Outdoor getaways from S.C. mountains to sea
An outdoors ramble can be as strenuous or as breezy as you care to make it, equally adaptable to cross-country biking and long hikes, easy kayaking, strolling on a boardwalk or fishing from a riverbank.
With an ideal blend of seacoast, rolling hill country and verdant mountains, South Carolina bursts with the blessings of nature, beckoning to hardy adventurers or budget-minded families on a quest for variety.
What's your pleasure?
Here are our Top 10 Best Outdoor Jaunts:
1) Bull's Island (Charleston County): The real deal of S.C. wilderness areas, and largest of four barrier islands found within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, the 5,496-acre island is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Trails reveal a diverse landscape of maritime forest, fresh and brackish water impoundments, salt marsh and sandy beaches. Deer, alligators, raccoons, black fox squirrels and 270 species of bird life top the bill. Coastal Expeditions operates a private ferry service to the island. Call 881-4582 or visit www.coastalexpeditions.com.
Information: 928-3264 (refuge office), 928-3368 (Sewee Center), www.fws.gov/caperomain/bullsisland.html. Miles from Charleston: 20.
2) Jones Gap State Park/Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area (Greenville County): Jones Gap and Caesars Head state parks together form the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, 11,000 acres of pristine mountain woodlands on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. They also are joined by one of the state's finest hiking trails.
Wild trout tempt anglers, while nature enthusiasts are drawn to its array of plant and animal species. Highlights include the Middle Saluda River, the state's first designated scenic river.
The park also includes restored portions of the old Cleveland Fish Hatchery, offers trailside camping and serves as an access point to the 76-mile Foothills Trail.
A short distance away at neighboring Caesars Head is the trail leading to the highest waterfall in the state: Raven Cliff Falls, a cascade tumbling down more than 400 feet from its highest point.
Information: 864-836-3647, firstname.lastname@example.org. Miles from Charleston: 240.
3) Devils Fork State Park (Oconee County): This picturesque mountain park provides the only public access to Lake Jocassee, a mostly undeveloped 7,500-acre reservoir nestled in the Blue Ridge.
Devils Fork is as popular with scuba divers as it is with boaters and anglers. Villas and modern campgrounds with full amenities are key features of the park, as are hiking and nature trails that offer a chance to sight bald eagles and peregrine falcons
Information: 864-944-2639, email@example.com. Miles from Charleston: 235.
4) Congaree National Park (Richland County): A much larger version of Beidler Forest, with its majestic stands of bald cypress and water tupelo forming one of the highest natural canopies in the world, the 22,000-acre park preserves the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in America.
The Congaree River flows through the park, 70 percent of which is designated wilderness area.
Congaree offers basic campsites as well as opportunities for hiking, canoeing and kayaking (there's a 20-mile marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek) and bird-watching.
Wildlife abounds, and free guided canoe trips through the swamp are conducted every Saturday and Sunday. But most visitors tend to amble along the Boardwalk Loop, an elevated walkway that protects delicate fungi and plant life at ground level.
Information: 803-776-4396, www.nps.gov/cong. Miles from Charleston: 114.
5) Santee State Park (Orangeburg County): Hard by Lake Marion, the park offers cabins, camping, biking, hiking, boating and fishing. Together with Lake Moultrie, the lakes cover more than 170,000 acres.
Ten large octagonal cabins rest on a T-shaped pier over the lake, whose flooded cypress forest is a principal lake attraction. Boat rentals no longer are available out of the park, and its marina store has closed. But a boat tour of Lake Marion emphasizing its natural wonders still leaves the dock adjacent to the boat ramp nearest the park visitor center on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Call Fish Eagle Tours at 803-854-4005 for details.
Information: 803-854-2408, firstname.lastname@example.org. Miles from Charleston: 65.
6) Francis Marion National Forest (McClellanville): Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, it's a lush landscape of wildlife, pine stands, swamps and marshes festooned with bald cypress.
Four wilderness areas, one of them with a marked canoe trail, are there to be explored, with hiking, riding trails, paddling, fishing, hunting, camping and birding all harbored in the park.
But perhaps the biggest draw is cycling on the Palmetto Trail, which now extends to the Intracoastal Waterway. When completed, it will stretch 425 miles as a foot and mountain bike trail from Awendaw to the Oconee County mountains in the west.
Information: 887-3257 (Wambaw Office), www.fs.fed.us/r8/fms/fmarion. Miles from Charleston: approximately 30.
7) Table Rock State Park (Pickens County): One of the state's most popular parks, with Table Rock mountain as an imposing backdrop, this Upstate retreat at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains boasts two lakes, a campground, mountain cabins (several situated beside trail heads), meeting facilities and a historic lodge. Several of its structures are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just getting there is rewarding in itself, with the last leg of the drive on S.C. 11, the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway.
Apart from access to the 80-mile-long Foothills Trail through the wilderness along the Blue Ridge Escarpment, another trail leads to the top of Table Rock itself.
Information: 864-878-9813, email@example.com. Miles from Charleston: 248.
8) Santee Coastal Reserve (Charleston County): This vast collage of dikes, forest, marsh and open water also is notable for its avian occupants: More than three dozen bird species call it home, as do such animals as fox, squirrel, raccoon, white-tailed deer, otter, wild pig, alligator and wild turkey.
Accessed by car via Santee Gun Club Road near McClellanville and managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, this 24,000-acre Wildlife Management Area harbors two barrier islands, Cesar and Murphy, accessible only by boat.
Yet hikers (four trails wind through the reserve), bikers, canoeists and kayakers have a wealth of choices during the prime period, which begins at the end of the principal hunting season (Feb. 1).
Information: 546-8665. Miles from Charleston: 45.
9) Hunting Island State Park (Beaufort County): This semi-tropical barrier island serves up five miles of beach, thousands of acres of marsh, tidal creeks and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon and ocean inlet together with a fishing pier and some of the state's most evocative campsites.
Its wealth of wildlife includes loggerhead turtles, painted buntings, barracudas, seahorses, alligators, raccoons, pelicans, dolphins and deer.
As haunting as its boneyard beach is the state's only publicly accessible historic lighthouse, which soars 170 feet and offers an extraordinary view of marshland and sea.
Information: 838-2011, firstname.lastname@example.org. Miles from Charleston: 85.
A) Givhans Ferry State Park (Colleton and Dorchester counties): Part of the 56-mile-long Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail and located at the terminus of 21-mile downstream paddle from Colleton State Park, Givhans Ferry rests on the longest free-flowing blackwater stream in North America.
It also sports a mountain bike trail, campgrounds and rustic cabins that overlook the river. Like many state parks, it was built (ruggedly) by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Fishing, picnicking and hiking are other prime activities.
Information: 873-0692, email@example.com. Miles from Charleston: 35.
B) Poinsett State Park (Sumter County): Mixed ecosystems are one of the chief distinguishing features of this rural hideaway set in the High Hills of Santee, where the Midlands meet the coastal plain.
Featuring 1,000 acres of undulating terrain that incorporates part of Wateree Swamp, there are developed and primitive campsites, hiking and bike trails, a fishing pond with boat rentals and a coquina bathhouse, the ruins of an old grist mill and a clutch of cabins.
The critter culture is likewise diverse, as are the tree and plant species (naturalists have identified 337 species of flowering plants in the park).
Information: 803-494-8177, firstname.lastname@example.org. Miles from Charleston: 90.
For links to all South Carolina park websites, visit www.southcarolinaparks.com.
Next: Top 10 urban destinations.
Reach Bill Thompson at email@example.com or 937-5707.