Sometimes adventure finds you. Other times, you have to go looking for it. That was the case with River Island Adventures, a river playground located practically in our backyard. We just didn’t know it.
It all started one day while I was thinking about the vast river systems here in Horry County. Between the Waccamaw River and the Intracoastal Waterway alone, we have well over 100+ miles of river. Yet it seems the freshwater systems are rarely advertised in comparison to our gorgeous oceanfront shoreline. I thought to myself, with these endless miles to paddle, there’s got to be some sort of adventure companies offering paddling tours. How come I’ve never heard of any?
So naturally, I turned to Google. And that’s where I discovered River Island Adventures. (Thanks Google!) I put it on my “to do” list earlier this year, but quickly forgot about it, thanks to an unexpected move and frankly, the chaos of 2020. But then Labor Day weekend arrived, we didn’t have plans, and wanted to stick relatively close to home. And so it seemed the perfect time to check this place out.
River Island Adventures: Reviewed
Located just 7 miles from North Myrtle Beach in Longs, South Carolina, River Island Adventures is an adventure outpost perched on the shore of the Waccamaw River. They offer everything from an “escape” challenge (more on that below), to guided river tours, boat rentals, camping, and more.
Being so close to home, I sent out a general Facebook message invite to a bunch of local friends and family to see if anyone wanted to join me in spending the day at River Island Adventures. The weather forecast for the weekend included temperatures surging well into the 90’s, so a day on the water seemed like a great idea. In total, ten of us made the quick trip to Longs. Here are the highlights from our experience:
Day Use Area / Facility:
When you arrive at River Island Adventures, you’ll almost feel as if you have arrived on a deserted island. The one acre outpost features a small building, picnic tables, and a fire-pit strewn across a sandy patch of land. Upon closer inspection, you start to notice the variety of yard games, hammocks, and tree swings strewn about.
And of course, there are dozens upon dozens of boats, floats, and other river toys.
The small building includes a very nice, clean bathroom, a small store, an ice machine, and an outdoor shower. Oh, and a refrigerator, where the awesome staff offered to store any perishables (like lunch) that needed to be kept cold. The staff was quick to get us all checked in, explain the amenities available to us, and get us on the river as soon as possible.
The main purpose of our group heading to River Island Adventures was, naturally, to spend the day ON the river.
Half of our adventure crew brought their own boats, and the other half chose to use a wide variety of flotation devices provided by River Island Adventures. There are a number of options for day passes, varying from $44 dollars to use kayaks and tubes for the day, to $10 if you’re bringing your own kayaks.
While guided kayak tours are available, our adventurous group decided to go out on our own. One of the guides took the time to pull up a GPS map on his phone and not only carefully point out directions of where we should go, but highlighted a few scenic spots to look out for.
He then also humored me with taking a group photo, because: blog life.
Our motley crew was outfitted in a wide variety of boats, based on comfort levels. There were sit-on-top, super stable kayaks for those who wanted them, and more aggressive, sit inside kayaks for those who wanted some speed. Regardless if you rented a kayak or brought your own, the staff (more on these amazing human beings below) helped us into the water and launched us on our adventure.
The Island Loop
By recommendation, our group headed West (downriver) towards the 48 acre private island, located about a half mile from the outpost. We then took a left where the river forked, and paddled around the island, for approximately a 3.3 mile round trip.
One of the guides mentioned that the river was at the optimal level, and I couldn’t agree more. The current certainly helped our forward progress while going downstream, but wasn’t so strong that anyone in our party had trouble making their way back up. We floated at a casual pace, occasionally dipping into the cypress trees for some shade.
Once we looped the island, we stopped for some snacks, and to check out the landing area of the island. It was super easy to dock our boats in the sand, a nice change from the mucky shoreline of other areas of the river.
Escape River Island
While we didn’t get a chance to participate in “Escape River Island” this time, it’s still something most definitely worth mentioning. This challenge appears to be inspired by the TV shows Survivor and Amazing Race, and the ever-popular escape rooms.
Up to 6 teams of 2 people each are guided to the private island, and compete in up to 10 Survivor-style challenges, solving clues to unlock their tandem kayaks and race a half mile up river back to the Outpost. You are given instructions and guided, to an extent, by your Adventure Host.
We were able to scope out some of the Challenge while taking a break on the island, and it definitely looked fun. We will be back to try and “Escape” the island in the future!
I live on the lower part of the Waccamaw river, and I won’t lie: I see alligators almost every time I paddle out. Naturally, my first two questions to one of the river guides at River Island Adventures were:
- Can we swim here, and
- Do you have alligators?
The guide explained that the upper part of the Waccamaw is much more narrow and faster moving, and while yes, gators do exist in the river, they are very rare in that area. In fact, she said that she swims there daily, and in all of the years that River Island Adventures has been open, they’ve seen alligators a whopping total of twice.
It was hot…so I decided to take my chances. And I’m glad I did. Especially since I fell in the water more than once.
A jump off of the bank onto the floating pad, then a float down to the boat ramp to climb back out was just what I needed.
In fact, multiple people from our group took the opportunity to cool down with the half mile “float” to the island. Some were on tubes, others were on…a shark. (See photographic evidence of shark below).
Once you reach the island on your tube, River Island Adventures picks you (and your tube) up in their pontoon boat and drives you back to the outpost. You can do this as many times as you want with the day pass!
The staff at River Island Adventures were absolutely phenomenal. You can tell when you visit a business and the employees are simply going through the emotions. Alternatively, you can feel when the staff genuinely cares that you are enjoying yourself. Every single employee we encountered at River Island Adventures was in the latter category. They went over and above with accommodations, from showing us a GPS map highlighting places to check out on our paddle, to making sure we checked out every available amenity, to ensuring we were staying safe on the river. More than one employee mentioned to me that the staff there was “one big family”, and I could absolutely see that they love their jobs. It truly was the icing on the cake of an awesome day.
This is going to be my only somewhat negative portion of the review, though I I recognize the circumstances regarding what I’m about to say is out of River Island Adventures control.
Now, camping is available at the facility. There are three wooded campsites, a primitive field, primitive island sites, and two platform clamping tents. Initially, myself and another couple wanted to stay on the primitive island site. However, logistically we decided that it might be easier to have our cars (with all of our stuff) closer.
We were shown both the primitive field and the wooded campsites before deciding ultimately on the field. The ground in the campsites were a bit mushy, due to the fact that the Waccamaw River had recently flooded. Again – NOT River Island Adventures fault (blame Mother Nature). So we opted to set up in the field under a big, beautiful tree that provided plenty of shade.
And then we proceeded to NOT sleep that night, because the neighbors chorus of hunting hound dogs literally sang all night long. In fact, the next morning, a half dozen of them even showed up to visit.
Along with the dogs came some ATV’s and pickup trucks (not related to River Island Adventures) that came zooming past our tents early in the morning. Again, that’s not River Island Adventures fault. But it wasn’t a very relaxing or restful experience. And since we lived less than 45 minutes away, all four of us opted to forfeit our second night, pack up, and go home after our (awesome) river adventures.
The good news is, there are other options for camping, both currently existing and in the works. There are two platform tent “glamping” sites that were adorable. Further, one of the employees told us that over the winter, River Island Adventures is working on building tree houses that you can camp/glamp in ON the island itself.
I will definitely hold out to give those options a try in the future, because this place really was a ton of fun. It has a lot of potential (above the fun it already offers), and from what I gather, the owner and staff have big plans for this space.
River Island Adventures – Know Before You Go:
Location: 1249 Vera Road, Longs, SC
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm, Sunday: by reservation only
Cost: Varies based on what you sign up for. Adult and children prices are available.
River Island Adventures also hosts a number of special events, such as:
- Full Moon Paddle with Gourmet S’mores
- Tubing Taco Tuesday
- Mom-Day Monday’s: Half Price for Moms
- Birthday parties
- Group events
- and more! Be sure to check out their website for an updated list of events.
In short, if you are in the Myrtle Beach area and looking for something besides the standard beach front options, definitely head West and give River Island Adventures a try. Whether you camp, opt for a day pass, or even a guided tour, it was absolutely, definitely worth the money and the trip.