Places We Protect

Sandy Island Preserve

South Carolina

A person fishes on the edge of a coastal pond.
Sandy Island Image of sunset over water, with a photographer taking a picture on Sandy island, a small island that The Nature Conservancy owns. © John Moore

Visitor upgrades highlight the unique natural landscapes and communities of Sandy Island.



At 9,165 acres, The Nature Conservancy's Sandy Island Preserve is the largest protected freshwater island on the East Coast and TNC's largest preserve in South Carolina. Accessible only by boat, its striking scenery, beautiful trails and diverse wildlife makes it worth the trip. 

Sandy Island supports numerous rare plants and other species of interest such as carnivorous pitcher plants and purple lupine. Other plants typical of South Carolina’s Sandhills Region and Outer Coastal Plain can also be found on Sandy Island. The north end, which experiences regular burning (wildfires and controlled), supports a native longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forest characterized by wide-open understories with very few hardwoods and mature trees in excess of 100 years old. Turkey oak dominates the south end, where fire has been supressed.  

Among the rare species existing in Sandy Island's longleaf pine forest is the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. These birds depend upon the mature, fire-resistant pines for forage and nesting sites. Black bears also use Sandy Island as a corridor for travel.



Open sunrise to sunset.


Hiking on 8+ miles of trails, Fishing (from boat ramps and shore), Photography, Picnicking, Bird Watching; Guided Tours (pre-arranged with a local tour company) NOTE: TNC manages the preserve's longleaf pine forests with periodic controlled burns—typically between January and May—which might cause smoke or partial closures.


9,165 Acres

Explore our work in this region

Sandy Island Preserve

Welcome to The Nature Conservancy's largest preserve in South Carolina!

Green flowers emerge from green stems in the direction of the sun.
A frog peeks over the stem of a green plant.
A black and white bird taps into a tree trunk for food.
A brown path leads through a leafy forest.
Morning sunlight shines through the forest and onto a path.
A woman with a white hat uses a long pole to reach the top of a tree.
Green pine needles of a new tree sapling emerge from the forest floor.
A rising sun creates the silouette of a bird flying over a tree.
A hand-held camer reveals two woodpecker chicks.
Large tree trunks emerge from a wetland landscape.


  • Larry Paul Trail: This 2-mile hiking loop was created on the southern end of the preserve. The trail begins at the beach near Thoroughfare Creek Landing and offers views of Longleaf Pine and Pocosin Bay communities. The trail also includes interpretive signage about the island's abundant plants and wildlife. 

    Little Bull Creek TrailThis 2.2-mile loop begins and ends near the Bull Creek boat landing and explores the island’s North end.

    Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Trail: This 3.9-mile loop begins and ends near the Bull Creek boat landing and shares a portion of its length with the Little Bull Creek Trail. This longer trail offers the best chance to view rare red-cockaded woodpeckers.

  • In 2012, TNC entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help manage the wetlands surrounding the preserve. Hunting on these wetlands is solely managed by the USFWS. To obtain a permit, call 843-527-8069.

    TNC has also entered into the Property Watch Program, managed by the SC Department of Natural Resources, to help police illegal hunting and other activities on the preserve.

  • To minimize disturbance to the preserve’s plants, animals and visitors, please follow these guidelines:

    • Access to Sandy Island is by boat only. 
    • There are no restrooms, running water or trash receptacles. Please plan to pack out what you bring in!
    • No camping, littering, lighting fires, hunting without a permit or removing cultural or plant/animal artifacts.
    • Please respect private property on the island outside of the preserve boundaries.
  • Call Waccamaw NWR Visitor’s Center at 843-527-8069 or The Nature Conservancy at 843-937-8807 with questions.  

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