March Madness vs. Marsh Madness? North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands Suggests a Beyond the Beach Getaway for Salt Marsh and Intracoastal Wildlife and Fishing Adventures

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Seeking new things to do on a North Carolina beach vacation? North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands offer not only pristine barrier islands and miles of unspoiled beaches, but surprising and fascinating salt marsh and Intracoastal waterways teeming with life, perfect settings for new family vacation activities: kayaking; birding; wildlife watching; boating; fishing and crabbing.

Kayaking in North Carolina's Brunswick Islands

Kayaking is the perfect way to experience the beauty of "Marsh Madness" wildlife-watching.

On your next North Carolina beach vacation, discover Marsh Madness for an inspiring and exciting coastal adventure.

As things heat up on the basketball court with March Madness looming, North Carolina's Brunswick Islands invites families looking for an off-court adventure to venture beyond the beach vacation to discover Marsh Madness for an inspiring spring and summer coastal adventure. Special vacation packages are posted regularly at

Those seeking new things to do on the North Carolina coast will find that one of the most undiscovered and under-appreciated environments is also one of the most surprising and fascinating -- the salt marsh. The five pristine barrier islands and miles of unspoiled beaches that comprise North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands hide some of their best adventures on the Intracoastal side. Offering mystery and discovery around every bend, the salt marsh is teeming with life and the perfect setting for new family vacation activities: kayaking; birding; wildlife watching; boating; fishing and crabbing. Check the tide-tables and head toward the marsh; a closer look is sure to inspire Marsh Madness among even the most diehard of the beach and sand-castle set.

The vast amount of marshland and waterways make North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands home to some of the best North Carolina kayaking along the coast. Several adventure outfitters can arrange kayak trips for all skill levels and ages. A favorite and novel outing is the twilight marsh kayak tour behind Sunset Beach. Led by Summertide Adventure Tours, kayaks and kayakers are bedecked with glo-sticks; guides wear headlamps, and the pink light from the setting sun illuminates the Spartina grass. During daytime outings, kayaking and kayak fishing allow access to areas impassible by larger craft. Explore diverse coastal ecosystems with paddling trips to tidal pools and down unique blackwater rivers where salt and fresh water meet.

“As with any coastal or beach activity, check the tides before you head out. Correlate your outbound and inbound trips with the tidal flow for an easier paddle; just let the tide carry you along,” says Emma Thomas of The Adventure Company, an outfitter and tour guide based in Southport that offers black water and salt marsh tours.

For a faster pace, the area’s Intracoastal waterways offer some of the best boating on the North Carolina coast. Views of the salt marsh, lush Spartina grass, and oyster beds glide past on one side, with oystercatchers and plovers dotting sandbars at low tide, while access to the ocean or sound provides a change of scenery.

Often called the “nursery of the sea,” the salt marsh is home to dolphins, fish, turtles, crabs and birds who find food and shelter here. A great area for birding, herons, swallows, terns pelicans, clapper rail, the sora and one of the largest of North Carolina’s water birds, the Federally-endangered wood storks, are among the prized sightings for birders, and the kayak’s clandestine glide lets paddlers often sneak up undetected for a closer look.

Wildlife are not the only creatures that come to the marsh in search of a meal. North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is one of the best fishing areas on the East Coast. Cast a line from one of its iconic fishing piers, or rent a boat to reel in Redfish, Flounder and Trout from the Intracoastal waterways. Or, stuff a crab trap purchased at a local fish monger with a few chicken necks and reap the reward of one of the sweetest delicacies of the sea – a basket full of blue crabs. For those who prefer that others do the catching and cooking, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has one of the hottest dining scenes on the coast. For the best waterfront restaurants, diners can choose from the fun and funky Fishy Fishy, traditional seafood shacks like Yacht Basin Provision Company and the new Frying Pan, all in Southport, or visit Calabash for the old-school, lightly-fried seafood platters that originated here.

The perfect accommodations for a foray into Marsh Madness are the spacious and inviting rooms at The Sunset Inn, an intimate B&B overlooking nature’s nursery. Guestrooms offer the best of both worlds: ever-changing vistas of the marsh from the screened in back porches, and a view of the ocean and pristine beach just two blocks from the front door. For direct boating access, other vacation lodging options include The Causeway Inn and Bluewater Point Motel & Marina. A vast selection of North Carolina beach vacation rental homes for every taste, some with marsh- or creek-side docks, are available on every one of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands.

With 45 miles of wide, uncrowded beaches to choose from, it might be tempting to spread a blanket and never leave the sand. Yet after a relaxing vacation communing with the denizens of the marsh, their serene songs will beckon again and again. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll experience:

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Mary Huff
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