The rugged charm and solitude of Mitchelville Beach.
Story by Dean Rowland + Photography by Peter Lakomy
If you’ve ever dreamed of being on a deserted narrow strip of beach on a beautiful island, even for one solitary afternoon, Hilton Head has it: Mitchelville Beach Park on the island’s northeast end. But keep it to yourself. Tourists don’t know about it at all, and most locals don’t either.
The natural landscape is unbelievably striking — trees hugging the beach line, small waves, sandbars a pebble throw away, cordgrass and salt grass in the nearby water swaying in the temperate breeze, pluff mud challenging your footing, marshes and tide pools packed with sea snails and crabs, and a host of shore birds (plovers, willets, oystercatchers, sandpipers, egrets) skipping single file in front of your eyes along the sand.
Port Royal Sound is the water body straight ahead, not the ocean. Bring your camera.
A lumpy, dusty dirt road will deposit you at the end of Mitchelville Road. It does have a small parking lot, a restroom, an outdoor sand shower, but no sand matting once you reach the beach like Coligny does. Driftwood, sea shells, decayed horseshoe crabs and shark’s teeth may be your only companions. There are no lifeguards. You’re on your own, along with a few other beachgoers who are walking their dogs or reading or parents exploring the biodiversity with their young children.
Lounging and communing with nature should be your priority, not swimming. The sand floor isn’t smooth, there are rocks and it’s a feeding area for black tip sharks. Mitchelville is beautiful, no doubt, but it’s not a swimming hole for Tom Sawyer or anyone else.
Fish Haul Creek Park sits along the same shoreline as Mitchelville beach and is a short 0.2- mile walk. They both share the same ecosystem, privacy and rugged beach characteristics. Located off Ocean City Road if driving, the parking lot leads to a wooden boardwalk with a covered gazebo overlooking a sweeping ocean marsh. Motoring visitors also can find the beach by walking a meandering Palmetto and live oak-lined path.
Like its adjacent sister beach, Fish Haul is a haven for resident and migrating shorebirds in a bushelful of varieties, as well as a plethora of fiddler crabs, mud crabs and hermit crabs. The physical changes between low and high tide are magically transformed and a photographer’s delight. No other beaches on the island can transfix the visual senses like these two beaches.
After enjoying nature’s splendor at the beach, in the woods and at the marsh, the next stop before your day of exploration ends should be a history lesson about the town Mitchelville. Mitchelville Freedom Park, the rebranded name of Fish Haul Creek Park, was officially dedicated in early 2018 and honors the legacy and heritage of this nascent town of 1,500 freed slaves that was founded in 1862 after the Union captured Hilton Head Island a year earlier during the Civil War. It was the nation’s first town of self-governed former slaves who developed their own roads, schools, churches, houses and local government.
Their Gullah descendants today who live in the area continue to embrace and promote their traditions and culture.
The Mitchelville Preservation Project has a multi-year plan to evolve the park into a living history with technological applications.