How to Have the Most Fun on the Intracoastal Waterway

One of the highlights of a Topsail, North Carolina beach vacation is being so close to the beautiful waters that surround our little barrier island. Nestled between the majestic Atlantic waters on the oceanside of the island and the tranquil soundside waters of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) on the other, Topsail Island is truly a water lover’s paradise offering the best of both worlds where you can experience amazing inland and off-shore adventures.

Today, we’re putting a spotlight on the inland water adventures that await you on the ICW.

Get to know the Intracoastal waters near Topsail.

Let’s get to know a little more about the lay of the land and local waters, so you can get better acquainted this little piece of paradise on the North Carolina coast.

A Quick Topsail Island Geography Lesson

Topsail Island is one island in a chain of barrier islands located along the North Carolina coast,  midway between the mainland cities of Jacksonville, NC to the north and Wilmington, NC to the south. Topsail Island itself is situated in both Onslow and Pender counties and is home to the three seaside towns of North Topsail Beach, Surf City, and Topsail Beach with each providing a unique ambiance all its own.

Offering 26-miles of expansive shoreline, pristine beaches and a quintessential beach vacation experience, Topsail Island has quickly become a popular vacation destination for couples, families and beach lovers from all over.

It’s no wonder that Topsail Beach has recently been voted Best Little Beach Town in the USA by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel site. Little Topsail Island is making a big splash on the beach scene, which is no surprise to those who know it best. It’s certainly not a secret anymore!

The Location of the  Intracoastal Waterway (ICW or ICWW)

The northeastern edge of Topsail Island is where you’ll find the New River Inlet, and the southwestern edge lies in the Topsail Inlet. The island is separated from the mainland by a series of small sounds and channels that make up a portion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

The Intracoastal Waterway at-large is a 3,000-mile inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States, running from Massachusetts southward along the Atlantic Seaboard and around the southern tip of Florida, then following the Gulf Coast to Texas. The ICW is made up of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays and sounds, as well as artificial canals,  providing a navigable route for boaters along its length without many of the hazards of the open ocean waters.

Where to Access the ICW During Your Topsail Vacation

There are three public boat ramps on Topsail Island. If you want your own, then be sure to choose a soundside Topsail vacation rental that comes with stunning views and  instant access to the ICW anytime you want it. (More on that later in this post!)

  • North Topsail Beach: There is a boat ramp at the end of Shrimp Lady Lane under the high-rise bridge. The ramp is free, and there is plenty of parking.
  • Surf City: Public boat ramps are located at Soundside Park on 517 Roland Avenue right near the bridge.
  • Topsail Beach: The south end of the island also has a boat ramp offering access to the Intracoastal. The ramp, also known as Buch Marina, is located on South Anderson Boulevard just past Town Hall in downtown Topsail Beach and is set up as a self-pay, self-use ramp. 

Plan your Intracoastal Waterway adventures.

Okay, your geography lesson is done and now it’s time for on-the-water fun! Your ICW adventures are only limited to your imagination because there are so many ways to enjoy the local soundside waters.

Cruising & Sightseeing

When it comes to cruising the local Topsail waters, we highly recommend The Belle of Topsail. It’s a 55-foot replica of an 1880’s turn of the century riverboat that cruises the scenic waters of the North Carolina Intracoastal waterway and sounds. Enjoy a lower salon or an open air deck on top with a terrific view of the island and the sounds. Experience the beauty of a North Carolina sunset from the waters aboard the scenic own riverboat. This peaceful, picturesque cruise along the waters of Topsail Island is the perfect ending to a hectic day, or it could be the beginning of an exciting night! Either way, it’s a quintessential Topsail cruising experience that’s guaranteed to please.

Topsail Tiki Tours is another local favorite. The Tiki Queen Paddlewheel takes you on a 2-hour nature and history tour along the Intracoastal Waterway and the back of Topsail Island. You’ll learn about the history of the island’s lookout towers, pirates and so much more. See the gorgeous waterway areas that only those with boats typically get to enjoy and along the way keep an eye out for Topsail Island’s spectacular wildlife including sea turtles, dolphins, ospreys and pelicans, just to name a few. They also offer sunset party cruises, shelling tours on a pontoon boat, and private charters.


If you brought your own boat to Topsail Island, then you can explore the local waters at your own pace and see the sights whenever you please. Savor the coastal beauty and make time to watch the breathtaking coastal sunset as it sinks slowly into the soundside horizon. Be sure to motor on over to the Breezeway Restaurant and Sears Landing where you can pull right up and dock for your dinner.

Guided Ecotours

Paddle your way along the island on a Topsail Ecotour either on a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard. Paddle NC offers personalized guided tours for all  ages and abilities on the calm, flat waters of the sound. Their tours leave from the sound side of Topsail’s Beach Access #2. The launch area is easy to use, and surrounding water is sheltered from wind and boat traffic for an relaxing, stress-free paddling adventure.

You can also take a guided ecotour by boat with an experienced local captain who can show you around and get you comfortable on the water. Topsail Boat Rentals and Lost Treasure Eco Tours are two great options.


Fishing and Topsail Island go hand-in-hand. Spring and Fall are optimal fishing times but you can drop a line anytime you’re here. It’s especially easy to do when you choose a soundside Topsail rental with its own dock.

Alternatively, Soundside Park in Surf City offers public piers for your fishing pleasure. It’s also a great place for crabbing, too. Just don’t forget your NC fishing license!

Kayaking, Paddleboarding/SUP Rentals 

The ICW waters just beckon for you to get out and explore them. Kayaking, paddleboarding and stand-up paddleboarding are best experienced on the calm soundside waters off Topsail Island.

If you didn’t bring your own water equipment, we have some awesome local sports outfitters that will take care of everything you need for your paddling adventures. 50 South Surf Shop and Herrings Outdoor Sports are two places to rent kayaks, paddleboards, find guided tours and more.

Jet Ski Rentals

Jet skiing is a fun and exhilarating on-the-water activity. A&B Saltwater Adventures can make your Topsail Island vacation extraordinary with the ride of a lifetime on their Yamaha jet skis (they also offer pontoons, our SUP boards and kayaks). Located at Bush Marina, A&B Saltwater Adventures is a family owned and operated business with more than 20 years of experience on the water. Explore Topsail Island from the beautiful waterways and see it for yourself.

Soundfront Topsail rentals offer the best access.

So with all of the ICW fun and adventure available to you on Topsail Island, now is the time to find the perfect rental for you and your family. Soundfront and soundside Topsail rentals are the way to go if you want ICW access that’s right outside your doorstep.

Need some help? Here are three Topsail rentals right on the Intracoastal Waterway that come equipped for adventure.

Heron House  

(equipped with private boat dock and canoe)

Heron House sits proudly on the sound with large sweeping views of the Intracoastal Waterway in the Village of Stump Sound. The home provides a private dock, two large garages, five total bedrooms, (four of which contain private baths) very large sound front decks on the top and bottom floors, cozy backyard, canoes and much more. Heron House sits on a very private lot, just a few yards away from the community tennis courts and the small boat launch.

Sounds Right

(equipped with private boat dock, 2 kayaks and a paddleboard)

Sounds Right is comfortable and spacious with breath taking sunsets over the ICWW. You will love relaxing on the partially covered back deck while you watch the boats leisurely cruise by. Perfectly situated in the quiet family friendly community of the Village of Stump Sound which features a beach access, community pool, tennis courts and small craft launch. Take a short stroll past the fire pit to the private dock, which allows you to bring your boat and leave it right at your back door. There are also two kayaks and a paddleboard for your use during your stay.

Waterway Hideaway

(equipped with private dock on deep water ICW, canoes and kayaks)

Tucked back in the quiet community of Chadwick Shores, this home sits directly on the sound front with wonderful views of Topsail Island and the ICWW. Privacy, seclusion, plenty of space and direct access to the sound are just a few of the things you will find at Waterway Hideaway. Guests are welcome to use the canoes and kayak at the home. Have a boat? Bring it! This home is perfect for you. With its own private dock, you can fish until your heart’s content. A large raised deck at the end of the dock allows for sweeping views of the sound as well.

More About the NC Intracoastal Waterway…

Do you want to learn more more about an Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway adventure along the North Carolina Coast?

Have you had an Intracoastal Waterway adventure around Topsail Island? We want to hear about it! Our comment section is always open.