A 45-minute drive southeast from Wilmington on U.S. 17 South, with a left turn onto N.C. 87, takes you to the little town of Southport, the jumping-off point for the passenger ferry to Bald Head Island. (The terminal is at Indigo Plantation.) You must call ahead to book the ferry (tel. 910/457-5003; www.baldheadisland.com). The day trip costs $15 for adults and $8 for children 3 to 12; children 2 and under ride free.

Bald Head Island invites nature lovers to visit for much longer than 1 day. There are some 3,000 pristine acres, with 14 miles of sandy beachfront and miles and miles of salt marshes, tidal creeks, and maritime forests. An 18-hole championship golf course and the Village of Bald Head Island -- with shops, restaurants, private homes, and condominiums -- offer other diversions. Activities on the island include swimming (the island has a pool as well as all those miles of beaches), biking, tennis, golf, canoeing, fishing, birding, and just plain beachcombing.

Still, human intrusion is kept to a minimum. No cars are permitted on the island; transportation is provided by golf carts and jitneys. Sea oats, yucca, beach grasses, live oak, red cedar, palmetto, sabal palms, loblolly pines, and a yellow wildflower called galardia thrive here. White ibises, great blue herons, snowy egrets, black ducks, mallards, and pintails frequent the island, and a protected population of loggerhead sea turtles nests here.

If you'd like to stay over, private homes, as well as condominiums, are available as rentals. You can also rent either of two historic cottages that were the homes of lighthouse keepers and their families from 1903 to 1958. All units are tastefully furnished, with full kitchens, TVs, and other modern conveniences, and most rates include the use of one of the electric passenger carts. There is a 3-night minimum stay at the condos and a weekly-only rental for houses. In summer, daily rates range from $260 to $550, with weekly rates going from $1,700 to $13,000. Off season, the daily rate is from $200 to $550, with weekly rentals costing $1,500 to $13,000. All kinds of package deals are available. For full details and bookings, contact Bald Head Island, PO Box 3069, Bald Head Island, NC 28461 (tel. 800/515-1038 or 910/457-5000; www.baldheadisland.com). One of the best deals here is a stay at Theodosia's Bed & Breakfast (tel. 800/656-1812 or 910/457-6563; www.theodosias.com), which offers 10 handsomely furnished guest rooms, each with private bathroom, plus 2 very private rooms in a carriage house and another 3 guest rooms in a cottage. Each has a porch or balcony. The inn is located at the Marina of Harbour Village. Doubles range from $155 to $295 nightly, including a full breakfast. A 2-night minimum stay is required. American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa are accepted.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.