As basketball fans experience the craziness of tournament season during spring, North Carolina's Brunswick Islands invites visitors who’re looking for a new, off-court adventure to glimpse beyond the basic beach vacation and discover Marsh Madness for an inspiring spring and summer coastal adventure. 

Those seeking new things to do on the North Carolina coast will find that one of the most undiscovered and under-appreciated environments along the shore is also one of the most surprising and fascinating -- the salt marsh. The five pristine barrier islands and 45 miles of unspoiled beaches that comprise North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands hide their best coastal adventure 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, including kayaking, birding, wildlife watching, boating, fishing, and crabbing. During your next seaside visit, check your tide tables and turn your sights toward the marsh; a closer look is sure to inspire Marsh Madness among even the most diehard of the beach and sandcastle set.

Tandem Kayaking in Intracoastal Waterway

Kayak + Paddle Your Way to Adventure  

Vast amounts of marshland make the Brunswick Islands home to some of the best kayaking and paddleboarding along the coast. With several adventure outfitters, families can arrange trips for all skill levels and ages. Expert-led tours through the islands’ salt marshes offer a chance to view and learn about the unique environment while experiencing the peace and tranquility of the backwater. Kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard your way through local creeks and rivers that offer unmatched opportunities to view the natural wonders and wildlife habitats of the area; these special modes of transportation allow access to areas that are inaccessible by larger boats. Explore diverse coastal ecosystems with paddling trips to tidal pools and down unique black water rivers where salt and fresh water meet. Those explorers wanting to venture out solo can rent a kayak or paddleboard and choose from a  number of water access points and launch sites to have their own adventure.  

Front Row Seat to Exciting Wildlife  

Often called the “nursery of the sea,” the salt marsh is home to dolphins, fish, turtles, crabs, and birds who find food and shelter there. A great area for birding, Herons, egrets, oystercatchers, swallows, terns, pelicans, clapper rail, the sora, and one of the largest of North Carolina’s water birds, the wood stork, are among the prized sightings for birders. A kayak tour lets paddlers often sneak up undetected for a closer look at wildlife. 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 and lush Spartina grass filled with wildlife on one side and views of the ocean on the other provide two beautiful scenes in one setting. 

Labeled White Egret_bird

Catch a Meal 

No trip to one of the best fishing areas on the East Coast is complete without seafood. Cast a line from one of Brunswick Islands’ iconic fishing piers, or rent a boat to reel in redfish, flounder, and trout in calm waters in the Intracoastal Waterway.  

Boat in Marsh

Dine Waterfront with Great Views  

For those who prefer that others do the catching and cooking, the Brunswick Islands has one of the hottest dining scenes on the North Carolina coast, with plenty of waterfront restaurants to choose from. At Southport’s Yacht Basin, diners can try everything from fun and funky Fishy Fishy Café to traditional seafood shacks like Provision Company. They can also head to Calabash to try out the old-school, lightly fried seafood style that originated in the fishing village. Stop by any of the islands in between to find other great waterfront restaurants! For instance, Jinks Creek Waterfront Grille has expansive views of the marsh from its patio on the second floor.  

Couple dining on the waterfront_watermark

Marsh-Side Lodgings  

The perfect accommodations for a venture into Marsh Madness are the spacious and inviting rooms at the Sunset Inn, an intimate B&B overlooking Sunset Beach’s salt marshes. Guestrooms here offer the best of both worlds: ever-changing views of the marsh from the screened-in back porches and a sneak peek of the ocean and pristine beach right outside the front door. Other vacation lodging options offering direct water access and a vast array of vacation rental homes for every taste, some with their own marsh- or creek-side dock, are available on every one of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands.  

With 45 miles of wide, uncrowded beaches to choose from in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, it might be tempting to spread a blanket and never leave the sand. But, after a relaxing vacation exploring the secrets of the salt marsh, the serene experience, and unique wildlife will continue to call you back again and again.