The South Carolina Lowcountry Region offers the nature lover a wide variety of activities and places to enjoy, including the ACE Basin. It’s a big place, taking in about 350,000 acres of cypress swamps, saltwater marsh, beach, woodlands and small coastal communities bounded by the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers.
It’s the largest such pristine estuary of its kind on the East Coast, home to such threatened or endangered species as wood storks, short nose sturgeon, loggerhead turtles and bald eagles sharing the bounty of the land and sea with human endeavors such as vegetable farming, shrimping and recreational fishing.
Within this special place are sites to visit like the Edisto Beach State Park with cabins, an oceanfront campground, nature trail, and the Edisto Interpretative Center offering exhibits and programs. Nearby is the Edisto Serpentarium 1,000 snakes, alligator pits, turtles, lizards, interpretationsand natural history artifacts.
Traveling south on U.S. 17 brings you first to the small community of Jacksonboro, and the Edisto River. There the Westvaco Nature Trail features fauna, flora and historical landmarks such as the old King’s Highway (dating from 1700), old rice field banks and an old phosphate plant site. Free.
Continuing south, Bear Island Wildlife Management Area(WMA) provides a haven for shore and wading birds, alligators and self-guided driving trails across old rice field impoundments. A few miles further on U.S. 17 is Donnelley WMA in Greenpond — an 8,048 acre diversity of wetland and upland habits including rice fields, forested wetland, tidal marsh, and upland forest types. Both are excellent sites for wildlife viewing. Free.
Travel east toward I-95 to Walterboro and the Great Swamp Sanctuary, the 842-acre Sanctuary features what may be the only “braided creek” swamp accessible to the public. A network of boardwalks, hiking, biking and canoe trails provide a perfect vantage point to observe the diversity of wildlife inhabiting the black water bottomland. The most historically significant of these paths follows the Colonial-era Charleston-to-Savannah Stagecoach Road still bearing the cypress remnants of long-fallen bridges. Free.
From Walterboro, it’s an easy drive on SC Highway 63 to Hampton and Lake Warren State Park (or via I-95, Exit 38). The park features picnic facilities, a spacious lake for fishing and boating, and a community building. Perhaps the most intriguing aren’t manmade, however.
The Hampton County park boasts a floodplain forest that supports four species of pines and other large tracts of wetlands and woodlands that are home to a wide variety of plants and animals including whitetail deer, raccoons, wild turkeys, migratory songbirds, armadillos and American alligators.
In addition to its 200-acre lake, Lake Warren also has a tiny pond, two nature trails, playground equipment and all the setting needed for an ideal day at the park in South Carolina’s beautiful Lowcountry woodlands. Parking fee.
Following I-95 south to Exit 33, visit the Lowcountry Visitors Center & Museum (Frampton Plantation) to pick up maps and area information. From the Frampton House, it’s only a 30 minute drive to historic Beaufort and Port Royal, where you can visit the Lowcountry Estuarium, a learning center designed to provide hands-on learning about the coastal environments of our beautiful area, such as salt marshes, beaches, coastal waters, and estuaries.
Driving U.S. 21 south will bring you to the most popular state park in South Carolina, Hunting Island State Park, with its miles of beach, campground, cabins, fishing pier, jungle-like interior, interpretive center, historic light house and buildings, and fascinating programs. The pristine sandy beach, natural setting and warm Atlantic Ocean make a perfect getaway. Hunting Island features a campground, which has spaces for RV’s and tent campers, as well as a primitive camp site for established groups. The camping area has very easy access to the beach. Parking fee.
The Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only lighthouse open to the public to climb in the State. From the top platform, one can get a breathtaking view of the ocean, beach and the marshland.
Fishing is popular in the lagoon, surf and on the fishing pier which reaches 1120 feet into Fripp Inlet. Located at the pier entrance, is the Nature Center, which has some very nice exhibits of the local wildlife and marine life. Nominal fees.
With its nature trails, visitor center, natural beach and even a boat landing, Hunting Island State Park, filming location for several major motion pictures (including the Viet Nam scenes in “Forrest Gump”) is not just another beach: it’s a nature and wildlife paradise. Fee.
Taking I-95 south to Exit 21 at Ridgeland, you can explore both the Blue Heron Nature Trail and the Blue Heron Learning Center. This is an easy walking .6-mile loop trail, which is a combination of recycled rubber, boardwalk, and brick within the garden. You will circle a pond, which is the home for fish, turtles, ducks, wading herons, and several assorted alligators, the largest about four feet in length. Depending on the season, you will be treated to a variety of butterflies attracted to flowers in a special butterfly shaped garden. Feeders in a backyard habitat attract birds, and duck and turtle food dispensers on the banks of the pond attract ducks and turtles. Light displays sponsored by local businesses are lit during the holiday season. The Blue Heron Learning Center has nature displays, meeting rooms, and rest rooms. Free.
Not far from Ridgeland is the Webb Wildlife Center off US Highway 321, bordering the historical Savannah River. The 5,866 acres provide excellent viewing of deer, wild turkeys, bobwhite quail, gray squirrel and many types of birds. Free. Regulated hunting during seasons.
Just south of Hardeeville (I-95, Exit 5) is the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge located on Hwy 17, north of the Georgia border. A self-guided 3-mile drive through old rice field dikes provides views of alligators, wading and marsh birds, and old rice fields. The refuge consists of over 29,000 acres of freshwater marshes, tidal rivers and creeks and bottomland hardwoods. Free admittance dawn to dusk.
Traveling toward Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, you may wish to visit the James M. Waddell, Jr. Mariculture Research and Development Center, Sawmill Creek Rd off US Highway 278. It’s one of the largest facilities in the world for fish and shrimp farming and mariculture potential. By appointment only.
Also near Bluffton is the Victoria Bluff Wildlife Management Area just off US Highway 278 and the Colleton River. Controlled hiking, bird watching, picnicking and camping. By appointment only. Regulated hunting during seasons.
Crossing from the mainland to Hilton Head on US 278, you pass the entrance to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. The 4,053 acre refuge includes Pinckney Island, Corn Island, Big and Little Harry Islands, Buzzard Island and numerous small hammocks. Pinckney is the largest of the islands and the only one open to public use. Nearly 67% of the refuge consists of salt marsh and tidal creeks. A wide variety of land types are found on Pinckney Island alone: salt marsh, forestland, brushland, fallow field and freshwater ponds. In combination, these habitats support a diversity of bird and plant life. Wildlife commonly observed on Pinckney Island include waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, neo-tropical migrants, white-tailed deer and American alligators, with large concentrations of white ibis, herons, and egrets.
On Hilton Head Island, located just east of the intersection of US Hwy. 278 and the Cross Island Parkway/Gum Tree Road is Jarvis Creek Park. Freshwater pond fishing, floating dock, playground, grass meadow, picnic facilities, grills, swings, paved pathways, mulched trails and restrooms. And on the south end of the Island, within Sea Pines Plantation is the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve has approx. 8 miles of trails that follow ante-bellum rice dikes from the 1840s and old logging trails from the 1950s. Bridle paths, wetland boardwalks, observation decks, bridges, and fishing docks have been added to improve visitor access. The trails are open from sunrise to sunset. There is a fishing pond and an Indian Shell Ring –early native Indians left their history in large rings of shells. There is a self-guided tour brochure, and guided nature walks are available on a limited schedule.
Nature Tours. If you are interested in a guided nature tour, please see our TOURS page