Now is the Absolute Best Time to Visit Congaree National Park and Here Is Why

This National Park floods in winter and that’s when you should visit. Trust me.

The US has 63 national parks stretching north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska and south to the Virgin Islands National Park in the Caribbean. While some of these parks are massively popular (I’m looking at you, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains), other names barely register. Congaree National Park in South Carolina falls into the latter category.

The park, which is named after an Indigenous tribe that once lived in the region, is the largest intact example of what the Southeastern US used to look like before the landscape was logged and cleared, beginning in the 19th century.

By the 1950s, very little remained of the once extensive old-growth bottomland forests, and the tract in what is today the park is the largest intact section remaining. What’s more, the park’s lush floodplain forest is home to some of the tallest trees in the country and it has one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies in the world with the average canopy reaching 100 feet.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It doesn’t sound all that tall but when you consider that much of the forests of the eastern United States have been logged at one point or another in the past 400 years, it is pretty impressive. Indeed, few other deciduous forests even come close to that.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? You’d think that everyone would be rushing to visit this ecological blast from the past, wouldn’t you? Well, they’re not, because most people haven’t heard of it.

Despite being only a 30-minute drive from Columbia, South Carolina, Congaree is one of the least visited national parks in the country. According to official National Park Service data, Congaree received only 204,522 visitors in 2022 (2023 data was not available at the time of writing), about as many as the much-harder-to-reach Virgin Islands National Park.

More people visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park in six days than visit Congaree in an entire year. But as the only national park comprised mostly of floodplains, this swampy paradise has one big thing going for it that its big-name competitors don’t: Its off-season is the best time to visit.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes winter the best time to explore?

While most national parks see the highest number of visitors in the summer, June through August can actually be a pretty miserable time to visit Congaree because it’s so hot and humid there. Temperatures average in the 90s and mosquitos love the marvelously muggy conditions the park provides as breeding grounds.

As such, visitation numbers typically peak in spring and fall. But strangely enough, the winter months (and January, in particular) actually receive the fewest number of visitors. Use that to your advantage: These smaller crowds paired with daily temperatures hovering in the mid-50s, make for prime visitation time.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though many of the park’s bird species do fly south for the winter, birding is still possible. It’s much easier to see birds when most of the foliage has fallen off the trees and winter is a great time to spot blue-headed vireo, winter wren, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, hermit thrush, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and white-throated sparrows.

The rusty blackbird is another special bird to spot here in winter. Although the species has seen a long-term population decline due to habitat loss the winter environment at Congaree perfectly suits the bird so it is hoped the park will play a key role in ensuring its survival in the long run.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, floodplain forests like Congaree National Park are especially high in productivity and species diversity because of how rich the flood-deposited clay, silt, and sand deposits make the soil.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Regular flooding keeps the soil rich in nutrients which in turn help produce the park’s high number of champion-size trees—the largest documented specimen of their species. One of the park’s record-breaking champions is a 168-foot loblolly pine that can be found along Weston Lake Trail. It’s about as tall as a 17-story building.

Congaree typically floods 10-12 times per year—and it happens most often in winter. Any significant rain in the upstate of South Carolina can cause a rise in water levels in the park without warning. Hiking through the flooded forest is impossible (or at least highly discouraged) as you may find yourself suddenly swimming with alligators and parasites.

Good thing the park’s best views aren’t from its forested trails. Even when those are flooded visitors can still access a 2.6-mile elevated boardwalk. It’s a great place to catch a glimpse of some river otters which are less out and about when the floodplain is dry. But if that idea doesn’t float your boat, you can always take in the forest views during flood season from the seat of a canoe or kayak.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kayaking and canoeing in Congaree

Speaking of which, kayaking and canoe tours are offered in the park year-round though you can also rent a craft and head out on the water alone. As long as the water is above about two feet high—and it usually is—it’s a straightforward, scenic float down Cedar Creek and back up to the landing as opposed to a potentially annoying game of bumper cars with the tree roots that criss-cross the creek. Plus, the higher the water, the deeper into the park you can paddle.

A quick disclaimer: While a typical flood will raise the water level to around eight to 12 feet deep, sometimes there’s a borderline biblical deluge. In 2015, the flood was so intense that the water gauge broke making it impossible to measure the exact depth of the water though locals estimate it reached a whopping 17 feet.

Very high and rapidly flowing water can increase the chance of your craft flipping, so don’t attempt to kayak or canoe without a guide unless you have significant experience. As it’s easy to get disoriented in a sea of trees, any sort of paddling without a guide is discouraged even if the water isn’t rushing fast enough to flip your boat.

When the water level is low, you’re confined to Cedar Creek which runs through the park. You can still see out into the surrounding forest but you can’t paddle into it. When the surrounding rivers flood water level rises and the creek rises and spills out into the forest. Just imagine leaving the calm comfort of the creek and entering the enormous expanse of the floodplain.

Tupelo trees enshrined in Spanish moss welcome you to the forest as do 125-foot bald cypress trees and loblolly pines. Great Smoky Mountain National Park could never.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning your trip to the park

At around 26,000 acres, Congaree is the seventh smallest national park so you don’t need a full week here as you do with some of the larger ones. Paddling and hiking the boardwalk trail each take a few hours so you could easily do both of these popular activities in one day while still getting a good feel for what the park offers.

And because Congaree National Park is so close to Columbia, you could easily make a day trip from there after enjoying visiting the Columbia Museum of Art, biking along the Three Rivers Greenway, and (if it’s Saturday) perusing the 150 or so vendors a the Soda City Market.

Congaree is also only two hours from Charleston. Congaree could be easily tacked on any kind of road trip around South Carolina or the South in general. If you want to stay overnight in the park, you could stay at one of the park’s primitive campgrounds or in the backcountry— just keep in mind that reservations are required.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the park isn’t flooded during your visit your kayaking or canoe tour will likely take a break halfway through so you can walk around a bit in the forest perhaps searching for evidence of the wild boar that likes to root around at night. For a proper hike, hit up some of Congaree’s 25-or-so miles of trails. Most hiking trails start at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and are best explored when the park is not flooded.

In addition to the previously mentioned boardwalk loop, there are also a handful of proper forested hiking trails like the 4.5-mile Weston Lake Trail (a loop that offers regular views of otters and wading birds) and the 12-mile out-and-back Kingsnake Trail. The latter is the best for birding though some sections can be difficult to follow. The trail is marked with brown, numbered signs called blazes but if a blazed tree falls you could be in danger of getting lost. That is even more true if the vegetation is overgrown.

If the park is flooded, your only option may be the boardwalk trail but lucky for you it’s a beautiful walk that offers an excellent view of the seemingly endless forest of sky-high loblolly pine and cypress trees. Woodpeckers frequent the trail and you will probably hear them pecking before you see them so simply follow the sound to catch a peek. You’ll also see evidence of their work on tons of mangled trees.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Signs along the trail point out local flora, fauna, and unique items such as a rusted old still that was used by bootleggers who hid within the park during Prohibition. Other signs explain interesting phenomena like the knees of the cypress trees (knobby nodes shooting up from enormous tree roots). Sometimes rising several feet above the ground, these knees are generally found in swamps though their function is still unknown. If the park isn’t too flooded, you’ll see hundreds of them.

Spend some time in the Harry Hampton Visitor Center where thoughtful displays describe the area’s geography and early history including that of Native Americans, Spanish explorers, and enslaved Africans who were brought and forced to work on nearby plantations and farms and who sometimes escaped and sought refuge in the park’s wilderness.

Some who successfully escaped formed Maroon settlements and thriving communities in the forest where they relied on the rivers for food and the dense vegetation for safety and protection. Much of the land surrounding Congaree National Park is owned by the descendants of former farm and plantation workers, both free and enslaved.

As weekends tend to be the most popular days in the park this is when you’ll also find the most activities such as twilight hikes and owl prowls which are Ranger-led hikes to learn about the park (and its many residents) after-hours. Park programming depends on staffing levels and park conditions but be sure to check the park’s calendar which can include discovery hikes, nature walks, and yoga classes.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the backcountry

If you want to rent a canoe, check out a company like River Runner Canoe Center which can even deliver it to the creek for you and give you some tips before you head out. Canoeing the creek takes two to three hours but ambitious paddlers may also want to look into the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail.

This water trail begins at Bannister’s Bridge, meanders southeast, and ends at the Congaree River. To complete it, you’ll need an outfitter like River Runners to drop you at the starting point and pick you up at the end which costs about $175.

Paddlers should also consider that while the Cedar Creek portion of the trail runs 15 miles, it’s another 11 miles until the next pick-up point at Bates Bridge landing. As such, paddlers should expect to paddle about a marathon’s length in total.

While it’s possible to paddle the entire route in a single day, it depends entirely on the paddling conditions and the paddler’s experience. Say, if flooding has loosened trees in the floodplain and they’ve tipped over and blocked the route, you may have to get out and carry your craft around and over to the other side (which is called portaging).

While this can sometimes be a quick process, in other cases you may have to backtrack to find a spot. If you have to do this several times, it could add quite a bit of time to your excursion. Most paddlers do this as an overnight trip which requires a free backcountry camping permit that can take up to 72 hours for the park to process.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some helpful resources on Congaree National Park:

By the way, I have a series of posts on South Carolina:

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

The Ultimate RV Lifestyle Destinations Guide: RV Trip Ideas Based on Location

Looking for exciting RV trip ideas and travel suggestions?

This ultimate guide brings all of my destination resources to one place! Browse LOTS of RV road trip ideas based on location or interests.

We have been living the RV Snowbird Lifestyle for over two decades, cataloging our trips from year to year. I’ve shared countless articles and resources to help fellow RVers enjoy similar travels. Now, I’m bringing it all together in this ultimate destinations guide filled with many great RV trip ideas.

You can use this guide as an index to discover new ideas or dig deeper into places or things you’ve always wanted to see. I’ve organized it into two parts: location and activities/interests.

So, whether you’re interested in Arizona or scenic drives, Texas or birding, Georgia or hiking, you’ll find excellent resources to help with planning your next adventure!

RV trip ideas based on location

In this section, I organize my many location-based articles and resources into an easy-to-scan index. You’ll see helpful articles and links to useful resources.

When something catches your interest, click through to the links to learn more!

SOUTHWEST

The Southwest has stunning and unique landscapes you can’t see anywhere else in the world. We have fallen in love with the Southwest—Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and California.  From red and orange rock formations in the desert to green and lush mountains, there’s so much to see in this one area of the country and hiking and birding that can’t be beat. Then there is the beautiful national parks, state parks, and regional/county parks—and, of course, the Grand Canyon.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona

Visit Arizona for the iconic red rock formations of Sedona to the majestic Grand Canyon. Or for the vibrant cities such as Phoenix and Tucson which offer a range of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

New Mexico is a great destination for RVers due to its diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage. From deserts to mountains, RVers can enjoy a range of scenic drives and outdoor activities. The state is also home to a number of historic Native American pueblos as well as Spanish colonial missions which provide a unique cultural experience.

New Mexican cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, Native American, and Mexican ingredients and techniques. While familiar items like corn, beans, and squash are often used, the defining ingredient is chile, a spicy chile pepper that is a staple in many New Mexican dishes. Chile comes in two varieties, red or green, depending on the stage of ripeness in which they were picked.

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah

Every state thinks its fun. Every state claims to have something for everyone. But not every state has five national parks (The Mighty Five), 46 state parks, five national historic sites and trails, and a dozen national monuments and recreation areas. While it’s mathematically impossible to finish your Utah bucket list, I’ll help you plan the trip you’ll be talking about forever!

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California

What is the quintessential wine experience in the Golden State? Where are the must-see natural wonders? Which beach is best? How do you decide which theme park to visit? Where best to spend the winter? Scroll through my favorite places to go and things to do and start dreaming about your next California adventure today. 

SOUTHEAST

Over the last decade, the United States’ southeastern portion has become the ultimate place to visit for people who love outdoor activities and sports. You will find plenty to do from whitewater rafting to camping and hiking the trails when you visit the area. The twelve states located in the Southeast include Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Kentucky.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia

From the mountains down to the coast and everything in between, Georgia offers well-known and off-the-beaten-path experiences in cities both big and small. From ghost tours and island resorts to hidden gems here are a few can’t miss attractions, stays and towns when visiting Georgia.  

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina

South Carolina is a state of variety with beautiful beaches, remote islands, charming cities and towns, watery wilderness, great golf, interesting history, rolling hills and mountains, and much more. From the Upcountry mountains through the vibrant Midlands and to the Lowcountry coast, the Palmetto State amazes.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama

From the foothills of the Appalachians through countless river valleys to the sugar white beaches of the Gulf, natural wonders abound. The 22 state parks which encompass 48,000 acres of land and water provide opportunities to fish, camp, canoe, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana

Break away from the Interstate and take a road trip down one of Louisiana’s 19 scenic byways. From historic treasures and music festivals, to country kitchens and coastal wetlands teeming with wildlife, each drive offers you an authentic taste of Louisiana food, music, culture, and natural beauty. Start planning your trip here.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky

With everything from world-class horse racing to world-class bourbon, the list of things to do in the Bluegrass State seems almost endless. But with so many options, where do you even start? Here are a few experiences that stand above the rest.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida

The Sunshine State connects you to natural landscapes, vibrant wildlife, and a host of outdoor activities and interactions.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas

Mention Texas to someone from another state and they might picture cowboys herding longhorn cattle across the open range or scheming, wealthy oil barons a la TV’s Dallas. The Lone Star State which was admitted to the United States after winning its own independence from Mexico still sometimes seems—as the state tourism slogan goes—like a whole other country. And, boy, do we have a LOT of helpful articles on this popular RV destination!

MIDWEST

The Midwest, also known as America’s Heartland, lies midway between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains and north of the Ohio River. The Midwest is generally considered to comprise the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio

Ohio is home to a wide range of attractions from sprawling parks with stunning waterfalls to bustling cities and college towns. 

Shipshewanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana

Appreciate a slower pace of life in a state known for its rural charms, Amish communities, and architecturally impressive cities.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

North Dakota has uncrowded, wide-open spaces, and amazing vistas that take your breath away at must-see national and state parks, and recreational areas.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota

An often overlooked travel destination, South Dakota is a land of breathtaking scenic beauty.

Here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now!

Worth Pondering…

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

—Gandalf the Wizard, Lord of the Rings

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.

20 Top Things to Do in South Carolina

Quite simply, South Carolina has it all, y’all—and the state has delivered to visiting RVers with a friendly southern drawl

From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Midlands and the beaches and marshes of the Coast, South Carolina is full of natural beauty and historic gems. You’ll find a wide variety of attractions in the Palmetto State to explore including stately antebellum mansions, world-class golf courses, and sun-soaked beaches.

The Palmetto State contains many surprises. It’s the first state to open a library (1698) and its state fruit is the peach—it produces even more than Georgia. But beyond what you may not know about this coastal state, South Carolina has plenty of what you would expect from historic estates and cultural tours to gorgeous shorelines and its ever-present oak trees. It’s a state that blends old and new, land and sea.

With hundreds of years of history and postcard-perfect landscapes, South Carolina has something surprising in store for any RV traveler.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Charleston Historic District

Frequently ranked as one of America’s best places to visit, Charleston is known for its candy-colored historic homes, friendly vibe, and a skyline dotted with grand church spires. Take a guided tour or head out on your own to view architectural landmarks like Rainbow Row, the Gibbes Museum of Art, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the city’s oldest church. Then grab provisions from a nearby market like Butcher & the Bee and head to the Battery to enjoy a picnic under majestic oak trees with waterfront views.

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Congaree National Park

Just 18 miles southeast of the state’s capital, Columbia, Congaree National Park contains the country’s largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest and one of the world’s largest concentrations of champion trees including a 167-foot point loblolly pine and 500-year-old cypress trees. Park highlights include the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail which departs from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and traverses through old-growth hardwood forest featuring bald cypress, tupelo, oak, and maple trees.

A marked canoe trail invites visitors to kayak or canoe their way through the park along Cedar Creek. More adventurous and experienced paddlers can take on the Congaree River Blue Trail, a designated 50-mile recreational paddling trail that stretches from Columbia to Congaree Park.  

>> Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Walterboro

Established in 1826, the City of Walterboro is hailed as the front porch of the Lowcountry with its historic charm, plentiful natural resources, and warm Southern hospitality. For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time.

Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (see below).

>> Get more tips for visiting Walterboro

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Hunting Island State Park

Located near historic Beaufort, four-mile-long Hunting Island is home to dense vegetation and wildlife making it the most natural of the Lowcountry Islands. Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go bird watching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks.

Camping is available at the northern end of the park near the ocean. 102 sites offer water and 20/30/50 amp electric service. Campground roads are paved while the sites are packed soil. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; others up to 28 feet. The campground is convenient to hot showers with restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. King Street in Charleston

Once Charleston’s main thoroughfare, historic King Street bisects the peninsula from north to south. Its colorful buildings house restaurants, bars, and shops like Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple, and Anthropologie along with local gems like estate furniture shop George C. Birlant and Co., men’s clothier M. Dumas & Son, women’s ready-to-wear designer collective Hampden Clothing, family-owned fine jewelry store Croghan’s Jewel Box, and rare and used purveyors Blue Bicycle Books.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Edisto Island 

Edisto Island is a sea island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, a rustic world of majestic live oaks that are thickly draped with light-as-air beards of Spanish moss, salt marshes, meandering creeks, and historic plantations. Activities include touring Edisto Island, Edisto Island State Park (See below), the beach, and driving/walking tour of Botany Bay Plantation (see below).

>> Get more tips for visiting Edisto Island

Peachoid, Gaffney © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Gaffney

Southern charm makes Gaffney a desirable place to visit especially if your RV is a motorhome built on a Freightliner chassis. The Freightliner Custom Chassis Factory Service Center offers six service bays, 20 RV electric hookup, and factory-trained technicians. Be sure to visit the factory and see how the custom chassis is produced for the RV market.

And the Peachoid, a 135-foot structures that functions as one million gallon water tank is an iconic landmark that draws attention to one of the area’s major agricultural products.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Greenville

As the hub of South Carolina’s Upcountry region, Greenville has been finding its way onto many national Top Ten lists for its lively arts scene, modern downtown, and livability. Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls located in the heart of Falls Park (see below).

Crossing this urban oasis is the award-winning Liberty Bridge and its postcard-perfect photo ops. Shop up and down Augusta Road shopping district and marvel at all the public art that energizes this city.

>> Get more tips for visiting Greenville

St. Helena Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. St. Helena Island 

In the center of the island surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oak trees you’ll find the Penn Center, a 50-acre historic district comprising 25 historic buildings and structures. The Penn Center was one of the first schools in the country where formerly enslaved persons could receive an education. The center was visited by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s and continues to work toward preserving and celebrating Gullah culture to this day. Visitors can learn about African American history, art, and culture on self-guided tours and group tours.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Middleton Place

Home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens, Middleton Place is a former plantation and a National Historic Landmark. Only one part of the original house still stands and now functions as a museum complete with original furnishings.

The Plantation Stableyards are designed to give visitors a taste of 18th-19th century working plantation life and the beautiful 65 acres of gardens on the property have been planned so that there are flowers in bloom all year round. Interpretive tours of the various areas are offered for a fee and nature walks and guided kayak tours are also available.

Reedy Falls, Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Stroll through Falls Park on the Reedy

This stunning, 32-acre green space in Greenville’s historic West End is the ultimate urban oasis. Stroll along the walking trails to view landscaped gardens, public art installations, dramatic stonework, and a wall from the site’s original 18th-century grist mill.

For the city’s best views and the park’s namesake picturesque waterfalls, cross the 355-foot suspension Liberty Bridge, the longest single-sided bridge in the Western Hemisphere. After visiting the park, head to Passerelle Bistro to dine on French-inspired cuisine like escargot and crab cakes with a view.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

Founded by the Drayton family in 1676, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens has been open to visitors since 1870. It has been owned by the same family for more than three centuries and over the years they have carefully tended and added to the gardens.

There is also a beautiful plantation house on the property and guided tours are available for a small fee. Several other guided tours are offered as well, including a train tour, a boat tour, and a tour of the plantation’s slave cabins. The gardens are open 365 days a year, but hours vary according to the season.

Aububon Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Audubon Swamp Garden

The Audubon Swamp is a black water cypress and tupelo swamp that’s lovely, mysterious, and unique to this area. Once a freshwater reservoir used for rice cultivation the entire 60 acres is traversed by boardwalks, bridges, and dikes featuring all varieties of local mammals, birds, and reptiles including bald eagles, herons and egrets, otters, turtles and alligators. Allow at least 45 minutes for a self-guided walk. A 45-minute nature boat tour takes visitors through ancient rice fields.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Botany Bay Plantation

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront that you’ll never forget. Botany Bay is very accessible; you can tour most of the property in half a day or less. The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto.

>> Get more tips for visiting Botony Bay

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Cowpens National Battlefield

On January 17, 1781, the Americans won a decisive battle against the better-trained British Army. The Battle of Cowpens was over in less than an hour. This battle was the event which started British General Cornwallis on his march north to his eventual surrender at Yorktown just nine months later. It was one of those special moments in time when destiny is forever changed. The march to Yorktown had begun.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cowpens National Battlefield

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Folly Beach

Folly Beach is one of America’s last true beach towns. Just minutes from historic downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is a 12 square mile barrier island that is packed with things to do, see, and eat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, visitors enjoy six miles of wide beaches, surfing, fishing, biking, kayaking, boating, and eco-tours. Folly Island was named after its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth: the Old English name for such an area was folly.

Peace Center, Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. The Peace Center

The Peace Center is situated in the heart of Greenville’s downtown area and is largely considered the upstate’s cultural hub. The multipurpose venue is capable of seating 2,100 people in its concert hall, 1,400 people in its amphitheater, and 400 people in its theater. It has event spaces, rehearsal spaces, different stages, and more, making it incredibly versatile for acts of all kinds.

Jazz, Broadway, musical concerts, comedy, political events, and celebrity acts all arrive here to take the stage. There’s also the South Carolina Children’s Theater and the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, which call the Peace Center their home. With all its variety, there’s no surprise that watching a show here is one of the top things to do in South Carolina.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Frances Beidler Forest

Frequented by photographers and nature lovers from around the world, Audubon’s 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary offers a beauty unsurpassed in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Frances Beidler is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest—a pristine ecosystem untouched for millennia. Enjoy thousand-year-old trees, a range of wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater, all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of Walterboro. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly the Great Swamp Sanctuary), is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, 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. The 3.5-mile loop is paved and well maintained.

>> Get more tips for visiting Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Edisto Beach State Park

Located on Edisto Island, Edisto Beach State Park is one of four oceanfront parks in South Carolina. Its 1.25-mile public beach is ideal for swimmers and beachcombers—and also a nesting site for loggerhead turtles.

The state park is situated neatly between a salt marsh and the beach making it possible to hear the waves lapping at the shore regardless of whether you’re staying in an RV, tent, or cabin. Located in the town of Edisto Beach, it’s just a short walk or bike ride from the grocery store, gas station, restaurants, and shops.

The park has an impressive array of camping sites in oceanfront and maritime forest habitats and most can accommodate RVs, some up to 40 feet. There are 64 oceanside sites and 33 sites along the salt marsh. Many sites offer easy access to the sea, sand, and sun. There is also a restroom and showering facility on the premises.

>> Get more tips for visiting Edisto Beach State Park

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

The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

There are so many things to love about a Deep South road trip from Savannah to Charleston

Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina are two of the most popular travel destinations in the southeastern United States and they happen to be neighbors.

With famous historic squares, delicious southern cuisine, and a lively waterfront it’s no wonder Savannah attracts nearly 15 million visitors every year.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head north from Savannah and you’ll soon hit Charleston, another historical city where you can dine, shop, and take in the fresh sea air. After walking around its colorful, cobblestone streets it isn’t hard to understand why this city frequently earns a spot as one of the best places to visit in the US.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah and Charleston are just over 100 miles apart. The Savannah to Charleston drive time takes about two hours if you drive straight through with no detours. Because these two cities are fairly close, they make a great day road trip since you’ll have plenty of time to explore attractions along the way.

Driving from Savannah to Charleston is pretty straightforward. If you’re starting in Savannah, you’ll take I-95 North to US-17 North. But along the way, there are some interesting stops that are worth a visit.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before beginning the drive, I recommend several days in Savannah beginning the drive to visit attractions like Forsyth Park, the Bonaventure Cemetery, and the River Street waterfront area.

Just a 15-minute drive north of Savannah, you’ll find the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. This 30,000-acre wildlife refuge is home to birds, alligators, and other marsh-dwelling flora and fauna.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could easily spend an entire day hiking, biking, and kayaking at this nature-lovers paradise but for this itinerary, we’re just going to visit Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive. The Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive is a scenic four-mile road through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Along this road, you can spot wildlife from your car or one of many lookout points.

Next, you’ll drive about an hour northeast to St. Helena Island, South Carolina. St. Helena Island is the perfect place to immerse yourself in natural beauty and learn about Gullah culture.

St. Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the center of the island, surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oak trees, you’ll find the Penn Center, a 50-acre historic district comprising 25 historic buildings and structures. The Penn Center was one of the first schools in the country where formerly enslaved individuals could receive an education. The center was visited by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s and continues to work toward preserving and celebrating Gullah culture to this day. Visitors can learn about African American history, art, and culture on self-guided tours and group tours.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From St. Helena, continue driving one island further and you’ll arrive at Hunting Island State Park. This State Park is known for having five miles of amazing beaches and a lighthouse that dates back to the 19th century. You can even climb the lighthouse stairs for a panoramic view of the surrounding islands and wetlands. After visiting the lighthouse, you can spend time exploring the beach or head down to Hunting Island State Park Nature Center where you can learn about local wildlife.

Related: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is available at the northern end of the park near the ocean. 102 sites offer water and 20/30/50 amp electric service. Campground roads are paved while the sites are packed soil. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; others up to 28 feet. The campground is convenient to hot showers with restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backtrack through Hunting Island and St. Helena Island to the coastal town of Beaufort. Next, we’re heading inland to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. Sheldon Church dates back to the mid-1700s. It was burned down during the Revolutionary War and rebuilt many years later. It’s believed that the church was burned again during the Civil War but this time it wasn’t rebuilt.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the ruins are hauntingly beautiful and surrounded by a lush landscape. The property is located right off Old Sheldon Church Road and has informational markers as well as shaded seating areas to enjoy the view.

From the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, head northeast to Edisto Island. Edisto is a peaceful vacation island south of Charleston that’s perfect for a bit of relaxation.

Related: Spotlight on South Carolina: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Beach has long been a spectacular place to enjoy all of nature’s beauty while enjoying outdoor activities to keep your heart (and mind!) healthy. You can hike, bike, or run on Edisto whether you’re a seasoned fitness expert or just a fan of the leisurely stroll. There are walking paths, hiking, biking, kayaking, and paddle boarding options. Edisto is sure to offer something that matches exactly what you have in mind. 

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to Edisto Beach State Park to stretch your legs on one of the many hiking paths or visit the environmental education center to learn more about the island. The park has an impressive array of camping sites in oceanfront and maritime forest habitats and most can accommodate RVs, some up to 40 feet. There are 64 oceanside sites and 33 sites along the salt marsh. Many sites offer easy access to the sea, sand, and sun.

Botany Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront. Botany Bay is very accessible; you can tour most of the property in half a day or less. The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto.

Related: Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last stop on this Savannah to Charleston road trip is Folly Beach.. Folly Beach is just outside of Charleston and is one of the most popular Charleston day trip destinations for locals and visitors alike. Take a stroll along the Folly Beach fishing pier or spend some time meandering through the beachy downtown neighborhoods. If you have time, rent a paddleboard or a kayak for a chance to see ocean life like turtles and dolphins.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After you’ve had your fun in the sun, head north for about 20 minutes and you’ll be in the heart of Charleston. You may have reached your destination, but the adventure isn’t over. Charleston has tons of things to see and it’s a great destination to explore for a few days. You won’t want to miss walking along the waterfront park or strolling past one of Charleston’s most colorful streets, Rainbow Row. Hop aboard a historic harbor cruise for a guided tour of the city or try some of the best local flavors on a guided food tour.

Worth Pondering…

If you lead a good life, go to church, and say your prayers, you’ll go to Charleston when you die.

—old South Carolina saying

Hike and Paddle through Ancient Beidler Forest

One thousand year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary that has been untouched for millennia

The Francis Beidler Forest harbors one of the last large virgin stands of bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp in the United States. A significant number of rare and unusual plants and animals are found in this unique natural area. Its five major community types provide habitat for an extremely rich diversity of species.

Frances Beidler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of an 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary owned and managed by the National Audubon Society, Francis Beidler Forest boasts the largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest in the world. The 3,408-acre pristine ecosystem features thousand-year-old trees and extremely rich diversity of species including Prothonotary warblers that nest in the cavities of cypress tree knees.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The forest is part of the Four Holes Swamp, a 45,000-acre matrix of black water sloughs and lakes, shallow bottomland hardwoods, and deep bald cypress and tupelo gum flats. A 1.75-mile boardwalk offers visitors the chance to walk through this unique and wild sanctuary. The Audubon Society also offers daytime bird walks, night walks, and two-hour kayak and canoe trips through the blackwater swamp in March, April, and May when the water level is high.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest is located about an hour from Charleston and Columbia off Interstate 26 in Santee Cooper Country.

Related: South Carolina Has It All

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike through Ancient Beidler Forest

Francis Beidler Forest offers two trails, the old-growth virgin forest cypress-tupelo swamp boardwalk, and the newer grassland-woodland trail. Pets and bikes are not allowed on either trail.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 1.75-mile self-guided boardwalk trail (handicapped accessible) allows visitors the chance to safely venture deep into the heart of the swamp…to see it the way nature intended.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The new trail system meanders through Longleaf Pine, grassland, and woodland habitats being restored by Audubon South Carolina. Free to the public and open from sunrise to sunset, the new trails give visitors the opportunity to explore a new section of the sanctuary. The diverse habitat attracts birds and other wildlife not typically seen on the Beidler Forest boardwalk such as painted buntings, indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, loggerhead shrikes, eastern bluebirds, purple martins, and many sparrow species.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking for the trail is located only a few feet from the Beidler Forest gate off Mim’s Road. Be sure to watch the bird feeders for buntings, woodpeckers, and sparrows.

Related: 40 Things Only Southerners Will Understand

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naturalist-guided walks and programs also are available seasonally and by reservation.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paddle through Ancient Beidler Forest

Now’s your chance to paddle in the still blackwater of a primeval swamp and experience nature as it existed a thousand years ago. The water level is up in Francis Beidler Forest this time of year making it possible to navigate through the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in the world.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest is one of only two old-growth floodplain forests remaining in the state. The other is at Congaree National Park
When the water level in the floodplain is high enough, the Audubon Center offers guided canoe trips through this ancient forest located within the Four Holes Swamp.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trips are offered on a regular basis Friday through Sunday. Four-hour trips are scheduled each of the three days at 1 p.m.; two-hour trips are available at 9 a.m. Saturdays.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tours start from a remote landing on Mellard Lake, one of the swamp’s “holes”. Paddling through this open section of blackwater, surrounded by dense, undisturbed vegetation, you’ll feel totally removed from the rest of the world.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After just a few minutes, you’ll enter the woods, thick with 100-foot bald cypress and tupelo gum trees. It’s not unusual to see a variety of wildlife from yellow-bellied slider turtles to brown water snakes to Prothonotary warblers.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware, paddling through the swamp can be a bit tricky, especially at lower water levels. It helps to have some kayaking experience to maneuver through the floodplain’s narrow passages. In the spring, you’ll want to steer clear of trees covered with Poison Ivy. But it’s a trip unlike any other in the Lowcountry and so worth the navigational challenges.

Related: 5 Things I Learned While RVing The American South

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cost is $30 for adults ($15 for children 8 to 12) for the four-hour excursion; $20 for adults ($10 for children 6 to 12) for the two-hour trip. The price for the tour also includes admission to the Beidler Forest boardwalk.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reservations are required in advance. These trips are popular, so you’ll want to book early.

Worth Pondering…

As the leaves of the trees are said to absorb all noxious qualities of the air, and to breathe forth a purer atmosphere, so it seems to me as if they drew from us all sordid and angry passions, and breathed forth peace and philanthropy. There is a severe and settled majesty in woodland scenery that enters into the soul, dilates and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.

—Washington Irving (1783-1859), American writer

Edisto Beach State Park: Unspoiled Paradise

Edisto Beach State Park perfectly captures the unspoiled natural beauty of the area. There’s no roughing it here; it’s too perfect for that.

Located on Edisto Island, Edisto Beach State Park is one of four oceanfront parks in South Carolina. Edisto Island lies about an hour south of bustling Charleston as the pelican flies.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Edisto, part of a chain of more than 100 tidal and barrier islands along the Atlantic coast between the mouths of the Santee River in South Carolina and St. Johns River in Florida, is a world apart.

It’s hard to beat the Carolinas’ pristine coastlines and Edisto Beach State Park is a picture-perfect example. Its 1.25-mile public beach is ideal for swimmers and beachcombers—and also a nesting site for loggerhead turtles.

Related: Why Edisto Beach is the Most Effortless Vacation

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state park is situated neatly between a salt marsh and the beach making it possible to hear the waves lapping at the shore regardless of whether you’re staying in an RV, tent, or cabin. Located in the town of Edisto Beach, it’s just a short walk or bike ride from the grocery store, gas station, restaurants, and shops.

The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression-era program designed to create jobs for the unemployed youth. Several structures erected by the CCC remain. Edisto Beach is one of 16 state parks in South Carolina built by the corps.

Edisto Beach State Park camping site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has an impressive array of camping sites in oceanfront and maritime forest habitats and most can accommodate RVs, some up to 40 feet. There are 64 oceanside sites and 33 sites along the salt marsh. Many sites offer easy access to the sea, sand, and sun. There is also a restroom and showering facility on the premises.

There are seven cabins located in the park. Five of the cabins are one-bedroom units while the other two are three-bedroom units. All of the cabins are completely furnished and feature heating and air conditioning, bath and bed linens, basic cooking and eating utensils, a microwave, coffee maker, and television. Each cabin also has a screened-in porch so visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of Edisto Beach.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s interpretive and historical programs focus on coastal ecology and the Native American presence in the region. Part of an area called the ACE Basin Natural Estuarine Reserve, Edisto Island preserves fragile coastline resources.

Nature and history are both important components of the park and are impressively highlighted in the park’s Environmental Learning Center—a unique, 11,000-square-foot, LEED-certified structure that showcases artifacts and exhibits that span from the last ice age to today. Many exhibits are hands-on and interactive, including a “touch tank.”

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for history, evidence of Native Americans dating back more than 4,000 years is here: The park’s Spanish Mount Trail will lead you past a midden, or mound, of oyster shells—left by early diners there. Another historical artifact is the Bache Monument, where you’ll see evidence of survey markers used in the 1840s to accurately measure the East Coast.

This water-oriented park has both ocean and tidal/estuary components. Fishing, shrimping, and crabbing are very popular (South Carolina licenses are required). If you have a kayak or other boat, a ramp is available within the park. Be mindful of the tides, as they can strand you in mud if you’re not careful.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Diverse habitats within the park range from marsh—with grasses that look like waves in the breeze—to woodland to the ocean. This means that you’ll find a wide array of animal life, including amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. In marshy areas, keep your eyes peeled for alligators.

Edisto Beach’s trail system includes the state’s longest handicapped-friendly trail. The trails are easy and range from about a half-mile to just over 1.5 miles, with opportunities to add on by connecting to other trails.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One you should definitely try is the Forest Loop Trail. It’s just a half-mile or so but takes you through some gorgeous maritime forest, canopied with large live oaks with draping Spanish moss, giving it an enchanted look in places.

Edisto Beach State Park is a family-friendly place offering a wide range of outdoor activities. Day admission to the park is $8 for adults, $5 for South Carolina seniors, $4 for children ages 6-15, and free for children 5 and under.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 1255 acres make up this special park
  • 4 miles of ADA accessible trail
  • 1.5 miles of beach, laden with seashells
  • 2 oceanfront picnic shelters
  • 2 campgrounds with 120 sites that accommodate RVs or tents; 115 sites offer water and 50 amp electric service
  • 7 cabins located on the salt marsh
  • 1 Environmental Learning Center with interactive exhibits, sea life and more

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Why Edisto Beach is the Most Effortless Vacation

Two words: Effortless! Vacation!

Effortless vacation! Two words that define what travel dreams are made of.

Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the magnificently natural Edisto Beach in South Carolina, no planning is needed. Simply show up and let this hidden gem of a coastal destination draw you in with its slower pace and tourist-free feel.

There has never been a better time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors than now. Edisto Beach has long been a spectacular place to enjoy all of nature’s beauty while enjoying outdoor activities to keep your heart (and mind!) healthy. You can hike, bike, or run on Edisto whether you’re a seasoned fitness expert or just a fan of the leisurely stroll. There are walking paths, hiking, biking, kayaking, and paddleboarding options. Edisto is sure to offer something that matches exactly what you have in mind. 

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Island National Scenic Byway

A self-guided tour along the National Scenic Byway is a must when visiting Edisto and you don’t have to go out of your way to find it. It’s simply a part of the drive on SR-174 onto the island. From man-made attractions like the Edisto Mystery Tree and the Edisto Swinging Mattress to structures with historical significance like beautiful churches and plantations, the National Scenic Byway takes you through more sights than a typical tour guide could cover in a day.

Allow yourself to be taken back by history as you pass under majestic live oaks paving your journey and don’t forget to scope out the vast intercoastal waterway as you cross the bridge onto Edisto.

Not a bad way to start an effortless vacation ripe with relaxation.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Event Calendar of Festivals and Fun

What do dancing, fishing, and BBQ all have in common? Edisto hosts several festivals to celebrate all the Lowlands. Dance under the stars at the Edisto Beach Shag Fest. Join in the competition or watch the weigh-in as larger-than-life billfish are brought to shore for the annual Edisto Governors Cup Billfish Tournament. Or, if eating is one of your favorite past-times, you won’t want to miss out on the mouthwatering BBQ competition that hosts world-renowned Pitmasters at the Cookin on the Creek BBQ Festival.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Endless Natural Wonders to Enjoy

From eco-tours to fishing charters, Edisto has something for everyone looking to be one with nature no matter what that entails for each individual.

Some ideas:

  • Explore Edisto Beach State Park’s 1,200-plus acres by bike or foot
  • Join a kayak creek tour
  • See natural relics of the past at the undisturbed Boneyard Beach
  • Ride horses through Botany Bay’s 4,500-plus acres of preserved plantation land or self-tour via car
  • Take a sunset cruise around the island
Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun on the Beach

Edisto Beach has 37 public beach accesses located at each intersection on Palmetto Boulevard providing access to the Atlantic Ocean. Some provide off-street parking and dune walkovers. Most beach accesses cross over a dune feature. 

At Edisto Beach you can bring your dog and the leash law is only in effect May through October. Without hotels or crowded shorelines, Edisto offers miles of beach to explore and plenty of room to spread out.

Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Land of Turtles and Egrets

Wildlife is protected and plentiful on Edisto. Loggerhead Turtles return each year between May and August to nest. Through October, the baby sea turtles hatch and find their way back to the ocean. Dolphins, pelicans, egrets, herons, and other shorebirds are also plentiful on Edisto. Keep an eye on the ocean while you are here and you’ll likely earn a glimpse of dolphins gracefully breaking the water with their dorsal fins. Drive carefully at night on the Island’s side roads as deer may be crossing.

Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Edisto Beach via Bike Paths

Edisto Beach is laden with opportunities to get out and stretch your legs or peddle along the many bike paths and hiking trails. More than four miles of paved bike paths meander throughout the area with views of the beach, marsh, and naturally wooded areas. The bike path also takes you past boutique shops, restaurants, and grocery stores.

Camping at Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy Nature at Edisto Beach State Park

Edisto Beach State Park offers access to the Atlantic Ocean and beach. It also provides access to the saltwater marsh and creeks. The park is a nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles. Edisto Beach State Park features trails for hiking and biking that provide an interesting tour of the park. The park’s environmental education offers exhibits that highlight the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin.

Birding at Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For overnight accommodations, furnished cabins sit nestled in the woods and campsites can be found along the Edisto Island oceanfront or in the shaded maritime forest. Camping with water and electrical hookups is available ocean-side or near the salt marsh. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy Nature at Botany Bay Plantation

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront. Botany Bay is very accessible; you can tour most of the property in half a day or less. The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a Day Trip

There’s, even more, to do just a few miles from Edisto. Check out the surrounding beaches, state parks, wildlife areas, historic plantations in locations like Charleston, Beaufort, Port Royal, and Hilton Head Island.

Worth Pondering…

I am southern—from the great state of South Carolina. They say, ‘You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl.’ And it’s true.

—Ainsley Earhardt