Beach and Nature Vacation, Kiawah Island, SC

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Make your family beach vacation more than just sun and sand by selecting a destination that enables you to explore the natural environment. In Kiawah Island, South Carolina, you can add kayak outings in search of ibis, pond explorations to peer at turtles and alligator safaris that get you safely close to the toothy critters. Another bonus, Charleston with its centuries-old plantations and elaborate gardens, is a 30-minute drive away.

Kiawah, a 10,000-acre barrier island off the South Carolina coast, 21 miles from Charleston, features 10 miles of beaches.

Named the number one island in North America by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, Kiawah, despite clusters of condominiums and detached homes, plus five golf courses, two tennis complexes and a hotel, still offers, in places, a Lowcountry landscape of lagoons, marshes and forests of pine, palmetto and live oak trees.

At Kiawah Island Golf Resort, you can access these places on eco-adventure tours or self-paced outings. Kayak the creeks to catch sight of snowy egrets, great blue herons, and sandhill cranes that swoop low over the marshes in search of shrimp, fiddler crabs and grasshoppers.

Try a stand-up paddleboard tour to a sandbar in the salt marsh to view oysters, snails, crabs whelks and other critters. If you’re a proficient paddler, head an ocean kayak through the waves in hopes of gliding alongside schools of dolphins. YOU can also sign-up for family fishing or crabbing cruises on the river.

On an alligator walk, peer into the brackish ponds, some on golf courses, looking for telltale bulging eyes. We spot an eight- foot long beauty, sunning herself on the grass in someone’s backyard. The guide informs us that only four of a female’s 20-60 eggs make it to adulthood and if the eggs incubate between 90-92-degrees F, the hatchlings will be males; between 82-86-degree, female and between 87-90-degrees, both genders are produced.

The resort’s man-made conveniences make it easy to enjoy the beach. Along with condominiums or homes with kitchens, Kiawah Island Golf Resort also offers the Sanctuary, a casually elegant, 255-room, Forbes Five Diamond hotel. The Sanctuary blends southern belle style— grand curving staircase and antiques– with beach house decor. The guest rooms, many of which offer some view of the ocean, feature balconies.

Kiawah also offers supervised activities for children. At Kamp Kiawah, ages three through 11 go on scavenger hunts, play beach games, and try tennis and golf as well as enjoy nature walks and pond explorations. In summer ages 7-12 enjoy close encounters with turtles, crabs and other marsh critters at the 90- minute Junior Naturalist sessions and teens 13-17 bond on kayak outings and bicycle scavenger hunts.

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