Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

The unique floodplain ecosystem in central South Carolina is home to some of the tallest trees on the East Coast

There’s a perfect refuge in the midst of the Southeast: Congaree National Park, a 41-square-mile patch of old-growth forest. Congaree is the last stand of a forest ecosystem that was long ago cleared to supply timber and to make room for farmland and development.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vast majority of the original forest has been destroyed, something that occurred over several centuries. It wasn’t until the 1950s and ‘60s that local folks realized they had something special you couldn’t find anymore.

Today, Congaree is what’s left of a 30-to-50 million-acre forest that once stretched from Maryland to Florida and as far west as Missouri. The timber industry was active in the area until the 1970s when a coalition of conservation groups worked with South Carolina’s U.S. Senators to get a national monument designation for the park. It was expanded, designated as a national park in 2003, and later as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The East Coast isn’t known for its uninterrupted wilderness. But when you start to consider the understated beauty of places like the Okefenokee Swamp—a shallow, 438,000-acre, peat-filled wetland—or the Everglades, or even the northern woods that cover much of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, the eastern wilderness concept makes sense.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park sits roughly in the middle of a giant triangle formed by three busy interstates connecting Columbia (the state capital), Sumter, and Santee. The farther we traveled from the asphalt of the city, the thinner traffic became. The state’s rural areas felt alive. But the pace seemed slower, too, as we drove along the mostly-empty roads.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other than a handful of signs here and there, you wouldn’t know there’s a national park nestled amid these hundreds of acres of old growth forest.

For a long time, not a lot of people did know. According to Park Service statistics, Congaree attracted fewer than 96,000 visitors annually 20 years ago. That number has crept up a bit—146,000 people found solace there in 2018—but it’s a trickle compared with the millions of people that visit the Grand Canyon National Park or the Great Smoky Mountains every year.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For some reason, people are not familiar with the park or even this part of the state. A lot of people who come to South Carolina want to go down to Charleston. The middle of the state is a lesser-known entity.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those who do make it to Congaree National Park are in for a treat. The entry road winds toward the visitor center through a thick canopy of trees. More than 20 miles of trails and more than 10 miles of the Congaree River snake through the park. About 15,000 of its 27,000 acres are designated wilderness areas.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the bald cypress trees have been here for centuries. The average canopy height is 130 feet and among the tallest trees are a 167-foot-tall loblolly pine, a 157-foot-tall sweetgum, a 154-foot-tall cherrybark oak, and a 135-foot-tall American elm. The forest floor is teeming with wildlife—everything from bobcats, coyotes, armadillos, and otters to turtles, snakes, alligator gar, and catfish. It is also an important hub for migratory waterfowl.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree is a floodplain forest, so it’s a unique ecosystem most people aren’t familiar with. At any given time of the year, the forest floor could be dry, muddy, or flooded with a foot of water. Regardless of the season and the amount of water among the trees, anytime is a good time to visit because there are so many different ways to experience the park. All the different seasons and phases are beautiful.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a warm November day we enjoyed an afternoon walk on the raised boardwalk that cuts a 2.4-mile loop around the north end of the park. There were several places to descend from the boardwalk onto solid ground.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One thing to keep in mind is that conditions can change from month to month and even from day to day. One day, you might need a pair of walking shoes; another, a kayak might be a better bet. There’s a canoe and kayak access trail for the days when the river floods large parts of the forest.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree is unique in the East. You can go out and it’s just you and nature. Even on a busy day, you don’t have to go too far to get away from folks.

Congaree National Park is open 24 hours a day, year round. The visitor center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on federal holidays

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Home of Champions: Congaree National Park

The unique floodplain ecosystem in central South Carolina is home to some of the tallest trees on the East Coast

America’s National Parks are home to some of the most astonishing landscapes on earth. Hundreds of millions of visitors flock each year to see the wonders of the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Great Smoky Mountains.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the giant Sequoias of the Sierra Nevada and the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon enjoy endless popularity, many other parks offer wonders just as breathtaking but fly under the radar. Ever heard of Lassen Volcanic? How about Pinnacles? These are national parks located in California that are every bit as magical as the rock formations of Arches. Congaree National Park is another park which offers a multitude of wonders for those who make the trip into its ancient forests.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The woodlands of Congaree make up the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U. S. Congaree packs an astounding amount of biodiversity and habitats within its borders. The trees here are some of the tallest in the eastern U.S., with record-breaking loblolly pines, tupelos, and sweetgums towering more than one hundred fifty feet to jut high above the forest canopy.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees. Within the many streams and lakes that dot the park live an abundance of wildlife, from river otters and bullfrogs to alligators. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker swoops through the trees, and dwarf palmettos blanket portions of the forest floor.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike many parks, Congaree is almost devoid of roads. Even approaching the park you’d almost have no idea that it was there. No crowded highways, tourist towns, and neon lights line the entrance to welcome you. Small signs point the way until you reach the main park entrance.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Road is only about a mile long and leads to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, named for one of the individuals who spearheaded the campaign to protect Congaree. As at most national parks, here you can stock up on maps, get your national parks passport stamped, and pick up the activity guide for the Jr. Park Ranger program. Be sure to ask the rangers what the current trail conditions are, or better yet, call before you go.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the majority of the park lies within the Congaree River floodplain, wet weather can lead to many of the park’s trails becoming impassable. When this occurs the park’s interpretive boardwalk trail is usually open. This 2.4-mile loop passes through a variety of the park’s unique ecosystems. Numbered stops and a guidebook help explain the unique areas you pass through. The lower portion of the boardwalk wind through a forest comprised of water tupelo and bald cypress.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This area is a swamp much of the time. Occasionally the waters rise to cover even the elevated boardwalk, so once again check with a ranger before venturing off. As it loops back towards the visitor center it passes by the tranquil waters of Weston Lake and then climbs through some dryer terrain. Here you’ll find the loblolly pines which are the stars of this ancient forest.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the trails are passable, there are miles of them which delve deep into the wilderness areas of the park and provide access to the river itself. During wetter periods visitors’ best choice for exploring the park is by canoe or kayak. Check out the park’s website or chat with a ranger to get an idea of the areas which are accessible and which of those you would like to explore.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree is unique in the East. You can go out and it’s just you and nature. Even on a busy day, you don’t have to go too far to get away from folks.

Congaree National Park is open 24 hours a day, year round. The visitor center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on federal holidays

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take the time to explore this biological wonderland. Sometimes the flash of a red-headed woodpecker, the whisper of the wind through Spanish moss, or the towering crowns of a loblolly pine are more than enough to remind us how precious the natural world really can be.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

Edisto Island’s Botany Bay Preserves Plantation Landscape

Botany Bay is one of the most serene and beautiful locations in the Lowcountry

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. The area lies near the North Edisto River just south of the intensely developed resort islands of Kiawah and Seabrook and just north of the rapidly developing Edisto Beach area.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area’s location near the North Edisto River places it within the boundary of the ACE Basin Focus Area, one of the largest remaining relatively undeveloped wetland ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The features of this wildlife management area are characteristic of sea islands along the lower southeast coast: pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed, providing coastal habitat for a wide range of wildlife species, including loggerhead sea turtles, the state-threatened least tern, and neo-tropical songbirds like the painted bunting and summer tanager.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay is very accessible; you can tour most of the property in half a day or less. Simply pick up a free self-guided driving tour guide at the information kiosk and you’re on your way. The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto, the state tree. Look for colonies of resurrection fern growing on the spreading oak limbs. After a rain, the leaves of the resurrection ferns turn a beautiful bright green.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get to the four-way stop, turn right into the beach access parking lot. There you’ll find the trailhead to the half-mile Pockoy Island Trail where a causeway built by slaves takes you over the marsh and through a densely wooded hammock. Then cross a small barrier island to arrive at the preserve’s 2.8 miles of seashore.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Erosion on Botany Bay Beach has left a “boneyard” of dead trees along the sand creating a unique coastline you’ve got to walk to fully appreciate. Shell collection is prohibited; as a result the beach is full of whelks, scallops, clams, mussels, oysters, sea stars, and sand dollars. The best time to visit the beach is at low tide when a wider section of the shoreline is exposed.

Botany Bay Preserve ice house © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue the driving tour by staying on the beach access road until you get to another parking area just past the four-way stop. It’s a short walk from here to two small buildings built in the 1800s. The white wooden Gothic Revival structure once served as the icehouse (pictured above) for Bleak Hall. In the old days, ice shipped from the north was packed in sawdust and stored in the tabby wall foundation.

Botany Bay Preserve tabby shed © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The other building is a tabby gardener’s shed (pictured above) erected next to the now overgrown Japanese formal garden, the first of its kind in North America. The camphor, olive, and spice trees are long gone but ivy, several types of privet, and a few other exotic plants still thrive along the edges of the old garden.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther along is another tabby structure. During the Colonial period, it was used as a barn and later it was used as equipment shed. The road then takes a couple of sharp 90-degree turns, winding along the salt marsh and offering spectacular views of Ocella Creek. This section also features lots of century-old live oaks draped in Spanish moss.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, you’ll pass the chimney of a slave house and a couple of ponds created in the 1970s as a habitat for wood ducks, wading birds, and many aquatic species. Cross the dike and you’ll enter the former Sea Cloud Plantation.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The final section of the driving tour features the remains of the Sea Cloud Plantation house and a brick beehive built by slaves in the 1700s as a source of drinking water.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay is free and open to the public except on Tuesdays and during scheduled hunts. Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

Edisto Island is one of the few surviving unspoiled beach communities in the U.S.

Edisto Island, a sea island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, lies only about an hour south of bustling Charleston as the pelican flies. 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.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is 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.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVers and other visitors to Edisto Island choose to come here—they don’t come by accident. And so it was with us.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using New Green Acres RV Park in Walterboro as our home base, we spent an enjoyable week exploring the Lowcountry. Known as The Front Porch of the Low Country, Walterboro, county seat of Colleton County, is situated just off of I-95 and is a popular stop for RVers.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was pleasant 75-degree day in early December that we toured Edisto Island: Edisto Island State Park, the beach, and driving/walking tour of Botany Bay Plantation.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto River, named for the Edisto Indians (original inhabitants of the area), is the longest and largest river system completely within the state. It rises from springs 260 miles north, splits into North and South branches to flow around diamond-shaped Edisto Island (which is actually made up of numerous islands) and into the Atlantic.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

ACE Basin, an acronym for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and South Edisto rivers that arc through it, spans 350,000 acres, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. These many acres of diverse habitat include protected uplands and wetlands, tidal marshes, barrier islands and beaches, and a host of wildlife.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The North and South Edisto branches flow into the ocean a little more than a dozen miles apart and roughly half way between the two is Botany Bay and Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area, a near-wilderness that makes up nearly a fourth of Edisto Island.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Edisto River is one of the most unique waterways in the world. It is the longest undammed or free flowing “black water” river, and takes up twelve counties in the state. It is the longest and the largest river completely within the borders of South Carolina.  The most interesting part of the Edisto River comes to fruition near Edisto Island. The consistent yet peaceful current makes it perfect for wildlife and for paddling enthusiasts. Floating the Edisto River will show you banks filled with ancient live oaks, Spanish moss, and many forms of wildlife.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop, Edisto Island State Park, includes an interpretive center and two campgrounds that offer 112 standard sites with water and electric hookups—ocean-side and near the salt marsh. 49 of the standard campsites offer 20/30/50 amp electrical service. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers. Reservations are recommended.

Edisto Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following our island drive with stops at several locations along the extensive beach, we toured Botany Bay Plantation, a South Carolina state historic site and wildlife management area, located off SC Highway 174 about 8.5 miles south of the McKinley Washington Bridge. You’ll follow the dirt road about 2 miles to near where the road dead-ends and turn left at the gate and into the property. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pure bliss. That’s the only way to describe Botany Bay Plantation. 
The 4,630-acre plantation on Edisto Island was a gift from the Margaret Pepper family. It was given to the state in 1977 by Mr. Pepper, but was only able to be used after his wife passed away so she would have the opportunity to continue her years on the land she loved. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land itself is full of nature’s rich beauty—from the sunflower fields to the salt marsh and fresh water ponds to the Spanish moss draped oaks to the miles of private beach; it is emblematic of Lowcountry’s unique environment and appeal. 

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The clearly marked driving tour showcases the features of the plantation including the archaeological structures of historical significance. Take a walk down any of the trails and absorb the unique beauty of this unspoiled land.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touring Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation provided us with a chance to step back in time and fall in love with the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. 

Worth Pondering…

There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown. A pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.
—Edith Durham

Charleston: Deep South Charm

With a rich 300 year history, Charleston is America’s most beautifully preserved architectural and historical treasure

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Charleston. Avid tourist? Charleston is the city for you. Lover of good food and charming scenery? Charleston has your number.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston is home to one of America’s most intact historic districts. Nestled along a narrow peninsula—where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet and empty into the Atlantic Ocean—it exudes deep South charm. With very few tall buildings, Charleston instead offers quaint cobblestone roads, colonial structures, a unique culture, and gobs of history.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the Holy City, it was one of the most religiously tolerant cities in the New World—the results of which can be seen in the many striking church steeples that rise majestically over the city’s skyline.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston also has a collection of some of the oldest and most impressive churches in America, including the French Protestant (Huguenot) Church, The Old Bethel Methodist Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, and the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 years ago, Charleston was originally named in honor of King Charles II of England. Charles Towne, as it was known, was founded in 1670 at Albmarle Point, a spot just across the Ashley River. Since that time it has played host to some of the most historic events in US history, including the first major battle of the American Revolution, and the start of the Civil War.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the best known Charleston landmark is Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. At that time, Union forces occupied the strategic Fort at the entrance of Charleston harbor. The South demanded that Fort Sumter be vacated, the Union army refused, and the rest is history. After a two-day bombardment, the North surrendered the Fort to the South. Nearby, visitors can also tour Fort Moultrie, which also played heavily in Civil War significance.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the best way to see this town is by foot. Around every corner visitors can discover another hidden garden, great restaurants, historic houses, quaint shops, and friendly people.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A walk down any of Charleston’s quaint avenues, especially in the area designated as The Battery, is a walk back in time. Many houses date from the 1700s and 1800s, and a large number of these are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour more than a dozen of these homes, including the Heyward-Washington House, built in 1772. This house was owned by Thomas Heyward Jr., a Revolutionary patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was also George Washington’s temporary residence during his Southern Tour of 1791.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other houses of note that visitors can tour in Charleston include the Aiken Rhett House, one of the most intact building complexes showcasing urban life in Antebellum Charleston; the Joseph Manigault House, a premier example of neo-classical architecture built in 1803; and the Nathaniel Russell House, a neoclassical mansion considered one of America’s premier Federal townhouses.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside of town, you can visit a number of Southern plantations, including Boone Hall and Drayton Hall. Boone Hall’s world-famous Avenue of Oaks leads to the Plantation house and gardens, and its original slave street and slave quarters. Located a stone’s throw from Boone Hall is the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site and historic Snee Farms. Pinckney was an original signer of the US Constitution, and was very influential in the document’s language. Drayton Hall, built between 1738 and 1742, is the oldest preserved plantation house in America.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring Charleston the campground at James Island County Park served as our home base. An ideal location amidst scenic beauty and an amazing drive-through display of Christmas lights, the 643-acre park is convenient to downtown Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry, and the campground provides a round-trip shuttle service to the city’s visitor center.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park itself makes a fun destination. Miles of paved trails wind through forests and Palmetto trees and skirt by marshes and tidal creeks. Bicycle rentals are available, as are pedal boats and kayak rentals for its 16 acres of lakes.

James Island County Park Christmas Lights Display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Walterboro: Front Porch of the Lowcountry

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. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and The Great Swamp Sanctuary, which is accessible from downtown.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. The early planters who summered here also built the town’s first library in 1820.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s been more than two centuries since a pair of Southern plantation owners, Paul and Jacob Walter, seeking solace from Coastal Carolina’s sultry summers and pervasive mosquitoes, found an area about 45 miles west of Charleston to their liking. The town they established in 1784 is still thriving, offering visitors a wide range of festivals, other activities, and two historic districts: Historic Hickory Valley, a largely residential area with homes dating between 1814 and 1929; and the Walterboro Historic District, which covers the historic businesses and the lovely small town full of southern charm and heritage.

Colleton County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among its sites on the National Register of Historic Places are the Colleton County Courthouse, the Old Colleton County Jail, and the Walterboro Library Society Building, also known as the Little Library and now the headquarters for the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town’s two major drawing cards, however, are only tenuously related to history and to each other. Walterboro is the home of The Great Swamp Sanctuary, an 800-acre wildlife preserve that attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year, and its downtown is evolving into a major antiquing center. The town, with a population of about 5,800, strives to do its best to take advantage of its notoriety in both areas.

Great Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Colleton Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Comprised of over 800 acres of braided creek and hardwood flats, the Great Swamp Sanctuary offers boardwalks, bridges, bike and walking trails for viewing natural Lowcountry wildlife and beauty. Spanish moss drips from Cypress trees and wildflowers abound as you pass a beaver pond, duck pond, and butterfly garden.

Great Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sunrise to sunset, a visit to the sanctuary promises a day full of hiking, canoeing, and cycling through pristine Lowcountry swamps. Wildlife is abundant with native populations of wild turkey, deer, coyotes, raccoons, beaver, otter, opossum, squirrels, fox, and wildcats.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The old Charleston to Savannah wagon road runs through the heart of the Sanctuary. While the wooden bridges have decayed, the impressive road bed remains. The bridges have been replaced with boardwalks and the road bed has become an integral part of the trails. The overland commerce of Colonial times moved over this road.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The headwaters of the Ashepoo River (the A in the ACE Basin), originate in the Sanctuary. Three creeks join inside of the Sanctuary to form one of the major tributaries of the ACE Basin. The Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers which give the ACE Basin its name, combine to create one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the Atlantic Coast.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ACE Basin consists of approximately 350,000 acres of diverse habitats including pine and hardwood uplands, forested wetlands, fresh, brackish, and salt water tidal marshes, barrier islands, and beaches. In addition, the region is rich in historic and cultural landmarks such as old plantation homes, forts, cemeteries, and churches.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro is only 45 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Charleston, Edisto Island, Savannah, and Hilton Head Island are only a short drive away, and Interstate 95, the main north-south corridor on the Eastern Seaboard, skirts the western edge of the city.

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

Conveniently located the New Green Acres RV Park offers 106 long and wide pull through sites with full hookups including 50/30-amp electric service. Our home base while exploring Walterboro and the Lowcounty, we would return to this 5-star RV park in a heart-beat.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.

Greenville: Upcountry South Carolina Delight

Greenville will surprise you, engage you, charm you, and delight you

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, South Carolina’s Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. For starters, it’s home to the highest waterfall east of the Rockies—411-foot Whitewater Falls.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville has been finding its way onto many national Top Ten lists for its lively arts scene, its modern downtown, and its job market. With a metro­­politan population pushing half a million, this is one of America’s fastest growing cities.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills, making it the “Textile Center of the South.”

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far more than a nature lover’s paradise, Falls Park on the Reedy, located in downtown Greenville’s Historic West End, is one of Greenville’s greatest treasures. The park serves as an oasis within the city—a place where people gather to work, play, and celebrate life. The multi-use facility lends itself to a wide variety of activities for people of all ages and interests.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It took 40 years of cleaning after the mills closed to make Falls Park into a regional jewel, crowned by the award-winning Liberty Bridge for pedestrians that was designed by architect Miguel Rosales with a distinctive curve as it pitches toward the falls.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Liberty Bridge serves as Greenville’s signature postcard setting, and downtown’s extensive collection of public artwork adds beauty and energy to its public spaces.  

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 345 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 8 inches thick, the concrete reinforced deck is supported by a single suspension cable. The deck’s distinctive curve has a radius of 214 feet and it is cantilevered toward the waterfall from supporting cables on the outside. The bridge deck also inclines 12 feet or 3 percent from east to west over the river.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below the bridge the Reedy River Falls is the site where Greenville’s first European settler, Richard Pearis, established his trading post in 1768. Later he built grist and saw mills at this same location which was the hub of early industry in Greenville until the 1920s. 

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vibrant Greenville downtown scene is anchored by the $42 million Peace Center for the Performing Arts, which includes a concert hall for the symphony orchestra, a performance theater, and an amphitheater. Among the city’s several historic districts, the West End has developed into one of the Palmetto State’s most eclectic art districts, with buildings adapted for studio space and galleries.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other attractions within Greenville include a zoo with more than 200 animals and the Roper Mountain Science Center, which features an observatory, Sealife Room, living history farm, Discovery Room, chemistry/physic shows and a planetarium. 

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, at Bob Jones University is the Gallery of Sacred Art and Bible Lands Museum Planetarium. This unique attraction brings science and religion together with its extraordinary collection of religious art and biblical antiquities.

Fluor Field in the West End is home of minor league baseball’s Greenville Drive, an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The park features a 30-foot replica of the “Green Monster” the mythic left-field wall found in the parent club’s Fenway Park. Across the street is a museum devoted to slugging hometown diamond hero Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Drive nickname is a nod to BMW Manufacturing’s Greenville-area plant, the German automaker’s only production facility in the United States. The BMW Performance Center offers drivers a one-of-a-kind challenge in sliding and cornering on a wet/dry course, off-road course, and performance drive courses.

Table Rock, Jones Gap, Paris Mountain, and Caesars Head state parks all deliver Blue Ridge Mountain adventure in Greenville’s backyard as the Appalachians tumble into the flatlands of the Piedmont region. South Carolina Highway 11, the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, traces this dramatic break of the Blue Ridge Escarpment with its abundance of waterfalls. Along the route, Lake Keowee, created as a power utility project, serves up over 300 miles of shoreline for boaters and fishermen.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning a visit? Stay at Ivy Acres RV Park, amid beautiful countryside 10 miles from downtown Greenville.

Ivy Acres RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We spent a delightful week at Ivy Acres RV Park, an adult only (45+) park with full-hook-ups including 50/30/20-amp electric service and Wi-Fi available at site. Located on 80 acres of beautiful rolling countryside on the Saluda River, Ivy Acres is like a state park. We would return in a heartbeat.

Worth Pondering…

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

South Carolina Has It All

Nothin’ could be finer than to be in 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 Upcountry mountains through the vibrant Midlands and to the Lowcountry coast, the Palmetto State beckons with a wave that signals everyone’s welcome—come on down.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills. 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.

The Peachoid at Gaffney © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

St. Helena Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thoroughbred Country was famous as a winter resort for some of America’s wealthiest families with names such as Goodyear, Whitney, Astor, and Vanderbilt had homes in the town of Aiken. The Winter Colony Historic Districts—90 room “cottages,” roads with equestrian stoplights, beautiful gardens, and a restored late 19th-century inn—recall the town’s golden era.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the heart of the Midlands city of Sumter, the beautiful black waters of Swan Lake form the setting for the spectacular Iris Gardens. The only public park in the United States to feature all eight swan species, Swan Lake Iris Gardens is also home to some of the nation’s most intensive plantings of Japanese iris featuring 120 varieties. The garden also boasts many other floral attractions, including colorful camellias, azaleas, day lilies, and Japanese magnolias.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park showcases the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. An International Biosphere Reserve and a Globally Important Bird Area this 24,000-acre park is located in central South Carolina about 20 miles southeast of Columbia along the north side of the Congaree River. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on foot by using the over 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hauntingly beautiful is perhaps the best way to describe the Lowcountry and Resort Islands. Picturesque Beaufort charms visitors with historic Southern mansions, tree-lined boulevards, and an oceanside location.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest sea island between New Jersey and Florida, Hilton Head covers 42 square miles of broad beaches, nine marinas, over two dozen championship golf courses, and more tennis courts than any other resort of its size.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1670, Charleston has suffered fires, earthquakes, pirates, a civil war, and a hurricane. Charleston boasts 73 pre-Revolutionary buildings—136 from the late 18th century and more than 600 others built prior to the 1840s. RVers will find numerous Charleston things to do: wander cobblestone streets lined with antique shops and boutiques, browse the Old City Market where Gullah basket ladies peddle their wares, and peek at private gardens tucked serenely behind iron gates. House museums and monuments to wealthy Colonial merchants are open to visitors, as are the plantations and gardens that line Ashley River.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idyllic beach resorts at Kiawah Island, Seabrook, Wild Dunes, and Edisto Island offer miles of unspoiled beaches and marshlands. The semi-tropical retreat of Kiawah Island offers 10 miles of undisturbed beaches and five world-renowned golf courses.

Magnolia Plantation near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year millions enjoy Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand vacations—drawn here for the swimming, sun bathing, boating, shelling, incredible seafood, and golfing. Continuing for more than 60 miles along the Atlantic Coast, this string of beach resorts includes such ocean-side communities as Myrtle Beach, considered the Strand’s hub, North Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach, Surfside, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island, and Georgetown.

Middleton Place near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Myrtle Beach was founded more than 30 years ago when the communities of Windy Hill, Crescent Beach, Ocean Drive, and Cherry Grove united. The historic fishing village of Murrells Inlet has earned the title “seafood capital of South Carolina” because of the fresh seafood drawn from its waters and served at the many restaurants lining the waterfront.

Audubon Swamp Sanctuary near Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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