In these unprecedented times, it helps to reconnect with nature. Thankfully, the South Carolina coast has been highlighted by conversationalists and naturalists who have made this beautiful landscape accessible to the public for little to no money. Turn off Netflix, get off the couch and breath in that Palmetto air.
There’s a lot to explore, so let’s get to it.
Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve
Just a half-mile walk from the northeastern dead-end of East Ashley Avenue on Folly Beach, the county-run heritage preserve with a view of the historic Morris Island lighthouse feels worlds away from the epicenter of the tourist town on Center Street. Your walk to the beach will take you through 80 acres of dunes and maritime forest on land that used to be the site of a Coast Guard station, plus a striking display of graffiti all along the paved walkway that seems to have expanded in recent years. The beach itself features a “boneyard” of bleached wood and ample opportunities for surf fishing. Street parking is free, but there’s a $1 admission fee.
West Ashley Greenway
One of South Carolina’s prime coastal waterways, the Ashley River runs more than 30 miles to the Great Cypress Swamp in Dorchester County all the way to the Charleston Harbor. The Ashley River area contains 26 separate sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, such as Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Middleton Place, and Drayton Hall. In 1998, a portion of the river was named a State Scenic River. A second portion was added in 1999.
The pristine and scenic quarter-million-acre basin of the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto river deltas has been called South Carolina’s Yellowstone. Nearly 250,000 of those acres have been conserved from development by a landmark private-public effort. Whether you’re just driving through or looking for a place to put a kayak in the water, visit acebasin.net ahead of time to scope out some good spots. The Donnelly and Bear Island Wildlife Management areas are great starting points, and you can occasionally spot dolphins from the fishing pier at Steamboat Landing on Edisto Island.
Others of note
Awendaw Passage: This trail is the coastal finish line of the mountains-to-sea Palmetto Trail. But it makes for a great starting point for an afternoon hike, too. Maritime forest, open-air vistas and smells of salt marsh along Awendaw Creek make for great memories and photos.
Edisto Beach State Park: If you’re looking for laid-back beach camping, it doesn’t get much better than this. Pitch a tent right behind the dunes and fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves. Visit southcarolinaparks.com to reserve a spot.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center: Whether you’re an avid birder or just a person who likes a nice boardwalk stroll through a place rich in history and natural wonder, this county park in Ravenel is a gem. Admission is $2 for adults.
Francis Marion National Forest: This tremendous forest offers camping, kayaking and sightseeing opportunities for those willing to make the trek. The longleaf pine ecosystem is as close an approximation of the pre-Colonial flora and fauna as you’re going to find in the Charleston area. Many of the campgrounds and facilities within the park are closed, so a nice day hike is recommended.
Sewee Center: Just off U.S. Highway 17 in Awendaw, this visitor’s center features a short boardwalk through the woods, perfect for an easygoing “hike” with toddlers in tow. The fenced-in red wolf preserve is a classic, but it is closed at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: There are plenty of historic gardens and plantations to visit, but this one boasts a remarkably diverse camellia garden that’s definitely worth seeing during peak season in January or February. Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for kids 6-12, free for children under 6.
Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter.