The Ultimate Guide to Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island State Park boasts five miles of wild but beautifully kept beaches along with thousands of acres of marsh and forest land. It even has a saltwater lagoon and a beautiful lighthouse turned museum.

Hunting Island is a 5,000-acre secluded semitropical barrier island located just 15 miles east of Beaufort between beautiful Harbor Island and Fripp Island. It’s South Carolina’s most popular state park attracting over 1 million guests per year. You can visit year-round and enjoy miles of beautiful South Carolina coastline, a historic lighthouse, hiking, and camping.

Adding to the natural history of the big park is a piece of man-made history: South Carolina’s only publicly accessible historic lighthouse. Dating from the 1870s, the Hunting Island Lighthouse rises 170 feet into the air giving those who scale its heights a breathtaking view of the sweeping Lowcountry marshland and the Atlantic Ocean.

The history of the area as a whole goes back much further but the history of Hunting Island as a State Park began in the 1930s when it acquired that designation. In 1967, the forestry commission shifted ownership of the island to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism and since then it has become an iconic South Carolina destination.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Hunting Island is one of the last barrier islands that are undeveloped. Hunting Island State Park is a place where visitors come to enjoy a pristine natural area. So what do you need to know before your visit to Hunting Island State Park? Let’s dig in!

By the way, this is one article in a series of Ultimate Guides. You may find them helpful if you’re considering travel to these areas:

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Hunting Island State Park?

Within this huge 5,000-acre park, visitors enjoy swimming, hiking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, camping, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing. Due to the semi-tropical climate of the area, many of these activities can be done all year round. Although it’s an island, you’ll likely see plenty of wildlife during your visit. Deer, alligators, raccoons, rattlesnakes, and turtles are just some of the wild creatures you might spot during your Hunting Island adventure. 

One of the top attractions in the park is the beautiful beaches where you can walk for miles in the sand and surf. You may even find some fossilized shark teeth at low tide and with a little digging. The best part about the beaches is that since the miles of white sand are usually uncrowded you may very well have a long stretch of paradise all to yourself.

As you explore the park, you’ll come across a variety of terrains and ecosystems including maritime forest, saltwater lagoons, marshes, and ocean inlets. It’s in these places that you’ll be able to observe a variety of plant and animal species thriving in their native environment. 

Hunting Island State Park is so beautiful and so unique that even film crews have used it for filming scenes for blockbuster movies such as Forrest Gump and The Big Chill

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where is Hunting Island State Park?

Hunting Island State Park is situated along the southeastern coast of South Carolina about 15 miles from the small town of Beaufort.  Its location between Harbor Island and Fripp Island is telling of the type of area you’ll be exploring; one with several beautiful barrier islands to explore including Hunting Island. 

You’ll be awe-inspired before you even get through the entrance to the park. You will pass through a sub-tropical maritime forest and embark on a scenic, but short, drive through stunning low-country landscape. This winding road with lush greenery will take you to the entrance of Hunting Island State Park where you’ll continue your adventure in one of South Carolina’s most popular state parks. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park hours and admission

Hunting Island State Park is open from 6 am to 6 pm every day (park hours are extended to 9 pm during Daylight Saving Time). The best time to visit will depend on what you want to see and do. If you want to observe wildlife, the best time to go is early in the morning or into the evening hours but other than that, any time of day is a good time to visit. Just be sure to set out early if you plan to do a longer hike. 

The office and visitor center are open from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 5 pm on weekends. The fee to enter the park is $8.00 per adult. There are discounted prices for South Carolina seniors and youths and children under the age of five years old can enter for free. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When is the best time to visit Hunting Island State Park?

You can visit Hunting Island State Park any time of year but ultimately it will depend on what you plan on doing there that will determine the best time for you to go. If swimming, kayaking, or sailing are on your mind, the end of spring to the first weeks of fall is the best time to visit with the summer months being the warmest but also the most crowded. 

If hiking and fishing are on your mind spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler is the best time to visit. The best thing about spring and fall is this tends to be the time of year when there are fewer people so you get the trails and top fishing spots almost all to yourself. If you visit during the winter months it’s even likely you’ll have the park to yourself.

Things to do in Huntington Island State Park

Hunting Island Lighthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island Lighthouse

Originally built in 1859, Confederate forces destroyed the structure to ensure the Union would not be able to use it against them. A new lighthouse was built in 1875 using interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled and moved should the ocean ever encroach upon it. Severe erosion forced the lighthouse to be relocated 1.3 miles inland in 1889.

Decommissioned in 1933, it still retains a functional light in its tower. It’s a 167- step climb to the 130-foot observation deck where you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding maritime forest. Due to safety concerns, it is currently closed to tours until repairs can be made. However, visitors are welcome to walk though several buildings on the site featuring exhibits on the construction of the lighthouse and life as a lighthouse keeper.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island Nature Center

While exploring the outdoors is the best way to get to know the park, a visit to the Hunting Island Nature Center will help you understand what you’re seeing while exploring the park. Inside this fascinating place, you’ll see a variety of exhibits featuring live animals and information about the various habitats.

Hunting Island Marsh Boardwalk

The Hunting Island Marsh Boardwalk makes it easy for visitors to walk over the marshy tidal flats and observe the area’s wildlife and natural surroundings without disturbing anything. It’s also one of the best places to watch the sunset. 

Hunting Island Fishing Pier

Whether you want to do some fishing or just watch for seabirds and dolphins, the Hunting Island Fishing Pier is a great place to take a break. 

South Beach Boneyard

The combination of erosion and saltwater has created a unique scene on a beach on the southern portion of the island. This area known as the South Beach Boneyard looks much like a boneyard with the remnants of trees toppled over with their roots and dead branches strewn across the area. 

Hunting Island Lagoon

If you want to do some paddleboarding, kayaking, or tubing during your time in Hunting Island State Park, Hunting Island Lagoon is a popular place to do these things and so much more.  Fishing is also popular here and some people just come to relax, birdwatch, and enjoy the peacefulness of the area. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to eat at Hunting Island State Park

Since there are no restaurants in Hunting Island State Park, you’ll either have to leave the park and drive to nearby Beaufort to grab something to eat or you’ll need to pack a lunch.  

When enjoying a full day in nature, packing a lunch is your best option. There are plenty of picnic facilities and nice places to sit and enjoy a homemade meal while taking in the sights around you. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Destination hikes in Hunting Island State Park

One of the most popular activities in Hunting Island State Park is hiking and there are numerous trails in the park.  Some trails are longer than others and some are more difficult, so there’s something for all ages and skill levels.  

Diamondback Rattlesnake Trail: At 1.9 miles, this trail won’t take much time to do but it’s a bit difficult in spots. Only tackle this one if you’re fit and used to hiking on rugged trails. 

Magnolia Forest Trail: If you’re looking for a more relaxing trail or you’re traveling with children, this trail is easy and at only 1.2 miles, it’ll only take a short time to do. From the campground, you’ll walk through a hilly area full of beautiful Magnolia trees. 

Maritime Forest Trail: This is another short and easy trail at only 2 miles long. It travels through the interior of a maritime forest area where you’ll see a protected habitat that’s home to deer, owls, raccoons and other animals. 

Lagoon Trail: Winding around the lagoon, this 1.4-mile trail is suitable for all levels.  Along the trail, you’ll enjoy amazing views of the lagoon and observe different habitats. 

Nature Center Scenic Trail: At only 0.7 miles long, the Nature Center Scenic Trail combines two attractions in one. You’ll get to visit the Nature Center and you’ll get an easy hike in.  If you do decide that you’d like to keep hiking, this trail hooks up to some of the park’s other popular trails including two that are situated on Little Hunting Island.

Hunting Island Lighthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 5 things to do at Hunting Island State Park

  • Visit the historic Hunting Island lighthouse
  • Enjoy a sunrise, walk along the beach and look for sharks’ teeth and other shells that have washed ashore
  • Visit the nature center at Hunting Island State Park and see the alligators
  • Visit the Marsh Boardwalk, the best place in the Lowcountry to watch the sunset
  • Take a ferry from Hunting Island for a naturalist-led tour of St. Phillips Island where you can explore trails, enjoy the beach, and see wildlife of this pristine barrier island

Things to do near Hunting Island State Park

If you plan to stick around the area for a while, there are many things to do outside of Hunting Island State Park too.  

Most of the area’s attractions can be found in and around the city of Beaufort. A popular thing to do to get familiar with this city is to take a walk around the historic streets and admire the grand mansions that line them. The downtown district is full of beautiful old buildings and this is where you’ll also find many of the area’s restaurants and shops.

The Beaufort History Museum is a must-stop for visitors who want to learn more about the city’s history, culture, and people and its surrounding area. The John Mark Verdier House is a historic mansion offering guided tours of the house and grounds. The Beaufort National Cemetery has connections to the American Civil War.  

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 5,000 acres

Location: South Carolina Lowcountry in Beaufort County

Directions: From I-95 take US-21 east toward through Beaufort to the park

Date acquired: 1938 from Beaufort County

Designation: Hunting Island State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal Program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program was designed to provide employment during the Great Depression while addressing national needs in conservation and recreation. A number of buildings built by the CCC in the 1930s are still in use at this park.

Park entrance fee: $8/adult; $5/SC seniors; $4/ child age 6-15; free for children 5 and younger

Pets: Pets are not allowed in the cabins or the cabin areas. Pets are allowed in most other outdoor areas provided they are kept under physical restraint or on a leash not longer than six feet.

Significant Natural Features: Hunting Island is always changing. Migrating creatures in air and sea come and go with the seasons and the natural forces of erosion constantly re-shape the island. In addition to some 3,000 acres of salt marsh and more than four miles of beach, a large lagoon created by sand dredging in 1968 has become a natural wonderland and home to such unexpected species as seahorses and barracuda. The park’s upland areas contain one of the state’s best examples of semi-tropical maritime forest, ancient sand dunes now dominated by such vegetation as slash pines, cabbage palmetto (the state tree), and live oak.

Animals: Loggerhead turtles nest on the island in the summer months. Deer, alligators, raccoons, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes

Birding: Numerous species of birds include painted buntings, tanagers, orioles, pelicans, oystercatchers, skimmers, terns, herons, egrets, and wood storks. Hunting Island’s beaches are important for shorebirds and seabirds which use the beach to feed, nest, and rest along their migration route.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monthly average air and ocean temperatures

January: Air 59 degrees F; Ocean 52 degrees F
February: Air 61 degrees F; Ocean 54 degrees F
March: Air 67 degrees F; Ocean 59 degrees F
April: Air 76 degrees F; Ocean 67 degrees F
May: Air 82 degrees F; Ocean 75 degrees F
June: Air 86 degrees F; Ocean 82 degrees F
July: Air 89 degrees F; Ocean 84 degrees F
August: Air 89 degrees F; Ocean 84 degrees F
September: Air 84 degrees F; Ocean 80 degrees F
October: Air 77 degrees F; Ocean 73 degrees F
November: Air 69 degrees F; Ocean 63 degrees F
December: Air 61 degrees F; Ocean 54 degrees F

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the numbers

  • 5: miles of beach
  • 1: saltwater lagoon
  • 5,000: acres of Lowcountry South Carolina that includes beach, marsh, and maritime forest
  • 1: historic lighthouse, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina
  • 167: steps to climb to the top of the lighthouse
  • 102: standard campsites, all of which offer 50 amp service and are highly-coveted year round
  • 25: rustic tent sites
  • 1: cabin located near the lighthouse
  • 1: nature center with all sorts of neat creatures and regularly scheduled programs for you to enjoy
  • 1: pier for fishing or just strolling to the end to see the view
  • 1: picnic shelter for family reunions or other group outings

Worth Pondering…

As the old song declares, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,” or almost any other time.

Explore the Lowcountry at Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island is South Carolina’s single most popular state park attracting more than a million human visitors a year

Spend a day on Hunting Island and you’ll quickly understand why this secluded Lowcountry sea island is South Carolina’s most popular state park. More than a million visitors a year are lured to the 5,000-acre park once a hunting preserve for 19th and early 20th century planters.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also attracted to the semi-tropical barrier island is an array of wildlife ranging from loggerhead sea turtles to painted buntings, barracudas to sea horses, alligators, pelicans, dolphins and deer, raccoons, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and even the rare coral snake.

Part of the pristine ACE Basin estuarine reserve, the park features thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, 5 miles of beach, a saltwater lagoon, and an ocean inlet. Add to that the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For outdoor enthusiasts, it’s an oceanfront playground where you can enjoy fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and camping.

One of the most popular activities is hiking and there are numerous trails in the park. Some trails are longer than others and some are more difficult so there’s something for all ages and skill levels.  

At 1.9 miles, Diamondback Rattlesnake Trail won’t take much time to do but it’s a bit difficult in spots. Only tackle this one if you’re fit and used to hiking on rugged trails. If you’re looking for a more relaxing trail or you’re traveling with children, Magnolia Forest Trail is easy and at only 1.2 miles, it’ll only take a short time to do. From the campground, you’ll walk through a hilly area full of beautiful Magnolia trees. Maritime Forest Trail is another short and easy trail at only 2 miles long. It travels through the interior of a maritime forest area where you’ll see a protected habitat that’s home to deer, owls, raccoons, and other animals. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In winter, Hunting Island State Park offers a quiet coastal retreat to de-stress and re-energize. There’s nothing like a long walk along a deserted beach or wooded nature trail to clear the clutter from your psyche.

If you’re into history, you’ll love the lighthouse that once warned sailors to keep away from the island’s shallow shoreline. Originally built in 1859, Confederate forces destroyed the structure to ensure the Union would not be able to use it against them.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A new lighthouse was built in 1875 using interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled and moved should the ocean ever encroach upon it. Severe erosion forced the lighthouse to be relocated 1.3 miles inland in 1889.

Decommissioned in 1933, it still retains a functional light in its tower. It’s a 167- step climb to the 130-foot observation deck where you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding maritime forest. Due to safety concerns, it is currently closed to tours until repairs can be made. However, visitors are welcome to walk though several buildings on the site featuring exhibits on the construction of the lighthouse and life as a lighthouse keeper.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park also features a fishing pier that extends 950 feet into Fripp Inlet. Or drop your line in Johnson Creek or the surf. If you’re traveling with a boat, you can launch from a ramp at the south end of the park. It provides access to Harbor River and Fripp Inlet.

In the Nature Center, visitors will find live animals and exhibits about the habitats and natural history of the park. Educational programs are offered throughout the year including walks with a naturalist, beach explorations, and turtle talks.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to walk out on the Marsh Boardwalk and bring your camera and binoculars. It takes you across the marsh to a hammock and a deck that overlooks a tidal creek, a prime bird watching perch.

Want to stay more than a day on Hunting Island? No problem. The park features 186 campsites and one fully-furnished cabin.

You can visit Hunting Island State Park any time of year but ultimately it will depend on what you plan on doing there that will determine the best time for you to go. If swimming, kayaking, or sailing are on your mind, the end of spring to the first weeks of fall is the best time to visit with the summer months being the warmest but also the most crowded. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If hiking and fishing are on your mind spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler is the best time to visit.  The best thing about spring and fall is this tends to be the time of year when there are fewer people so you get the trails and top fishing spots almost all to yourself. If you visit during the winter months it’s even likely you’ll have the park to yourself.

Hunting Island State Park is situated along the southeastern coast of South Carolina about 15 miles from the small town of Beaufort.  Its location between Harbor Island and Fripp Island is telling of the type of area you’ll be exploring; one with several beautiful barrier islands to explore including Hunting Island. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll be awe-inspired before you even get through the entrance to the park. You will pass through a sub-tropical maritime forest and embark on a scenic, but short, drive through stunning low-country landscape. This winding road with lush greenery will take you to the entrance of Hunting Island State Park where you’ll continue your adventure in one of South Carolina’s most popular state parks. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park is open from 6 am to 6 pm every day (park hours are extended to 9 pm during Daylight Saving Time). The best time of day to visit will depend on what you want to see and do. If you want to observe wildlife, the best time to go is early in the morning or into the evening hours but other than that, any time is a good time to visit. Just be sure to set out early if you plan to do a longer hike. 

The office and visitor center are open from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 5 pm on weekends. The fee to enter the park is $8.00 per adult. There are discounted prices for South Carolina seniors and youths and children under the age of five years old can enter for free. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the numbers

  • 5: miles of beach
  • 1: saltwater lagoon
  • 5,000: acres of Lowcountry South Carolina that includes beach, marsh, and maritime forest
  • 1: historic lighthouse, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina
  • 167: steps to climb to the top of the lighthouse
  • 102: standard campsites, all of which offer 50 amp service and are highly-coveted year round
  • 25: rustic tent sites
  • 1: cabin located near the lighthouse
  • 1: nature center with all sorts of neat creatures and regularly scheduled programs for you to enjoy
  • 1: pier for fishing or just strolling to the end to see the view
  • 1: picnic shelter for family reunions or other group outings

Worth Pondering…

As the old song declares, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,” or almost any other time.

The Ultimate Guide to Congaree National Park

Home to the largest old growth hardwood forest in the American southeast

Just a half-hour outside of the state’s capital, Columbia, Congaree National Park is the only national park in South Carolina. Some of the tallest trees on the east coast are located inside Congaree which was named after the Native American tribe that used to reside in the area.

Unlike many hardwood forests, Congaree was largely spared by the lumber industry in the late 1800s and was eventually designated as a national monument and then a national park thanks to the work of preservationists. The terrain includes the forest, the Congaree River, and the floodplain.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is not a swamp but a dynamic river floodplain running through an old-growth forest of naked Cypress trees. When the waters flood in from the adjacent Congaree and Wateree Rivers, nutrients and sediments sweep in with them nourishing the ecosystem that is home to a diverse habitat of birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles, insects, and mammals.

The weather in this part of South Carolina can be hot and humid throughout the year. With average highs in the 70s, springtime is one of the park’s most popular times for visitors. In the summertime, temperatures can reach up into the 90s with regular thunderstorms and an average monthly rainfall of 4.5 inches. The rain continues into the fall season, but temperatures typically dip back into the 70s withless humidity. Winters tend to be mild with daily highs in the 50s although snow does occasionally fall in the park. Winter is also the season that Congaree is most likely to flood, making it the slowest season for visitors.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The benefits of traveling during the off-season are astounding. We felt as though we had Congaree to ourselves. We did. We were the only people out there that day in mid-November. And we were mosquito free.

When you get to Congaree National Park, you first want to stop in at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. This is the hub of the park and has a nice-sized parking lot for cars. There is also limited parking for RVs and other oversized vehicles.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually, the visitor center has exhibits set up to give visitors some information on the park and you can gather plenty of information by chatting with the friendly rangers here. 

In addition to talking to the rangers, the visitor center as a place to use the restroom, refill water bottles, purchase snacks if needed, grab maps, ask for a Junior Ranger book, and pick up a Self-Guided Boardwalk Tour sheet. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are three ways to take in South Carolina’s only national park. The first is to walk the Boardwalk, a 2.4-mile loop that meanders through stands of massive bald cypress trees with their distinctive knees over creeks that move so slowly they resemble a swamp (but, technically, is not). You’ll stroll past turtles, snakes, alligators, deer, woodpeckers, deer, wild pigs, river otters, and even bobcats—some of which you will see but many of which will be invisibly watching you. Wide, handicapped-accessible, and sturdy, the boardwalk allows exploration without getting dirty, wet, or lost—a bonus for the directionally challenged or parents of young children.

For a bit of adventure, hop off the boardwalk and hike a section of the Sims Trail which runs from just past the Harry Hampton Visitor Center to Weston Lake remaining within the boundaries of the boardwalk the entire time. Challenge yourself even more and hike into the park’s wilderness, an area of nearly 22,000 acres.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With generally flat trails, hiking at Congaree National Park is great for visitors of all skill and age levels. Each of the park’s 10 trails starts at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and ranges in length from 0.3 miles to 11.7 miles.

You’ll find about 25 miles of marked trails but they’re primitive: one of the ways that Congaree National Park maintains a pristine environment for all the senses is by prohibiting power tools that change the nature of the park with their noise and smell. For hikers, this means that when a huge tree falls across the trail, it’s often left there to be climbed over or walked around. Fast-growing plants and vines thanks to the park’s nutrient-rich soil also tend to spill into paths necessitating long pants and proper hiking boots.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An easy way to catch a glimpse of the Congaree River is to hike the Bates Ferry Trail, a just-over-one miler that opened in 2015 at the far eastern end of the park. The shady path leads to the site of Bates Ferry which shuttled travelers across the river for decades.

The third is to take to the water: a marked, 6.6-mile canoe and kayak trail follows Cedar Creek as it twists and turns through the park’s northwestern sector. It’s a safe, but challenging, course, bursting with both low-key natural wonders—silent owls, slithery snakes, champion trees—and a bevy of obstacles that include vines, fallen trees, live trees, more cypress knees, and outstretched limbs. It’s quiet, but not, thanks to the steady hum of birds, insects, frogs, and creatures rustling through dry leaves.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can explore on your own or participate in regularly-scheduled paddles led by the park’s team of rangers who come armed with facts, stories, lore, and history. It’s known, for instance, that runaway slaves set up communities within this unforgiving landscape, living “free” but remaining close to enslaved family members who risked their lives to provide food and clothing until the family could be reunited. Later, during Prohibition, these deep woods attracted bootleggers who found an easy place to hide their stills and thanks to the river transported their moonshine.

If you’re looking for events inside the park, National Park Service rangers coordinate several educational hikes and tours throughout the year. Learn more about owls and other nocturnal animals at the Owl Prowl or take a wilderness canoe tour through the forest to learn more about the park’s flora and fauna. The Audubon Society also leads a birdwatching tour on the second Sunday of every month.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is welcomed (and free) in the park and the riverbank is a glorious natural campsite particularly if you stumble onto a sandbar large enough for your tent. The four-or-so-mile Weston Lake Loop, for instance, leads to a point on Cedar Creek that just happens to be a favorite with river otters. The ten-mile-long River Trail leads to the Congaree River, a curling ribbon of placid water that forms the park’s more than 25-river-mile-long southern border. Along the way, there are sandbars, ancient bluffs, and all manner of wildlife. Camping is also permitted in the high-ground section of the park where an actual campground means you can have a fire.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re camping in an RV as we were, there are a few nearby state parks that have hookups for campers and trailers. Or you may opt to stay at one of the area’s many private RV campgrounds which tend to have more amenities like laundry facilities and pools.

However you choose to experience Congaree National Park, don’t forget to look up. The startlingly tall canopy which changes with the seasons from summer’s green veil to the sunset shades of fall and finally winter’s stark sculpture is remarkable to behold.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 24,180 acres

Date established: November 10, 2003

Location: Central South Carolina

Designations: UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and National Register of Historic Places

Park Elevation: 80 feet to 140 feet

Park entrance fee: Free admission

Recreational visits (2021): 215,181

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reservedA

How the park got its name:  The Park is named after the Congaree People, an American Indian tribe who lived in the area of central South Carolina before it was inhabited by settlers. 

Iconic site in the park: The trails among the Cypress trees. Preserved at Congaree National Park is the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the United States. The trees growing in the area are among the tallest in the Eastern U.S. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible adventure: The undisputed champion of this park is the elevated Boardwalk Loop stretching 2.4-miles from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center through the forest and its surrounding waterways. Slightly less accessible when covered with water. 

Big adventure: Canoeing or kayaking Cedar Creek provides 15 miles of Congaree Wilderness to visitors where they can explore the primeval old-growth forest from within while viewing various wildlife species such as river otters, birdlife, deer, turtles, armadillos, snakes, and alligators. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know? 

The mosquito meter at the visitor center ranges from “1 – All Clear” to “6 – War Zone!”  You can find the war zone during summer months. 

Until 2003, when Congaree became the first and only national park in South Carolina, it was known as the Congaree Swamp National Monument.

American Indians used the wood from the Cypress trees to make canoes and structures, so much so, that there is very little of this tree left in North America.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the park are cattle mounds. These mounds were built to allow livestock to climb to higher ground during floods. In 1996 these mounds were added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

At Congaree, you will find one of the most diverse forests in North America with 22 plant communities living in the park.

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Discover the Golden Isles: Rich in History and Beauty

Warm Atlantic waters, miles of winding marshland, and magnificent beaches

Georgia‘s Atlantic Coastline is only about 100 miles long but along this green corridor, you’ll see some of America’s most breathtaking natural landscapes.

This is a region woven with many cultures, notably the coastal Gullah with origins in West Africa. Their traditions include sweetgrass baskets, quilting, and knitting fishing nets.

Folklore, stories, and songs have also been handed down over the years.

Traditional recipes include seafood dishes and Low Country favorites such as hoppin’ john (brown fried peas cooked with rice; eaten for good luck), sweet potato pie, and benne wafers (cookie made with sesame seeds and eaten for good luck).

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles

Nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah (Georgia) and Jacksonville (Florida) lies the mainland city of Brunswick and a series of barrier islands.

The most visited of the barrier islands are Sapelo, Jekyll, Cumberland, and St. Simons. Sea Island and Little St. Simons Island are exclusive. Little St. Simons, Sapelo, and Cumberland must be reached by boat, while St. Simons, Sea Island, and Jekyll have causeways connecting them to the mainland.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Simons and Jekyll islands straddle the Marshes of Glynn, made familiar by Sidney Lanier’s poem of the same name.

The 5.9-mile causeway that leads to Jekyll is flanked by tidal marshes, home to waterfowl and migrating birds.

Related: Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Four of the beautiful isles—St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll, and Sea—and a nearby coastal town are known collectively as Brunswick and the Golden Isles of Georgia.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These coastal isles have long served as refuges for wildlife, havens for millionaires, and bastions of history.

Voodoo, alligators, wild horses, African culture, and the wealthiest families in the United States are all part of the history of the Golden Isles.

The state has only 100 miles of coastline, but nearly 800 miles of shoreline. Seventeen barrier islands are in this complex.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spanish explorers seeking gold originally descended upon the territory more than 400 years ago, only to find astonishing beauty, mild weather, and a natural radiance that inspired the area’s name, the Golden Isles.

Pristine stretches of marshland, punctuated by small islands known as hammocks, define the breathtaking landscape and create the appearance of a continuous stretch of land reaching out to the barrier islands. These vast marshes turn a beautiful golden color in the fall, especially dramatic when lit by the setting sun.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Golden Isles are also heralded as a destination where the gentleman’s game of golf meets Southern hospitality in a seaside setting with a rich and storied history. The area’s beauty and world-class golf courses, facilities, and instructors have earned the Golden Isles its reputation as a golfer’s paradise.

Sydney Lanier Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island alone boasts four public courses situated along and through a state park—the 18-hole Pine Lakes, Oleander, and Indian Mound courses and 9-hole Great Dunes. Joining the Seaside Course at Sea Island are two other full-length tracks, the Plantation and the Retreat, while Heritage Oaks in Brunswick is known for its conditioning.

Related: Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

Not only do the Golden Isles provide a rich golf experience but they also come alive as nature’s playground with acres of undeveloped land, marshes, and rivers along with the vast expanse of ocean.

St. Simons Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Simons Island

The largest of The Golden Isles, St. Simons Island continues to reveal the beauty and fascinating history of what 16th-century Spanish explorers called San Simeon.

Visitors come year round to swim, stroll, and sail along its miles of lovely beaches, to challenge its 99 holes of superb golf and numerous tennis courts, and to explore its countless shops and restaurants.

Marshes of Glenn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Simons Island lies across the immortalized Marshes of Glynn, made famous by English poet Sidney Lanier. Moss-draped oaks line the winding island streets, creating a picture-perfect image worthy of a William Faulkner novel.

The island’s villages offer a charming and unique selection of shops, plus a variety of restaurants. Visitors and residents alike enjoy outdoor recreation at Neptune Park and its Fun Zone which includes a public pool, miniature golf, and a fishing pier.

Marshes of Glenn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As I discovered during our visit, St. Simons Island is dotted with historic sites and attractions, from the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum—a working lighthouse built in 1872—to the Bloody Marsh Battle Site, where, in July 1742, British and Scottish soldiers protecting colonial Georgia defeated a larger Spanish force in a battle that helped end Spanish incursions north of Florida. 

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Frederica National Monument which preserves archaeological remnants of the local British colony and its defense against Spain and historic Christ Church, Frederica—one of the oldest churches in Georgia with worship held continuously since 1736—are located on the island’s north end.  Fort Frederica, Georgia’s first military outpost was established by British General James Oglethorpe. A visitor’s center and museum are also located on the site.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Live oaks, the same trees that overshadow Frederica Road, were milled for use in Revolutionary warships including Old Ironsides, also known as the USS Constitution. Because the trunks and branches of this tree naturally bend, they were perfect for forming the hulls of boats.

Related: 10 of the Best Places to Visit in Georgia

Toward the southern tip, the Maritime Center, in the restored U.S. Coast Guard Station provides fascinating glimpses of the area’s natural evolution while highlighting some of its maritime and military history.

Year round warm weather in the Golden Isles allows visitors to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities such as kayaking, fishing, biking, golfing, or relaxing on East Beach.

Visitors can tour the island’s historic sites on a variety of transportation options.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sea Island

Reached by causeway from St. Simons Island, Sea Island is an internationally acclaimed resort. The Sea Island Company features two of the world’s most-exceptional destinations: the Forbes Five-Star Cloisture on Sea Island and The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club, a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond property located on the southern end of St. Simons Island. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though much of Sea Island is residential, Island life centers round The Cloister, perennially honored as one of the world’s great hotels. Golf club, beach club, gun club, horseback riding, fine dining, and numerous other activities are among the amenities enjoyed by its guests.

Guests of Sea Island who enjoy the game of golf can appreciate the Golf Learning Center and three championship golf courses at Sea Island Golf Club.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Seaside Course, home to the PGA TOUR’s McGladrey Classic, is a links course graced by majestic ocean vistas in the tradition of St. Andrews.

The Plantation Course winds enticingly through marsh and forest while the Retreat Course offers a uniquely dramatic and challenging design cultivated by Davis Love III and Mark Love. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If golfing is not your game, enjoy the Sea Island Beach Club, Tennis Center, Yacht Club, Shooting School, and Forbes Five-Star Cloister Spa.

Sea Island offers cuisine to satisfy any taste with seven exceptional dining venues, including the renowned Forbes Five-Star Georgian Room which offers “Refined Southern” cuisine amidst grand décor.

Related: Holly Jolly Jekyll

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did You Know?

Eugenia Price’s trilogy LighthouseNew Moon Rising, and Beloved Invader chronicle the history of St. Simons Island and Christ Church.

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

What’s in a Name? Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary or Great Swamp Sanctuary

Take a break from I-95 and walk on the wild side

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. The sanctuary contains a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History, culture, recreation, and educational opportunities are abundant. The 600-acre sanctuary features a “braided creek” swamp which divides into an interlocking or tangled network of several small branching and reuniting creeks resembling a braid. The 3.5-mile loop is paved and well maintained.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most historically significant path here follows the Colonial-era Charleston-to-Savannah Stagecoach Road still bearing the cypress remnants of long-fallen bridges. Waltersboro was the southernmost spot where this wagon road was built likely since a more southern route would be far too swampy. The former road still bears the remains of cypress built and long-fallen bridges.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perpendicular canals with tannic water had been carved decades or more before to drain the swamp and levees could have provided narrow-gauge access for loggers to remove the cypress. A few old specimens have hollows in their trunks or are double-trunked.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s in a name? Much, it seems. Names give a place meaning. So it was, on our trip through the Lowcountry in December 2012 we visited the 600-acre Great Swamp Sanctuary at Walterboro. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the Great Swamp Sanctuary charmed us.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the ACE Basin—for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers—this part of South Carolina is where floodplains merge feeding the estuaries of the Lowcountry. In fact, it’s from this very swamp where the Ashepoo River rises.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife is abundant with native populations of wild turkey, deer, raccoons, beaver, otter, mink, opossum, squirrels, fox, and wildcats. More than 80 species of birds have been observed here. The park’s four-mile network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and nature trails provide visitors vantage points for observing the diversity of wildlife inhabiting the black water bottomland.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now here’s the twist. It seems that the folks in Walterboro having built such a beautiful showcase of this natural feature decided a few years back that it wasn’t a good thing to call it what it is—a swamp—and renamed the sanctuary to the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary. Their rationale? In part, “The word ‘Swamp’ has negative connotations, especially to our more urban friends.”

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Well, folks, that’s not your market for nature-based tourism. We love swamps (especially ones with boardwalks) and our fellow nature-lovers do too.

Embrace your heritage! You have a lovely swamp here with a rich history. Sure, it will be wet part of the year and there’s certain to be mosquitoes, but a swamp by any other name is still a swamp. And if it weren’t for that name (Great Swamp Sanctuary), we wouldn’t have stopped to discover the good work the city has done in preserving this land and making it accessible for residents and visitors alike.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From I-95, take Exit 53 and head into Walterboro. The first entrance is located to the left at the corner of S. Jefferies & Ivanhoe Roads. There is also parking at 399 Detreville Street and Washington Street.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bikes and dogs on leashes are welcome on the pathways of the sanctuary, so load up the family and make your way to this nature-based tourism gem that Trip Advisor gives 4.5 stars.

New Green Acres RV Park, Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dubbed the “Front Porch of the Lowcountry,” Walterboro offers a lot to enjoy, just down the road. Enjoy a day trip to Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve. At the end of the day return to your home base at New Green Acres RV Park conveniently located at I-95, Exit 53 (Waterboro exit).

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau