth Hunting
In walking the beach you will might easily find shells, sand dollars, starfish, horseshoe crab carapace. Much depends on tides and time of year. One item that is here that you have to develop an eye for is fossilized sharks teeth. They are usually black and vary widely from tiny to the size of your thumb. Some folks with very keen eyes find them with annoying speed and regularity. I really have to focus and have mostly found then at the North end where the river and the beach meet. At any of the shops at Tybee you can find a post card that lists the teeth with make and model. So if you find some, you can later identify them. Good luck.
Inns that we recommend
Books that We Recommend for This Weekend