Open daily. Free admission. Access is by water only; fees may apply.
Little Tybee Island, just south of the seafront town of Tybee Island and twenty miles out of Savannah (see on map), is a beautiful nature reserve perfect for kayak excursions and secluded day trips.
The island, with its nearly 7000 acres of unspoiled salt marsh and hammocks, tidal creeks and miles of dune-bordered beach, is an ideal place to explore the landscape and abundant wildlife of the Georgia lowcountry.
Little Tybee Island is a great spot for birdwatching, beachcombing and creek paddling, and is a favorite destination for kayak and paddleboard trips out of Tybee Island. Wassaw Island is a nearby alternative, though it is further and harder to get to.
Many excursions and guided tours are offered year-round to Little Tybee, either by boat, or by kayak or paddleboard, and you can of course make your own way there too (see below: getting to Little Tybee).
Visiting Little Tybee Island
Little Tybee Island is owned and administered by Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources as a Natural Area and bird and wildlife reserve. It is open year-round for day use and camping. No admission charge applies to visit the island itself, but fees will apply in order to get there unless you have your own boat.
Visitors should try to avoid dunes and beach areas above the high tide line, as these are used as nesting sites by several vulnerable species. Don’t approach any nesting birds you see, as disturbed adults may abandon a nest and their chicks. Some areas of the islands may be posted off-limits.
On the island, camping, picnicking, shell collecting and fishing are all permitted. Disruption of any plants or wildlife is prohibited, with the exception of legally-fishable species.
Getting To Little Tybee Island
There is no bridge or road access to Little Tybee. Your options for getting there are to sail across in a private or chartered boat, or to take one of the many tours offered to the island by boat, kayak, canoe or paddleboard, some of which include landing time to explore the beach. Kayaks and paddleboards can also be rented.
Safety At low tide, a sandbar stretches most of the way from Tybee Island’s South Beach to Little Tybee. Almost every year, someone dies trying to cross it on foot, and many more have to be rescued.
Although it only appears to be a short distance away, it is in fact around a mile and the journey is extremely dangerous due to the rapidly rising tides and fast currents. Do not attempt to swim, wade or use an inflatable or other unsuitable vessel to get to Little Tybee.
Private boat If you have your own boat, or have rented one, you can attempt to land on Little Tybee. This option is not recommended for inexperienced boaters due to the difficulty of finding a suitable spot to land and moor.
Georgia’s coast has a very high tidal range, up to 7-9 feet twice daily. A boat moored at high tide can be a considerable distance from the water within hours; a boat moored at low tide can be a similar distance from dry land.
Charter boat Private scheduled boat tours and boat charters are another way to get to Little Tybee, with the advantages of an experienced captain who can show you the best places to see and land.
Charters may offer more flexibility for your trip than tours as regards excursion length, landing time and which parts of the island to visit, though most private tours can be customized to some extent. For a party of up to 6, expect to pay around $250-300 for a 2-3 hour excursion, or about $100 per hour for longer trips. See details of boat charters to Little Tybee
Guided tour One of the most popular activities on Tybee Island is a guided kayak or paddleboard tour of neighboring Little Tybee. Several tour operators offer a variety of excursions to the nature reserve, paddling the creeks that run through its marshes and the rivers that border the island, or visiting its beaches and hammocks. Most of these tours are suitable for complete beginners.
Trips range from a couple of hours to up to 5-6 hours, with some tours including landing time. Expect to pay around $50-60 per person for a 3-hour excursion. Details of kayak/paddleboard tours available to Little Tybee
Kayak/paddleboard rental There are several places on Tybee Island and nearby where you can rent kayaks or paddleboards with which to make your own excursion to Little Tybee. This option is only appropriate for those who have both experience of paddling and knowledge of the local area and its tides, but the advantages are that you can spend as long as you want on the island and follow your own route.
Expect to pay around $30-$35 for a half-day rental, up to about $70 for a full day. Many companies will deliver equipment to you or transport it to a suitable launch spot, sometimes for a small additional fee. Always take a phone and a map or GPS on unguided trips. Places to rent a kayak or paddleboard
Camping On Little Tybee Island
Essentials: water, insect repellant, wilderness camping experience. Always obtain local advice on safety and weather conditions before undertaking a camping trip to Little Tybee.
Little Tybee Island offers a true wilderness camping experience, easily accessible from Tybee Island and Savannah. As the island is a day trip and tour destination, it won’t be completely deserted during the day, but camping visits are far rarer, and you can expect to have the island to yourselves overnight.
Camping is free, and allowed anywhere on the island, in either beach or forested locations. Please note that there are no facilities whatsoever on Little Tybee. All camping is primitive, on unmarked sites. You will need to bring everything you need (including sufficient water) with you. Any trash should be packed out.
Where & When To Camp
Fall through spring are the best times of year to make a camping trip to Little Tybee Island, when the bugs won’t be as bad as in the summer. If you do decide to camp in the summer, stay away from the wooded hammocks, where the insects will be out in force. An open site on the beach (weather permitting) is a better choice during the warmer months.
If you are kayaking to Little Tybee, access to some beach camping sites is possible via creeks (accessible via the Back River/Tybee Creek) through Little Tybee’s interior that exit on its ocean side. This avoids a more difficult surf approach, especially challenging when the waves are high. Kayak rental companies will usually be able to advise on suitable camping spots and the best approaches thereto.
If you want to combine a wilderness camping trip with a kayak excursion to Wassaw Island (where overnight visits are not allowed), Little Tybee is an ideal place to set up camp. From the southern end of Little Tybee’s beach, the more northerly end of Wassaw is within reasonable (but not short) paddling distance.
If you do not have wilderness camping experience, Sea Kayak Georgia offers guided camping trips to Little Tybee. Alternatively, camp at an established campsite such as River’s End Campground on Tybee Island or at Skidaway Island State Park.
There are raccoons on Little Tybee Island, so you will need to take raccoon-proof food containers and rope. Also be aware that there are poisonous snakes, alligators and feral hogs on the island.
You can cut down on the insect problem by choosing an appropriate camp site and visiting at the cooler times of the year (see above), but repellant is a necessity nonetheless. Do not go to Little Tybee without it!
If you decide to camp on the beach, remember that Little Tybee has a very high tidal range. Choose a spot that is clearly above the high tide line. Also bear in mind that access to many parts of the island is heavily dependent on these tides. Some camp sites will be difficult to get to (or leave) when the tide is out.
It should usually be possible to park overnight or for multiple days on Tybee Island. You will need to feed the pay and display machine with the appropriate number of days of parking credit. The maximum daily charge is currently $24.
Wildlife, Ecology & History
Little Tybee Island is part of the chain of barrier sea islands stretching from South Carolina down through Georgia to Florida, currently managed as a wildlife reserve.
The reserve is made up of three main islands: Little Tybee, Cabbage and Williamson Islands. All of these islands are geologically young, their ages ranging from only a few decades in the case of Williamson Island, to a few thousand years in the case of the cluster as a whole.
The nearly seven thousand acre nature preserve comprises a variety of ecosystems of the coastal type, predominantly salt marsh and tidal creek, with dunes and beach on the ocean-facing side, and coastal hammocks of live oak, pines and palm. Creeks open onto the ocean and the waters – Tybee Creek, Wassaw Sound and Bull River – surrounding the island.
The island provides a nesting site for many bird species, including endangered and migratory species. Birds of prey such as the osprey and bald eagle also nest on Little Tybee. Larger wading birds, including species of egret and heron, white ibis and woodstork, besides the smaller oystercatcher and other smaller seabirds such as plovers and terns, can each be seen over the course of a year.
Little Tybee has been mostly uninhabited for much of its history. American Indians probably lived on Little Tybee’s hammocks, which were later also periodically settled by occasional groups of colonists.
In the 1930s, neighboring Tybee Island’s residents hoped that Little Tybee could be turned into a state park. The habitat and wildlife of the island would be preserved and – if a bridge was built – it would provide a convenient recreation spot for Tybee Island and Savannah.
Those plans unfortunately came to nothing. In the late 1950s, the Georgia State Highway Department considered building a bridge across to the island, in order to develop its largest hammock. This was not done either, and another plan for a new road to Little Tybee was also dropped in favor of improvements to the existing roads to Tybee Island.
After abandoning their own plans to build a resort on Little Tybee, the owners of the land sold the property to an Oklahoma mining company which hoped to exploit the island’s valuable phosphorite mineral deposits.
An investigation prompted by local outrage at this new proposal revealed that the method of extracting Little Tybee’s phosphorites would be an ecological disaster for the marshlands around Tybee and Savannah: water table changes would draw salt into the fresh groundwater stores, and wildlife in the creeks around would also be disturbed and harmed.
Residents’ and politicians’ efforts to preserve the island succeeded. The Coastal Marshlands Protection Act of 1970 put an end to plans to mine and build on Little Tybee. In 1982, the island became a part of the federal Coastal Barrier Resources System; in 1990, the island’s owners donated the land for permanent use as a wildlife reserve.