Walk on the Wild Side
Hunting Island State Park is the most popular park in the state. Over one million visitors visit each year. The Lowcountry barrier island contains five miles of beautiful beaches, a saltwater lagoon along with 5,000 acres of maritime forest and marsh.
Hunting Island is also home to the state’s only publicly accessible lighthouse. Visitors are encouraged to climb the 167 steps to the top and observe the breath-taking views of the maritime forest and beach from 130 feet above.
Hunting Island State park also has a 100-site campground that sits directly on the beach. Amenities include water and electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, beach walkways and a playground. There is also one cabin near the lighthouse.
Visiting the park’s nature center should be on your list of things to do. There you can see interesting creatures and regularly scheduled programs for you to enjoy.
Every time you visit Hunting Island, visitors notice change. This barrier island is a temporary stop for many migrating birds as well as those who stick around all year. The ocean forces have been known to wreak havoc on the coastline, which is ever-changing.
The saltwater lagoon was created by sand dredging in 1968. This beautiful waterway is a great area for kayaking, crabbing and fishing. Seahorses and barracuda have also been spotted in the lagoon. This area is also a great backdrop for a picnic on a sunny day.
Higher inland areas of the park contain some of the state’s best examples of semi-tropical maritime forest and ancient sand dunes. The dunes are now covered in slash pines, cabbage palmetto and live oaks. Nature trails are interwoven throughout this area for closer inspection. Look for deer and raccoons when traveling through the forest. Alligators can be spotted in the freshwater ponds.
The island is also a great spot for bird watching. Painted buntings, tanagers and orioles can be spotted in the trees. Pelicans, oystercatchers, skimmers, terns, herons, egrets and wood storks can be seen along the shores and in the sky.
The beaches on Hunting Island are important habitat for shorebirds and sea birds. They use the beach to feed, and nest. Migrating birds use the beach as well. Some areas of the beach designated for birds only. Guests are always encouraged to keep out of posted areas and keep dogs on a leash to protect these important birding grounds. The beaches of Hunting Island are also important nesting areas for loggerhead sea turtles during the summer months.
The park has several hiking trails that make their way across the island. These trails are easy and can be combined to lengthen the experience. The trails wind along the lagoon and through the maritime forest through various wildlife habitats. They can also take you deep into the interior of the maritime forest where the habitat supports a population of deer, raccoon, owls, hawks and squirrels.
The Marsh Boardwalk Trail is a designated National Recreational Trail. It is a wooden boardwalk that leads to a dock that provides a great area for viewing life in the salt marsh. The dock is also the perfect spot for observing beautiful sunsets.
There is even a hiking trail from the campground to the lighthouse so campers can walk to the iconic landmark without getting into traffic or dealing with the effects of high tide. More experienced hikers will enjoy the Diamondback Rattlesnake Trail. This moderately strenuous trail is for experienced hikers and mountain bikers only.
Climbing to the top of the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse should be on the bucket list of anyone visiting the island. Anyone over the height of 44” can climb the 167 steps to the top where the views are worth the trip. From the top you can see a panoramic view of the maritime forest and Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse is open daily, except for Christmas day and in the event of inclement weather.
The original lighthouse was built in 1859. It was destroyed during the Civil War, then rebuilt in 1875. It was built of interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled if it ever needs to be moved. This proved beneficial because that is exactly what happened in 1889. The lighthouse was moved 1.3 miles inland due to beach erosion. In 2003 cracks were discovered in several of the cast iron steps leading up. A crew spent more than 18 months making repairs and installing steel braces beneath the stairs for reinforcement. The braces were left unpainted, which creates a contrast with the original structure which protects the lighthouse’s historic integrity.
If you haven’t already, make plans to visit Hunting Island State Park. Climb to the top of the lighthouse. Enjoy the sunrise as you walk along the beach. Search for shells and shark’s teeth along the surf. Stop at the nature center and view the alligators. Experience the sunset from the Marsh Boardwalk and explore the eight miles of walking and biking trails. Come to the place where time stands still, and memories last a lifetime.
For more information on this and other SC Lowcountry state parks visit https://southcarolinalowcountry.com/state-parks/
For more information on other Beaufort County attractions visit https://southcarolinalowcountry.com/beaufort-port-royal-area/