Paddle the Lowcountry around Tybee Island, Georgia.
By Hope S. Philbrick
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,” Forrest Gump said while sitting on a bench in historic Savannah, Georgia.
Had he traveled just 15 minutes east on Tybee Island, he might have noticed that kayaking the Lowcountry marsh is just as unpredictable.
Tybee Island is the easternmost point in the state of Georgia and the northeastern-most of Georgia’s barrier islands, which comprise the outer section of the state’s Lower Coastal Plain region.
Tybee Island measures just 2.7 square miles, but it has multiple micro-climates: the eastern shore is a sandy beach, the western shore is a tidal salt marsh, and the land between is home to a maritime forest as well as freshwater sloughs.
If traveling from Atlanta, Tybee Island is the closest place to go for access to the Atlantic Ocean and the marshy serenity of the Lowcountry.
I simply adore kayaking in the Lowcountry marsh. But if you only take one bit of advice from me, let it be this: Never kayak in the marsh without a professional guide. It’s way too easy to get lost!
Sea Kayak Georgia hosts half- and full-day kayak tours (canoe and stand-up paddleboards, too). No kayaking experience is necessary: Ronnie Kemp, Marsha Henson or a staff member will demonstrate what to do and offer tips throughout the trip. Lessons are available if you really want to improve your paddling skills and/or confidence.
Before tours hit the water, guides hand out equipment (carefully fitting the life jacket), then gather the group around a big map to point out routes and alternate routes—ultimately, the route depends on the conditions out on the water. Then the group of participants and equipment is loaded up for a ride to the launch point.
The first challenge of my half-day tour was paddling across the Back River from Tybee Island toward Little Tybee Island, a pristine, uninhabited nature preserve just across the river. Winds were high and the current was a force to be reckoned with; the guide explained that a storm had rolled through the previous day and its effects still lingered. “Yesterday, we didn’t kayak,” she said. “Today it’s a challenge. Other days, it can be calm.” The water was choppy, but no one in our tour group tipped a kayak. “We used to have at least one tip every outing,” said the guide. “But then we switched to these kayaks with flatter bottoms and haven’t had a problem since.”
Once we reached the protected marsh estuary, paddling was notably easier. The pace slowed as our group weaved through the marsh toward a little maritime forest. The guides shared information about the nature of the marsh as we slipped across the water.
Along the way we kept our eyes out for native coastal birds like egrets, herons and osprey, which can be observed year-round, as well as wood storks and other migrating birds. Black skimmers, brown pelicans, red-throated loons, buffleheads and painted buntings can be seen at times. If the tide is low, you can see clusters of oysters. If the tide is high, you may get to see some dolphins.
As the tide shifted we beached on Little Tybee for a break and some beach combing. Then we paddled back to Tybee for the short ride back to the headquarters.
The tide in this area ranges six to nine feet, so every kayaking adventure differs based on conditions. The guides will choose a route with an eye on safety as well as maximizing your chance to enjoy the coastal maritime ecology. Paddle with Sea Kayak Georgia for an adventure that will become a lasting memory of the Georgia Coast.
Sea Kayak Georgia
1102 Highway 80
Tybee Island, Georgia
@21plusTravel Tip: Read our two-week Georgia itinerary, which includes this kayaking adventure.
– Photos courtesy Sea Kayak Georgia
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Thanks to Visit Tybee for hosting my experience.