Cruise Over To These 8 Southeast US Islands

Cruise Over To These 8 Southeast US Islands
Many of us are dreaming about our next island getaway - and the good news is that it doesn't have to require a passport. There are a number of magnificent island escapes right here in the United States, complete with miles of white sand beaches and memorable experiences. Some are accessible by car, while others can be reached only by boat or ferry.

When the time is right to travel, here are eight of the best island getaways in the southeast United States:

Amelia Island, FL: Florida's Amelia Island offers visitors 13 miles of wide sandy beaches with tall dunes. Connected to the mainland by two bridges, this beautiful island is located about 30 minutes from Jacksonville's airport. From Fort Clinch at the northern end to the high dunes at the south, you'll find plenty of spaces for jogging, relaxing, or playing in the sand. In addition to camping facilities and numerous vacation rental properties, there are also several top-notch resorts available on this island. If you decide to spend a few days on Amelia Island, do try to spend a day on nearby Cumberland Island across the Georgia state line. Ferries leave from nearby St. Mary for Cumberland, where you'll find miles of deserted beaches, wild horses, armadillos, and the ruins of mansions and plantation homes. It's well worth the trip.

Sanibel, Captiva and North Captiva, FL: Travelers can enjoy the best of all worlds on these Florida gulf coast barrier islands. They are developed enough to offer all the amenities that vacationers desire, but not so overdeveloped as to take away from their natural setting. Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are accessible by car. The white, shell-strewn beaches of Sanibel are known as some of the best shelling beaches in the world. You'll see people combing the beaches at dawn until way after dusk searching for new treasures. Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel offers some great shelling and plenty of shade under the Australian pines, and Bowman's Beach is good for wildlife viewing along the estuary. Turner's Beach at the Blind Pass Bridge is excellent for fishing and shelling, and Captiva Beach is the best for sunsets. Nature lovers should definitely plan to pay a visit to the 5,000 acre J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. Viewing is best in the early morning or at dusk. For those who want to get away from it all, take a boat trip up to nearby North Captiva or Cayo Costa islands for deserted beaches, dolphin sightings and great shelling. Vacation rentals and villas are available on stunning North Captiva Island. Manatee and gopher turtle sightings are common on North Captiva as well.

Little St. Simons Island, GA: Little St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles and is accessible only by boat. This spectacular 11,000 acre private island is a secluded nature sanctuary filled with abundant wildlife, seven miles of white sand beaches, maritime forests and marshlands. Vacationers can stay at The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, an idyllic all-inclusive retreat. This special resort accommodates only 32 overnight guests and is a paradise for families and nature lovers. Rates at The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island include three full meals each day, non-alcoholic beverages, unlimited island activities and use of recreational gear, daily naturalist-led outings and boat transfers to and from the island. A Junior Naturalist Program for children is also offered during the summer months.

Hilton Head Island, SC: Hilton Head Island was voted the #1 Island in the United States for the fourth year in a row at the 33rd Annual Conde Nast Readers Choice Awards. Hilton Head Island's mixture of world-class golf courses, wide beaches, and great restaurants has lured many vacationers back year after year. It has been an excellent place to relax, play a few rounds of golf, visit some shops and eat loads of exceptional seafood. The biking on the wide beaches at Sea Pines Plantation on the south end of the island is tremendous fun as well. Hilton Head is a good destination for active vacationers who like a wide variety of things to see and do. The island is big in size - the largest island off the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas. Located just 40 miles from Savannah, Georgia, Hilton Head Island is easily accessible by car and offers a wide variety of resorts, hotels and vacation rentals. If you go, don't miss biking on the hard-packed beach at low tide -- it's great!

Kiawah Island, SC: South Carolina's Kiawah Island is outstanding on all sides: ocean, marsh, bay and river. Located just 21 miles south of Charleston and accessible by car, Kiawah Island Golf Resort gets rave reviews from guests due to its wide beaches, vast array of accommodations, world-class golf, and the variety of recreation and children's programs offered here. Wildlife is abundant as well. Ten miles of pristine private beaches stretch from east to west, offering outstanding views of the Atlantic from oceanfront condominiums and homes. The rest of the island is surrounded by marshes and lagoons. Vacationers can stay at Kiawah Island's oceanfront hotel as well as at a myriad of island villas, and multi-bedroom homes. The resort is quite spread out, so you may wish to look at a resort map before choosing your accommodations in order to be closest to the activities or pools you plan to use most. Nature and sports-oriented activities are offered for children, teens and adults. Kamp Kiawah will keep kids occupied with activities, swimming, arts and crafts, learning about the environment, or ocean life. Kiawah Island Golf Resort is known as one of the best golf and tennis resorts in the nation, and also offers instruction in both sports for kids and teens. In addition to all this, you'll find miles of paved paths for biking, pools, and restaurants.

Bald Head Island, NC: Located at the convergence of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, this 12,000-acre subtropical island can only be reached by ferry or private boat. No cars are allowed on the island and transportation is available by tram, bicycles or golf carts. The island is known for its 14 miles of wide sandy beaches as well as its extensive recreational activities. Loggerhead turtles nest along the shores during the summer months and the island’s 10,000 unspoiled acres of scenery are inviting. Vacationers enjoy climbing Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, as well as hiking, kayaking, fishing, sailing, and playing golf or tennis. A wide variety of vacation rentals is available on Bald Head Island, including some pet-friendly accommodations.

Ocracoke Island, NC: Ocracoke Island was once the secluded refuge of Blackbeard the pirate, and it’s still a top escape for vacationers today. Officially part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ocracoke’s sandy strands are legendary. Ocracoke’s Lifeguarded Beach has been named as the second best beach in the U.S. by Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, for the last three consecutive years. This laid-back island is accessible by three different ferry routes, by boat, or via private plane. Vacationers can rent private homes and cottages, camp at the National Park Service Ocracoke Campground, or stay in small inns and lodges. While automobiles are allowed, vacationers can also get around the island by bike, tram or golf cart. Fishing, beachcombing and a wide variety of watersports are popular here. Visitors can look for Ocracoke’s wild ponies while staying on the island as well.

Chincoteague Island, VA: Vacationers who love wild ponies and the stories of Marguerite Henry will fall in love with Chincoteague, VA. This is a magic island far removed in spirit from its crowded, action-packed beach towns located just an hour away. Here you'll find quaint villages, marshlands, and nature galore. The seven-mile long island of Chincoteague is separated from neighboring Assateague Island by a small bridge. Assateague Island National Seashore contains 10 miles of unspoiled beaches and abundant wildlife, including the world-famous wild ponies. These ponies can be seen on the Maryland side of Assateague Island as well. During the third week of July, the Chincoteague volunteer fire department stages Pony Penning. Members of the volunteer fire department round up the wild ponies on the third Wednesday and Thursday of the month and swim them across the narrow channel between Assateague and Chincoteague Islands. The beaches on Assateague are undeveloped. Visitors will find a bathhouse with rest rooms and showers, but no food concessions. Picnics on the beach are very popular and lifeguards are on duty near both bathhouses.

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