At the mouth of the Cape Fear River lies one of North Carolina’s lesser-known gems.
Accessible only by a 20-minute ferry ride from Southport, North Carolina, Bald Head Island is an interesting mix of old Southern charm, North Carolinian natural beauty and peaceful island life.
The island itself is only around 3.9 miles in area, plus another 1.9 miles with all the creeks and estuaries that run in intricate paths through it.
While it might seem quiet at first, Bald Head is full of things to do, see and learn.
Originally called “Smith Island,” Bald Head was a notorious hangout for pirates sailing up and down the East Coast. Due to the 30 miles of treacherous shoals around the island, most U.S. Navy ships avoided the area. Infamous pirate captains Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and Stede “The Gentleman Pirate” Bonnet were known to use Bald Head as a hideout and safe haven.
Another famous inhabitant of the island — and one who, even nearly two centuries later, is still said to haunt Bald Head’s South Beach — was Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr, the third vice president who famously killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Legend has it that Theodosia’s ship wrecked on Frying Pan Shoals — an extensive area of dangerous shoals around the island that are part of the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” — while she was sailing north from Charleston, South Carolina. The ship and its passengers were never found, but over the centuries, visitors to the island have claimed to see the figure of a woman in period dress walking along South Beach at night, occasinally asking people if they’ve seen a portrait. In honor of this legend, Bald Head’s main inn is named Theodosia’s. Another legend says that Theodosia herself appears in the mirrors of the guest rooms to warn of approaching storms, supposedly to help them escape her fate.
Pirate legends and ghost stories aside, Bald Head Island has much to offer in terms of fishing, hiking, swimming and boating. There are two country clubs on the island, and guests can use the facilities — pools and restaurants included — even without being members.
If the country club life isn’t your style, there’s also the Old Baldy Museum. Old Baldy is the island’s lighthouse, and although it’s no longer in use, it’s still the symbol of the island and is known as the tallest lighthouse in North Carolina.
At its base is a humble museum where visitors can learn about the island’s history, entirely for free. It’s completely community-run and thrives on financial donations and artifacts found on the beaches.
A number of amenities are available, along with a surprisingly large range of restaurant options. Ebb & Flo’s is a Bald Head staple that serves cheap, high-quality fare. I’m a vegetarian, and I dream of their cheeseburger. Both country clubs offer finer dining for a classy date night with stunning views of the ocean. If you just want to cook your own food along with whatever you caught that day, Maritime Market is located in the center of the island and sells anything and everything you might want from a grocery store.
I might be a little biased in saying that Bald Head Island is one of the most underappreciated places in North Carolina, but nonetheless, it’s a perfect getaway that’s only four hours from Wake Forest and offers something for everyone who comes to visit.